Tag Archives: global competence

The Tao of Chicken Rice

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Every Sunday, when I go to my favorite chicken rice place in the world (Lorong 6, Toa Payoh, Singapore) to write and reflect on my experiences as an international educator, I get really good service.

It wasn’t always like that.

The first few times I was ignored while people cut in front of me, ignored me, even took the table that I faithfully reserved with a water bottle and a packet of tissues. (A real faux pas for my fellow hawker eaters). But things gradually changed the more I came and got to know the people and their routines. We got in sync. Now, I get my coffee, shrimp dumpling soup, and chicken rice with simply eye contact. I had become, in a sense, acculturated to my environment.

This past week, I was trying to make my way back from a short getaway to an island on a packed ferry off the coast of Malaysia. A ferry showed up on time. Then it left. Then a bigger one showed up, presumably due to the large number of people trying to board. Then it left. Then we waited for almost an hour to board. As the tide continued to recede, we were boarded in order by section (A-D) even though we were all stuffed into the same cabin. It was a waste of time.

Then we got stuck on a sandbar.

I turned to a woman next to me, her overstuffed purse on her lap. “I’m from the Philippines,” she smiled. “We’re used to this sort of thing.” I watched the current ripping past us as we struggled, inch by inch to get off the sand.

Trying to keep my focus off the peril that awaited us, I watched a Rambo movie playing on an old screen at the front whose sound was blasting over the speakers. I looked around sheepishly as he mowed down scores of Asian soldiers in a remote jungle, his tanned muscles rippling with the recoiling machine gun. The boat started listing. We weren’t going anywhere. Why did we leave so late? Why did they allow so much baggage? Why are they playing violent American movies of Asian people getting blown up? (We eventually became unstuck when the captain moved everyone toward the bow).

The road to my island escape was lined with hectares of palm plantations as far as the eye could see, the scourge of my part of the world as an easy buck that fuels everything from Ritz crackers to Nutella and clouds the skies of my part of the world for months with pollution as the fields burn.

Along the road past my beach bungalow was a sea turtle sanctuary, the carcass of a gigantic rusting freighter that was being cut up for scrap, (making a section of the beach dangerous and unusable), mounds of plastic and trash, and an enormous hotel that was being constructed by migrant laborers living in muddy shacks covered with palm fronds.

This is our world.

A juxtaposition of threatened species and people trying to survive, of big conglomerates and small gestures toward sustainability. Of ignorance and beauty. Hope and hopelessness.

I stood with my hands on my hips, sweating profusely as I listened to an earnest volunteer at the turtle sanctuary tell me the greatest thing that she had learned was not about the ecology of the turtles but the importance of learning the cultures around her and the assimilation of values necessary to protect the species.

“We have a man who used to take all the eggs on the beach and bring them to the village. Instead of trying to stop him, we buy the eggs. Then we raise the turtles. That was a big victory for us.”

I wrote about this as I enjoyed my chicken rice routine, satisfied at my connection to the chicken rice culture but looking for the messages in these other experiences, and wondering what, if anything I could do about this in my role as an educator.

Would my students know what to do about the sea turtles competing with the people next door trying to survive?

What would they think about the village destroying the beach as they tried to attract tourists?

Do they know anything about the effects of palm oil?

Do they think Rambo movies are cool?

Sustainability is hard, complex work embedded with cultural phenomenon that goes back centuries. It’s the work that governments do badly and that people on a small scale do exceptionally well. Yes, thinking global and acting local.

In a microcosm, my chicken rice experience mirrored the type of education we need to give our children. To observe, to acculturate, to gain acceptance. To create change. It’s hard but essential work, not the type of thing that is easy to grade or find in a textbook.

I finished my coffee and my writing for the morning, got up and gave the ladies at the busy counter my usual smile. “See you next week,” I waved. “See you next week,” they said in unison. “See you next week.”

Are you an expat or a global professional?

I am teaching a university course on leadership across cultures to an audience of twenty different nationalities and used thisarticle by Professor Peiperl from IMD. The conversation was fascinating. Where do you rank?

You are an expat if…

You manage your classroom environment by the content you teach rather than the people in front of you.

You manage your teams by the way in which you learned how to manage teams in your country of origin.

Your pantry is filled with food from your country of origin. (Especially if your luggage is filled with it when you go home for summer break).

You live in a compound that resembles your host country and you rarely leave it.

You go to the bars and restaurants that speak your language, serve the food from your country of origin and attract a clientele from either your country of origin or ones close to it.

You cannot communicate effectively with the support staff because you don’t speak the host country language.

You complain about “the way things work here” rather than adapt to the way things work here.

Your always consider yourself a “temporary” worker

You don’t have any friends from the host country.

Rather than adapt to the unique cultures of your working environment, you seek comfort zones by sticking to the habits and cultures that you identify with.

You are a global professional if…

You teach according to a level of cultural intelligence that allows you to connect with the learning aptitudes of different cultures.

You manage teams with an awareness of “high context” and “low context” cultures.

You stretch yourself by being inquisitive and learning from your surroundings, making these experiences part of your “leadership toolkit.”

You can speak more than one language, preferably the one of your host country.

You go to bars or restaurants outside of your comfort zone and where you are in the minority.

You stretch your global competency by having a keen sensitivity to the “way things are done here” rather than complaining about “the way things are done here.”

You choose (if you have a choice) to live in the community, exposing you to languages and cultures you may not be accustomed to.

You know how to communicate across cultures, not only in language, but with cultural intelligence. (Not everyone likes the loud American approach, believe me).

Okay, so this is technically from the 1970s, but it’s the first song that came to my mind when I thought of the topic. Yes, it’s hard to watch aging rock stars performing classics like this.