What is Cultural Intelligence (CQ):
CQ is the capability to function effectively in culturally diverse situations (Ang & van Dyne, Handbook of Cultural Intelligence, 2008). It predicts and explains why some people thrive and some struggle in culturally diverse settings. It consists of four complementary capabilities or dimensions: CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, CQ Strategy, and CQ Action.
I believe that our cultural intelligence is not fixed; it develops and grows through experiences. This is why it is vital that your global nomads interact with their host country. With your family values as a framework, you can foster cultural understanding and respect with your children thus giving them this benefit for their whole life-time.
CQ Knowledge, i.e., the level of understanding about how cultures are similar and different, plays an enormous part of being an expat child but it is not the most important thing a child learns living overseas. My children learned how to give a greeting in Thailand, how to behave in an Islamic environment and how to sing happy birthday in five different languages before they reached the age of 10.
Real learning came from two key areas of all international assignments —motivation and action
When I look back over my children’s time as expats, these two areas of motivation stick out in my mind because they were driven by children under the age of ten. Please note I will be using ‘he’ instead of ‘he or she’ but this does not mean all of these references are about my son. (He has told me I need to stop writing about him…hum?)
Wanting to make a difference in a child’s life, he got friends to donate small items to sell so they could support a child going to school. The East Cipinang trash dump a poverty-stricken area in Jakarta needed a way for the trash pickers to get a better education. It was the motivation of my child to get others involved so children living on the dump could go to an area school.
After having malaria, it became clear that if expat kids can get it easily, then more local children need essential long-lasting insecticidal nets to sleep under. Raising awareness has been an enormous undertaking since there are millions of reported cases of malaria and many of those causing death among children under the age of five. Using summer time to continue to raise awareness in the USA to help funding go to countries with lots of malaria.
These areas of action were very important to at least one of my children.
Rescue and conservation of distressed elephants in Thailand. By spending time caring for the elephants at the Sanctuary and Rescue Center for elephants in Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai), he showed action. Elephants are officially classified as an endangered species. There are 3000 to 4000 elephants in Thailand. Elephants form their social groups, and they even have different personalities. The Sanctuary and Rescue Center is always adding to their herd, as they look for elephants in desperate need of care.
Feed the Needy in Lagos, Nigeria by spending time preparing the food and serving it, gives a child the understanding that we need to be grateful for what we have but also we need to have empathy and compassion for others who have so much less. Action like this that is on-going and demanding are actual examples of expats around the world making a difference.
Caring for the Reef system can be a worldwide experience when you summer in Roatan, Honduras. This is where you live off the second longest barrier reef system in the world, and yet you live during the school year in Thailand. The ability to clean up the reefs, care about the worldwide implications of trash in our waterways and see the impact divers can have with they are not environmental careful is terrific experiences.
Children are naturally interested in others. Children naturally care about others. To motivation and action to happen in an expat family, parents just need to add exposure and time. If parents expose children to “real life” situations in your home environment, children have compassion. If parents don’t rush but allow a child time to feel the situation and have an opinion about the situation usually “action” will occur.
Often as expat parents, we are swamped and as all parents know it is much easier to do something ourselves than to ask our eight-year-old to do something. Stop. Let your child do what they feel might make the situation better. Let them express their compassion.
Expat parents are well advised to invest in their children by helping them to increase their CQ with real-life experiences now.
Julia Simens: Helping Families Worldwide