February 8, 2008

Zip in and out

While in Trento visiting my older son, I filled him in on IQ, EQ and the new concept of CQ. He was thoughtful before responding, "I don't know about the first two, but I would score high on the last one." So, while flying over snowfilled fields in a bubble on the weekend, I got to thinking about how he developed such high marks on his cultural quotient.

Of course, he is privileged, growing up with an American mother and an Italian father in Rome with summer vacations in New England and winters at a truly international school. But he even stands out among his peers of similar backgrounds. When he was an assistant counselor at a summer camp in New Hampshire at 16, the Director and several senior staff members told me individually that they couldn't believe he wasn't just an American kid. My son confided his secret, he simply "zips" himself into his American suit for the duration, shedding it on return. A few years earlier, after a few weeks at a day camp in Connecticut, he had the junior cultural differences figured out. "Mom," he explained, "kids do the same things everywhere, only the American kids do them to transgress while the Italian kids do them to experiment." Quite a lucid assessment of cultural differences for a 13 year old. Since then he has moved from Rome to Trento and fit in immediately to that very different culture as well. One difference he soon noted was that parents of friends in Rome would always accompany him to the doorstep, whereas in Trento he was left on the other side of the road so that they wouldn't have to do two round abouts to be on their way. He shrugged, "it is just different." I am sure that parachuted into a remote area of China and left to his own for a month, he would have it all figured out and be accepted as an integral member of the local society. He just has that something.

I watch him and observe how he intensely observes all that is around him when in a new situation -- how people move, interact, smile, joke, get angry, introduce themselves, make friends, move in and out of peer groups. He watches. Then he slowly moves, with small steps to test the waters. As each step is reinforced and he takes another and builds cross-cultural skills along the way with confidence and respect for differences.

Americans are doers, all action and moving forward, taking control, getting things done. Maybe developing CQ is about just "being", and watching, listening, observing. Not taking action, but belonging as a goal. More than the head, it takes the body and the heart.

Any thoughts?
a domani,


Chris said...

Reading your thoughts about your son is interesting, especially from a mothers standpoint. Just the fact that you seem to take an outsiders point of view more then a family memeber's, no favoritism.

With that said, I think you're right on about the actions and abilities that allow us to grow in CQ. But I'm a true believer that you can't just develop such social skills immediately. There's something inside the individual that allows them to act as such, somewhat opening their mind. If you embrace a new culture, a new way of life and those who live it rest assured that they and it will embrace you back.

Keep writing, love the mental stimulant...

Deirdre' Straughan said...

Always watching and listening, yes, but truly belonging? I'm not so sure. I observed long ago (http://www.beginningwithi.com/italy/living/born_into_it.htm) that, at least in Italy, a foreigner can never truly belong. Our kids are in a yet stranger position, being fully accepted as Italian by their Italian peers, and valuing that, while also having a sense of themselves as different.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps your son "belongs" to that rare category of persons who feel so at home here on earth, naturally to the extent one can feel so, that they cannot but expereince all others as members of the same household. Such a feeling of kinship at so young an age is remarkable. Good for him! Hope he doesn't lose "it".