Viewpoint Innovation Welcomes Anjana Doshi & Gerry O’Hanlon!!

We are very happy to announce that our team is expanding to include 2 new associates – Anjana Doshi & Gerry O’Hanlon, who will both be setting up and developing Viewpoint Innovation North-East, based in Newcastle!  To find out more about them, click here



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What is cross-cultural training?

This is a question I get every time I meet someone new and they ask me what I do.  Mostly, people assume that cross-cultural training is teaching people how to use chopsticks, or how to bow appropriately when exchanging business cards with a Korean.

When I first moved to Australia, I remember saying to someone that I was really having a difficult time adjusting to Australian culture.  “Don’t be silly!” she responded.  “Australians don’t have culture!”.

While this is really funny on a couple of levels, most of the time, people have a difficult time understanding what culture is, never mind being able to understand what the training is all about.  So what is cross-cultural training?

It is training people to understand the worldviews of those from different countries;

It is teaching people to better understand the motives and desires of different people and that these might be very different from your own;

It is teaching people to examine the deeper reasons behind the way we behave;

It is helping people to understand how to build trust with clients and colleagues from other cultures that you have to work with;

It is teaching leaders how to be flexible and effectively lead a multi-cultural and diverse team;

It helping people to understand why people from other cultures get emotional about things that we wouldn’t consider important;

It is helping people understand that very strange things can be done for perfectly reasonably motives that have nothing to do with wanting to harm or cause trouble;

It is training people to better ensure that their message correctly gets through when communicating with people from other cultures;

It is enabling people to see the world as it is and not be frightened by the differences;


It is NOT just about learning a new language.

It is NOT just about learning to eat like a native of a different country.

It is NOT just about learning to avoid offensive behaviour.

It is NOT just about learning actions and gestures that copy the behaviour of others.

It is NOT just about “do’s and don’ts” of particular countries.

It is learning to stecross cultural teamp into the shoes of someone who is different to you.




Almost always, people who complete our training courses exclaim – “Wow! I didn’t know such a thing existed and I can see now that this knowledge is essential for me to work successfully in a global economy!

If you don’t know what you don’t know, get in touch with me and let’s talk……..

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What happens to the brain of a person caught between two cultures?

The decision to relocate to another country is often motivated by various factors – job opportunities, the desire to provide better educational opportunities for your children, etc.  However, many parents do not realise the outcomes of bringing up their children in a country that is different to the one they grew up in.

It has been noted that adolescents adopt the host culture values more rapidly than their parents (Heras & Revilla, 1994).  Parents who bring up their children in a different culture often feel obliged to act as “gatekeepers” of their home culture, and have a strong desire to want to pass on and maintain the cultural values of their home culture. (Hall, 1997) This can result in the phenomena where for example, Korean families living in the UK can end up being more Korean in their cultural values than the Koreans living in Korea.  It is only natural that parents would want their children to understand something of their heritage and culture, especially when they are living in another country so different to their own.  Second generation immigrant children are often sent to weekend classes to maintain their home country language and contact with other families from home culture.


Children of immigrant families often face issues of acculturation and identity as they grow up in the host culture.    There are 3 factors which influence their journey :


1)    The developmental stage at which the cultural transition occurs

2)    The age of the individual;

3)    The length of exposure to the host culture.

(Olmeda & Padilla, 1978)

Often finding themselves growing up and caught between two cultures, children of immigrant families can find that it is a confusing time especially during the adolescent years.  Growing up in two cultures is hard on the brain.  The process of getting to know a new culture is an “additive” experience, which involves new neuronal connections to be made.  Recent developments in understanding how brain plasticity works shows that while plasticity allows a person to adjust to a new culture plasticity also results in the brain “pruning” neuronal connections and neurons that are no longer being used.  This is because plasticity is competitive. Studies have shown that a Japanese child can still differentiate between “r” and “l” in sounds but at one year, this ability is lost, and so if this Japanese child was to relocate to another country, he/she would have difficulty pronouncing certain words.


Relocating to a new country causes the adult brain to be subject to an intense and unending workout and rewiring of neuronal connections.  This is why “culture shock” is literally “brain shock”.  Parents who experience culture shock can choose to either adjust to the host culture or to separate from the host culture.  Their children, however, often have a stronger motivation to identify with the host culture, but also face strong pressure from the family to maintain their home culture values, language and lifestyle. (Doidge, 2007)


While this may result in some confusion in identity and also be stressful on the brain, second generation migrants are in the unique position of having the opportunity to gain skills and the abilities to manage complexity and access multiple perspectives as they go through this process.   All of these skills and talents will certainly serve them well later on in life as they work in a global economy.

However, there can also be negative outcomes to be mindful of, especially during the adolescent years such as :

1)    Rebellion

2)    Identity confusion

3)    Depression

4)    Substance abuse

5)    Isolation and loneliness

6)    Being bullied at school

7)    Being misunderstood by family and friends


The adolescent years can already be turbulent enough for some but for adolescents who are growing up between two cultures, these years can be even more intense and confusing.

Migrant families need to be aware of the issues and it is important to think of what strategies to use to help bring about greater understanding between parents and children.

For example, humour is a great diffuser of tension and stress.  Research has shown that laughing alters the brain chemistry and helps relieve stress.  So take every opportunity to laugh often as a family.  Slowing down and taking time to relax together can strengthen family communication and understanding, which is crucial for a family whose children are growing up in a culture very different to that of the parents’.

Ultimately, knowledge and awareness is important and so, thankfully, these days, resources are always available along with cross-cultural coaching and training which has proven to be immensely helpful in reducing stress and uncertainty while on this journey.


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Caught between cultures – insights from the Shafilea Ahmed case

The Shafilea Ahmed case has been on the news this week as it goes to trial.  The BBC news article can be read here :

If Iftikhar & Farzana Ahmed are convicted of murdering their daughter for bringing shame on her family because of her conduct, then they will face the legal consequences of their actions. While the case will focus mainly on the legal issues, there are also cultural issues involved and it is worthwhile taking some time to explore further these cultural issues and stresses that can affect any immigrant family who decide to live in a foreign country and raise their children there.

Shafilea was portrayed as a girl who was becoming westernised and who refused to obey her parents and conform to their cultural values. It is common to find that in migrant families, younger migrants find it easier to adapt and change than older ones. Older migrants usually have a well-established identity with their heritage culture and are unwilling to change. In fact they may feel a strong obligation to act as “gatekeepers” of the heritage culture and ensure that their children are taught the values and traditions of the heritage culture. Migrant families may actually end up being more strongly traditional in their cultural values in an attempt to preserve the heritage culture for their children.

Certainly Shafilea Ahmed was put under enormous pressure by her parents to conform to their cultural norms and Iftikhar and Farzana found it impossible to force their daughter to comply. Second generation migrants who are brought up in the new host culture commonly face pressure from home to maintain the heritage culture of their parents but also face pressure from friends and society to conform to the host culture. Adolescent migrants who are experimenting with their emerging sense of identity can find that it is a confusing time and soon discover that there are choices to be made.  An article on cultural identity can be read here :

Berry’s categorical model of acculturation has been a popular one for explaining the choices that are available to an immigrant living in the host culture. (As referenced in ‘The Psychology of Culture Shock.’ By Ward, C, Bochner, S., and Furnham, A).

Separation– This is when the immigrant decides not to take on any of the values of the host culture, they essentially decide to separate themselves from the host culture and only engage with it as necessary, striving to maintain the heritage culture as much as possible.

Marginalisation – The immigrant may change to adapt to the host culture but in doing so, may end up feeling that they no longer fit in with their heritage culture, but neither do they feel part of the host culture.

Assimilation – This is where the immigrant abandons their heritage culture in favour of the host culture. They deny all cultural values and traditions in their past and change dramatically to fit in with the host culture.

Integration – The ideal choice, where individuals are encouraged to maintain the cultural values from their heritage culture that are important to them but at the same time are able to adapt enough to merge with the host culture in other equally important ways.

Families who are adapting to their new host culture often do not anticipate nor understand the struggles that their teenage children can go through in trying to make sense of their identity and place in society. Growing up as a bi-cultural teenager and having pressure both from home and from school/society to conform can create confusion, stress, conflict and sometimes in extreme cases, depression and other mental health issues.

Parents often may not appreciate the full extent of what their children go through when growing up in a culture that is different to their home culture. Some children may end up with a split cultural identity – one for home and one for school/society. Having spent time with a Vietnamese community in Australia while conducting research on how first and second generation migrants dealt with their acculturation experience to Australia, I discovered that most second generation migrants eventually developed a split cultural identity as a way of keeping the peace at home and also fitting in at school and with their friends.

While some parents may wish that their children would just separate from the host culture and retain their heritage culture values, this is not an ideal long-term solution. Neither is full-blown assimilation, as children then lose the unique traits and values from their heritage culture. Having a split cultural identity may end up making bi-cultural kids feel marginalised – not fitting in with either culture.

Ideally, aiming for integration would be the best solution. However the way integration is understood and implemented in multi-cultural countries is still a subject of debate and discussion.  This case highlights the need for more support to be provided for migrant families who may be struggling with raising bi-cultural children, and while wanting the very best opportunities for their children, may also need information on how to help their children figure out how to blend the best from both worlds and make sense of their identity.

For futher reading :

1) ‘Third Culture Kids. Growing up among worlds.’ By Pollock, D. C & Van Reken, R.

2) ‘The Psychology of Culture Shock.’ By Ward, C, Bochner, S., and Furnham, A

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How culture affects teaching & learning

As Universities deal with growing numbers of international students, tutors and lecturers are becoming increasingly aware of how culture affects teaching and learning.

Most of the time, students from Asia and Africa tend to move to universities in western countries (USA, UK, Australia, etc) for their higher education.  Besides having to deal with acculturation issues and culture shock, students from other cultures eventually find that there are also differences in the education system they have to deal with.

The tragedy, however, is that many students are unaware that most of the problems they start to face are a result of cultural differences.  Instead, they think that their lecturers/supervisors are being evasive, unhelpful or even worse, racist!  These misunderstandings can eventually lead an international student to feel unsupported and abandoned which then affects their academic performance, leading to worry, depression and fear that they are now unable to meet the high expectations of their family who have invested all their savings in their education.

Universities also lose out as student retention numbers become an issue.  Lecturers and staff develop the opinion that international students can be “difficult”, and once again are not aware that cultural factors are in play.

The early work of Hofstede and Trompenaars have given us models of explaining how cultures are different.  Here are a couple of the cultural differences that can affect teaching and learning :

Hierarchy vs Equality : Teachers from hierarchical cultures tend to expect students to behave in certain ways so that they show respect for their teachers.  Students expect teachers to be the experts and to give them the information they need.   Debate and discussion between students and teachers may not be encouraged as much as can be seen as a lack of respect for the teacher to question/challenge what they are saying. This may result in a tendency towards rote learning.  In cultures which favour equality, teachers function also as facilitators and expect discussion and debate from students.  Students learn more by questioning and discussing.

Individualism vs Communitarianism : The education system in western countries is generally influenced by individualism.  Teachers mostly expect their students to be as independent as possible and will only provide essential guidance and information to get them started in their assignments and study. Students are also expected to work independently and not be seen to be collaborating with other students to copy their work or their ideas.  Students who come from community-oriented cultures where group collaboration is normal may struggle in western institutions if they are unaware that their teachers/lecturers generally may not be as accessible or supportive as they would normally expect.  Some students may also not understand the way tutorial classes run and may be hesitant to speak up and participate if they are not used to doing so in their home country.  However, students may be marked down due to lack of participation in tutorial groups as they may not have the courage or skills to put their opinion forward boldly in a group.

Learning styles can also be influenced by culture.  Students from certain cultures may learn best by observing and then doing.  Other students prefer verbal instructions.  Some others prefer visual/written instructions.  This can be seen, for example, when lab assistants complain that some international students expect them to demonstrate the experiment for them, and they wrongly assume that the students are expecting the lab assistants to do the work for them.  However, it could be that these students come from cultures where they learn by watching their parents or teachers do the task first before they try it themselves.

Therefore the different learning styles can be :

  1. Show me and I’ll learn
  2. Tell me and I’ll learn
  3. Give me the instructions to read, and I’ll learn

What then can universities do to deal with these diverse approaches to teaching and learning?  I would suggest the following :

1)    Provide support for international students upon arrival and throughout the initial months in the form of induction seminars on cultural differences, the institution’s education system and expectations, etc.  Also counselling and coaching can be helpful for students who are struggling.

2)    Provide cultural workshops/training sessions for staff and faculty members.

In addition, secondary schools and colleges that have twinning programmes with universities abroad can also provide training for teachers so that they are aware of the cultural differences in the education system and can better prepare their students at home before they go abroad.

What can universities gain from their diverse student population?  There is much to learn from how different cultures “do” education.   Teachers who balance their roles as experts and facilitators and students who learn to work independently but also know the value of teamwork and collaboration will surely achieve balance and avoid any unhelpful extremes.

Students & teachers need to be able to deal with the complexities of globalisation and life that is becoming increasingly complex.  Universities play a key role in the formation of our future leaders and cultural differences need to be understood and also leveraged (see Philippe Rosinski’s books) in order to stay competitive and effective.

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Viewpoint Innovation featured in Aberdeen Press & Journal – 1 April 2011

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Safety Seminar Business Breakfast – 21 April 2011. Aberdeen Treetops Hotel.

I will be speaking at this Business Breakfast on how cultural factors affect safety standards and safety interventions.  For more information or to book your place, please visit this link :

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Third Culture Kids and Cross-Cultural Kids – Who am I and where do I belong?

David C Pollock and Ruth E Van Reken, in their book “Third Culture Kids. Growing up among worlds” define a Third Culture Kid as :

“… a person who has spent a significant part of his/her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationship to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

In the same book, co-author Ruth V Reken defined a Cross-Cultural Kid as :

“…a person who is living or has lived in – or meaningfully interacted with – two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during childhood (up to age 18).

While TCKs traditionally come from families who are involved in the Foreign Service, expatriate assignments, the military or missionary service, CCKs include children from a wider range of backgrounds including those born to parents from at least 2 cultures, children of immigrants, refugees, international adoptees, etc.

Our family has lived and worked in various countries and on board an international ship and raising our own TCKs within our family where we as parents are adult CCKs present many challenges.  As my own kids struggle to define who they are (1/4 Chinese,  1/4 Indian, 1/4 Scottish, 1/4 Australian), they also struggle with figuring out where they belong (born in Australia, lived on a ship which travelled to more than 70 ports, and now living in the UK).

With the media coverage on President Barak Obama’s race and ethnicity during his campaign (he is both an adult TCK and an adult CCK) the world has become more aware of this growing community of people who have grown up with a global mindset and cross-cultural experience as part of their developmental years.

Living with high mobility and mixed ethinicity can cause confusion in identity and a sense of rootlessness, and homesickness for all the other places one has lived in the past.  Some TCKs and CCKs struggle with unresolved grief over the many changes and goodbyes they’ve had to go through in their lives.

While living with these factors, there can still be ways to use these unique experiences to make a difference in the world.  While we may not be understood by those who have never lived with the same issues of high mobility and mixed ethnicity, we can perhaps more easily understand others who are different – the foreigner, the newcomer.  The ability to understand and adapt to differences from an early age will give TCKs and CCKs many advantages and the adult TCKs andCCKs who have learned to leverage the benefits of this way of life are able to use their knowledge and skills to provide excellent leadership and creative solutions to the complex issues and problems that globalisation has brought about.

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Travels around the World – What have I learnt?

Having lived in 3 different countries (Malaysia, Australia and now the UK), and traveled to more than 70 ports all over the world, I have seen a lot of how people live in different countries.

River Transport – Madagascar

It is easy enough to spot the differences in clothing, travel, food, language and housing initially,  but it takes a while to get a deeper understanding of the different values and beliefs in operation in a new culture.

While a different culture may share some common ways of thinking with me, some of their beliefs and values will be different to how I think.  For instance, I have found that some cultures see time as scarce and others see time as plentiful.  While my preference would be to view time as scarce, and so I tend to live making the most of every minute, trying to be productive and efficient,  I can also benefit from occasionally taking on the mindset that time is plentiful so as to enable myself to slow down and enjoy time with friends, time for rest and recreation with the family, all of which do not produce tangible and measurable results, but are important for maintaining a good quality of life.

What are your preferences and how can you find value in a different way of thinking?

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