cross-cultural dynamics

1st Anniversary Edition: the Top 7 Downloads

World to the Wise Podcast

This weekend marks the first anniversary of the launch of the World to the Wise podcast. For me personally, it’s been more fun than should be legal – to talk to so many fascinating people, hear their stories, and pass these stories on to you so we can all grow and be challenged together. Challenged to broaden our perspectives and travel vicariously to other parts of the world; or, as the case may be, to other subcultures within our own borders. To mark the occasion we’ve decided to do a roundup of the top seven downloaded episodes from this first year of our existence. We thought this would not only be a great way to celebrate, but also give you a chance to hear a synopsis of some episodes you might not have caught so you can go back and listen. It’s never too late to catch an episode because you can just click on the podcast tab on this website.

Here are the top seven most downloaded episodes from the first year of this podcast adventure:

  1. Dr. Lee Camp, professor of theology and ethics at Lipscomb University. Lee discusses his insightful and incisive book, Who is My Enemy: Questions Americans Must Ask About Islam -- and Themselves. A great interview with a thoughtful man, and a must read!
  2. Drs. Eric and Rachel McLaughlin, an internist and OBGYN, respectively, at Kibuye Hope Hospital in the impoverished East African nation of Burundi. You'll find their work and their words inspiring.
  3. From the land of New Zealand, our dear friends Neil and Jill White are given the chance to brag on their fair country, where Becky and I enjoyed an unforgettable visit a couple of years ago. You should save your money (or miles, as we did) and go -- and stay at the Whites' Air Bnb!
  4. Author, entrepreneur and adventurer Chris Guillebeau talks about his quest to visit every country on the planet. Chris shares about lessons learned in all his travels, and he also has a lot to teach us about thinking outside the box -- entrepreneurially!
  5. Author and speaker Sarah Lanier is a long-time friend and former colleague who has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share in the area of cross-cultural dynamics and communication. In this interview we discuss her book, Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures. Don't let the title intimidate you -- this is a short but powerful read, where Sarah leads us into a greater understanding of the basic cultural differences between people groups and the importance of this understanding. A must read -- in fact, it's required reading for our Global Studies students!
  6. If you haven't already, you'll fall in love with Eleni Melirrytou, of Athens, Greece. Nowhere is there a bigger heart to serve the displaced people of this world; they have come by the hundreds through the doors of her downtown Athens church, been fed by her, loved by her, changed by her. Her testimonial will stretch the corners of your heart and challenge your thinking about the worldwide refugee crisis -- and perhaps the refugees in your own city.
  7. Number seven comes from our series on American subcultures. Bill Moser was a successful architect living in an upscale suburb of Detroit when he met some people who changed the course of his life. Bill and his wife became Amish. The radical change in his belief system and, consequently, lifestyle is nothing short of fascinating, as told through his childhood friend, Jeff Smith, in the book Becoming Amish.

We could go on and talk about the next seven, and the next...but we'll let you discover those for yourself.

Thank you to those of you who have been faithful listeners over this exciting first year! We realize what a privilege it is to be "in your ears" every week!

A Mexican, a Gringa and Six Children

Imagine you’re a single, white, American woman with a big heart to serve.

World to the Wise Podcast

Imagine you’re a single Mexican man with an equally big heart, and you’ve been designated to meet said American woman at the airport in Mexico as the two of you are destined to work together serving the poor.

This is the story of Martin and Karen Arroyo, who now, 26 years later, are the parents of six children, and have spent their lives serving the poorest of the poor — first in the metropolis of Mexico City, and more recently in the city of Juxtlahuaca, in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. We’ll hear them share from their hearts about the challenges of being a bi-cultural couple, about raising their family in some tough conditions in Mexico, and how racism is not just an American problem. And yet through it all they continue to serve, love, and inspire wherever they are. I hope you enjoy their story…

You'll hear Karen mention a book: Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans, which you'll find here:

A Lesson Learned on Bias

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Many years ago in Switzerland I had a voice student named Catherine. Catherine taught me something I've never forgotten, although it will take me a lifetime to fully put it into practice. A little background: as you may know, Switzerland is composed of three main regions. By far the largest is the German-speaking area in the north, center, and east. There is a small Italian-speaking region bordering Italy in the south, and the French-speaking region, where I lived for a total of six years, in the southwest.

The French speakers, whom I of course am the most acquainted with, have a bit of an attitude toward the German speakers. They detest the Swiss German language (there are dozens of different dialects, all of which sound different from the High German spoken in Germany), and for the most part would rather speak English with a German-speaking Swiss. There are of course exceptions, as many French speakers have Swiss German ancestry or relatives. (Personally, I love the sing-song lilt of Swiss German, but I'm not Swiss.)

Catherine is a French speaker, born and raised in the Lausanne area. So what is the lesson she taught me? At some point she realized she harbored some of the bias against German speakers common among her fellow French speakers. She then did something crazy -- she looked for and found a job in Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland, and moved there for a full year just to get to know some German-speaking Swiss personally as well as learn their language.

She turned around and looked her prejudice in the face.

And of course Catherine came home having made some dear friends and with a genuine appreciation for these people who, after all, are her compatriots.

All because she did the difficult work of facing herself. And once she had identified the problem, she took tangible steps to do something about it.

This continues to challenge me. You may think I'm bias-free because of what I preach. The truth is that we all have biases, and there is never a lack of work to be done in overcoming them. So with an occasional "ouch," I often think of Catherine.

I'm not sure she learned all that much from me in the area of singing, but I certainly learned a life-long lesson from her.

Any of this ring true for you?

