Cultural Competency

13 Aug

So law school orientation for your’s truly started this week. So far I have been doing very little learning about the law and a lot of learning about how hard it is to learn about the law. Mostly a fair bit of backhanded intimidation mixed with cleverly disguised assurances of hardship. I suppose that I did sign up for it.

Today I oriented myself to something which I found particularly difficult to conceptualize. I thought I might share it with you. Apparently, there is a popular movement in soft-skill circles called “cultural competency”. Here and here are examples and explanations. I don’t necessarily have problems with the ideas presented, but the title does baffle me. Cultural competency? How could you possibly become competent in culture? Doesn’t one gain competence at a particular skill or trade or ability? Culture surely isn’t something you can be competent in. Surely pseudo-bloggers know not to end their sentences with prepositions!

Am I so arrogant to think that I could learn to be “competent” in all of “culture” (including those things therin enclosed, contained, and encapsulated) in a two-hour period? Assuming that I am that arrogant (I am), what could becoming culturally competent possibly entail?

Well, to sum up the presentation from the wonderful PhD presenters from Kennesaw State University (who have achieved cultural competence): cultural competency is the realization that everybody is different, but that those differences do not mean we should treat each other differently. But (!) it is of utmost important that you do not deny those cultural differences. However, it is of equal importance that everybody is considered equally important. So everybody is different, but everybody should be treated the same.


Maybe our cultured (and undoubtedly culturally competent) Intern Derrick can enlighten us to the ways of competence which I sorely lack and fail to understand.


5 Responses to “Cultural Competency”

  1. derrickvanleer 8.16.09 at 9:33 pm #

    Yes, I do consider myself quite competent in culture, and no, I do not think you can hope to learn such a concept in a two-hour class period (sorry!). In the classroom, I’m sure you can learn some fun facts about different cultures (who hasn’t heard about the cultures where burping after a meal is considered a compliment?) and pick up some tips for avoiding accusations of ethnocentricity (never refer to Western culture as “dominant” or “above” others), but to fully appreciate even one’s own culture, one needs to spend time actually interacting with people of other cultures.

    This can be done without leaving one’s host country–for example, I learned a lot about the concept of time, protocol for social engagements, and rhythmic traditions of the cultures of Mexico and Guatemala through my involvement with members of a local Hispanic church years before I ever left the US–but living abroad really expedites and intensifies the process. When living in a foreign country, you ,as a US citizen, can’t just go home at the end of the day to your US family in your US house (notice I am consciously avoiding the adjective American, following a recent conversation with one of my coworkers here in Chile about how offensive the usage of this term is to many of the inhabitants of this South AMERICAN country; yet about a year ago a Brazilian friend told me his countrymen have no problem with the term “americano” being used to describe visitors from the US). You are forced to look at your own culture as an outsider, not just because you miss things from your home country and notice all kinds of differences, but because you are constantly asked questions about your home country and its dominant culture–especially in an area that receives very few visitors from the US, like southern Chile. Here in Osorno, Chile, I feel like I receive a lot more attention as a foreigner than I did in Madrid, where there is a relatively steady flow of tourists and students from the US. Aquaintances constantly ask me about US foreign policy, racial relations in my country, our healthcare system, the meaning of a day named after a groundhog, the location of Virginia in relation to California, the meaning of obscure idioms used in song lyrics from the 80s…

    Now as far as competence, I’ll give you an example of how important it can be. Let’s imagine that we have two students who majored in a language not their own, let’s say Spanish, in college. Both came into the Spanish program with several years of Spanish classes behind them; both received “A’s” in every class they took in the major at this college; and both received an award for their superior achievenment, we’ll say an “Excellence in Spanish” award or something similar. Yet one of these students spent significant amounts of time with people from Spanish-speaking countries and actually living in Spanish-speaking countries, and the other stayed home watching US sports and playing US video games during these same amounts of time. Now, imagine that both of these people, upon graduating, want to start multinational businesses, and you are a wealthy businessman from Argentina who is willing to invest a large sum of money in one of these businesses, to fund the building of a branch in your country. Which of these two would you trust with such a long-term endeavor? Which is the most competent on a cultural level, more able to adapt to a diverse, ever-changing global market? With which one would you be able to discuss these matters freely, in your native language, over a mid-day meal?

    • Lydia 8.21.09 at 10:05 am #

      Haha that was great Derrick. The last paragraph is hilarious. You have to remember though, person B is very good at schmoozing (he is part Jewish after all) and might flatter the investor with big, possibly incorrectly used words.


      • Derrick 8.21.09 at 10:52 am #

        So true. In fact, our top-notch Jew might employ a smattering of such magnaminous amalgamations to mitigate the situation. But I think his failure to comprehend the use of articles and prepositions in the Spanish language would still be his downfall.

      • joe 8.22.09 at 11:19 am #

        Lyd: “Might” flatter the investor? Underestimation.

        Derrick: ?Para que no escribes mas postes?

  2. joe 8.18.09 at 11:13 am #

    Do I hear some bitterness? A little?

    Either bitterness or spam, I can’t decide…

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