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Cultural Intelligence

Today people live in a multi-cultural environment which necessitates the ability to understand people who are different but also be able to adjust one’s approach in the classroom. These skills are even more needed if a teacher moves into a different cultural context, such as working overseas. In this post, we will look at cultural intelligence and some of the teaching and training approaches available for educators who may choose to work overseas.

Cultural Intelligence

Cultural intelligence measures an individual’s ability to perform in diverse cultural settings. Someone with high cultural intelligence can function well and with little difficulty in a culture that is foreign to them. This concept is broken down into four dimensions which are cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, and behavioral.


The cognitive dimension measures an individual’s knowledge of the new culture they are experiencing. The metacognitive dimension measures a person’s ability to use their cross-cultural knowledge to understand and adjust to the new cultural environment. The Motivational dimensions assess the desire to continuously learn about the new culture. Lastly, the behavioral dimension is a person’s ability to practice culturally appropriate actions.

Preparing for a New Culture

There are several commonly used approaches to preparing employees, such as teachers, for overseas cultural experiences. For example, low-rigor training exposes a teacher to critical information to understand the basics of the new culture before experiencing it. An example of low rigor training would include reading books on the culture, lectures, or taking a course in managing foreign students. Most of the approaches at this level are passive in nature.

High rigor training is cultural training in which the participants are actively involved. Examples of this form of training include language classes, case studies, and on-the-job training that takes place after leaving home. Such an approach allows the teacher to experience the culture and learn how to function in the new context.

The timing of training also matters, and this can take place before arriving in the new culture or after arriving in the new culture. In general, the longer a person plans to be overseas, the more training the will need to succeed. If the trip is only for a month, there will not be a huge need for extensive high rigor training because of the short duration of the trip. However, if teachers are overseas for years, they will require more support to adjust to the new culture.

Another factor to consider is how different the culture is from the one a teacher is coming from. For example, a US citizen going to Canada or Mexico will need much less support than a US citizen moving to China. This is because Mexico and Canada have much more in common with the US than with China. However, there are a lot of factors left out of this example, such as the ethnicity of the person who is moving and their prior experience with other cultures.


Having the opportunity to work in another country or culture is always an exciting opportunity. However, it doesn’t take much to fail if one is not prepared. Having an idea of how to function in the new culture through developing one’s cultural intelligence is beneficial for the teacher and the students under their care.

2 thoughts on “Cultural Intelligence

  1. Brenda

    Interesting topic, and so true. Not massively different compared to some countries but I spent a year working in France. It was a great experience but you’re right, you really need to be aware of the differences


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