The New Kurdistan: One Family's Role

World to the Wise Podcast

What would make a successful Iraqi geologist and his physicist wife pull up roots from the city they’ve grown up in, learn a new language, and become humanitarians and educators in a foreign culture — within their own country?

Today we’re speaking with Youssif Matti, an Aramaic Iraqi, who has been living and working in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq for over 25 years. He has seen the region transform into a relatively peaceful and prosperous corner of the Middle East, and the part he has played in that transformation is significant. I hope you enjoy listening to his story.

We apologize for the technical issues toward the end of the interview. Yousif was saying he believes Muslim imams, or clerics, need to do a better job of explaining to the world the difference between their orthodox beliefs and the tenets of radical Islam.

That’s just one of the many challenges Yousif and his family and team members navigate on a regular basis as they serve the Kurdish people.

You can read more about the Classical School of the Medes here. And if you'd like to find out about how you can support their important work, go here.

What You Can't Know About Your Country Until You Leave It

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My wife and I took a brief road trip last weekend. I like road trips except for one thing: I get so sleepy behind the wheel. Enter the audio book. This time we chose a book that had been mentioned by a good friend. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight takes place in Southern Rhodesia during the time the nation becomes Zimbabwe. Since Becky and I spent two months in Zimbabwe just five years after the war of independence, we were immediately taken back to those life-shaping experiences as we listened. This enabled us to stick with what others might find a bit of a sleepy read.

Author Alexandra Fuller recounts with an incisive style a childhood reminiscent of the American West, where tough, white pioneers make a life for themselves amid punishing conditions in a tumultuous time and no shortage of adversaries. Hers wasn't an easy childhood. But one thing jumped out at both Becky and me at the same time: when Alexandra left Africa for England for the first time, she realized there were certain things she couldn't know about Zimbabwe until she left. So true.

There are things you can't know about your home country until you leave it.

In my case:

You can't know people in the South really are friendly, for the most part, until you've lived somewhere else. (A friend from New Jersey pointed this out to me.)

You can't know there is more than one way to do things, like flush a toilet. Or dry your clothes.

You can't know everyone doesn't have a choice of 78 breakfast cereals at the supermarket.

You can't know that you live in a country where way too much is taken for granted, as if we deserved everything we have.

You can't know that, in spite of all the pettiness, the infantile political wrangling and the frenzied climate, we still have a system that has been one of the most spectacular success stories in history...

You can't know you live in a place the world envies, and marvels at, and sometimes shakes it head at, but pays attention to ...

...until you've left.

Then you come back and everything is the same -- except the way you see it.

Stereotypical Stereotypes

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I was at a symposium last night on Russian-American relations moving from the Obama years into the Trump era. While most of Dr. Mark Katz's remarks and the questions asked of him centered on Trump and Putin's relationship and speculation about what that might look like moving forward, one question was asked that got me thinking about stereotypes. The question was something to the effect of, "How fair is it for Americans and other Westerners to believe that Putin's strong man persona is representative of the Russian people and culture?" The question put its finger on a common and universal tendency: to assume that everyone in a given group or culture is the same. We would of course deny that we think in such base and ignorant terms, but most of us are guilty of this at one time or another.

In the case of Vladimir Putin, we might think that most all Russians only understand the language of power and force, as Putin's MO is widely believed to be. And it is true that there are many Russians who are glad to have a leader who stands up to the West and is committed to restoring Mother Russia to her former glory.

But there are probably just as many Russians who would like a "kinder and gentler" leader who doesn't enjoy provoking the West and suppressing dissent. The few Russians I know personally are kind, caring people who have mixed feelings about their president -- like most of the world feels about its leaders. Some will point out that Putin is a vast improvement over his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

We could think of other examples of stereotypes. Are all Germans super organized and efficient, with a hard exterior? Nope.

Are all Japanese workaholics? Nope. Not quite!

Are all Australians laid back? I don't think so, but I'm still looking for an uptight Aussie.

Aha. So here we see that there is often a kernel of truth to certain stereotypes. There is usually a reason why they were formed in the first place. The truth is that stereotypes can at times be useful, up to a point. If I were putting together an international team, I wouldn't be wrong to go to Switzerland or Germany to look for an administrative type, for example. International marketing firms will tell you that stereotypes based on studies and market research prove invaluable in their marketing strategies.

But stereotypes can just as often get us into trouble. Chances are, as soon as we allow the stereotype to take shape in our minds, one or more exceptions will present themselves.

In the current dialogue in the US about race, this is particularly dicey. It's a little too easy to assume all members of a certain race feel or behave the same way (racial profiling comes to mind). Polls and surveys and market research may help, but true understanding won't come until we sit down and listen to each other.

I'm going to have just such an opportunity on Jan 27, when I have been invited to moderate a round table discussion on the current state of race relations in the US, including in the American church. If you're in the Nashville area, we'd love for you to join us. Details here.

Hot Climate and Cold Climate Cultures

World to the Wise Podcast

Have you ever been with someone from a different culture and wondered at -- or even been shocked by -- something they said or did? Have you yourself committed a cultural fauxpas because you didn't know any better? It happens to just about all of us at one time or another. Our guest this week, Sarah Lanier, talks about her book, Foreign to Familiar, in which she explains that many of our behaviors are consistent with the culture we live in, and specifically whether we live in a hot climate or cold climate culture. The thing is, it's not always as simple as how far north or south you live. And as we know, different cultures can coexist within one country, with the American North and South being an obvious example.

I think you'll find this interview illuminating -- you might even have some "Aha" moments as you are reminded of certain experiences. Understanding these concepts can go a long way toward more effective communication, leading to more fruitful relationships and sometimes even more successful business partnerships.

If you find the interview helpful, please share it by simply posting the URL of this page!

Here is a link to Ms. Lanier's book: