Learning Cultural Intelligence (CQ) – Core vs. Flex

“‘Everyone assumes that Cultural Intelligence (CQ) comes from understanding other people’s cultures, but you really have to understand your own’ (Middleton). Julia is so right about this point.” says Sydney Lapin studying abroad on the Student Exchange Program at Ecole de Management Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France. Read more on what she learned about CQ and how it related to her experience abroad, as well as how being abroad has helped her learn about her own culture and about herself.

Friends from all over Europe getting together for Valentine’s Day

The other day in my International Marketing Strategy class, we watched a Ted Talk that really spoke out to me. It was called “Cultural Intelligence: The Competitive Edge for Leaders” spoken by Julia Middleton. In the beginning, Julia defines cultural intelligence as “the ability to cross borders and boundaries between different cultures,  and actually thrive in doing so and love doing it and never want to not do it”. Julia grew up in the time where IQ meant everything, where it was considered crucial. Then, EQ (Emotional Intelligence) came around and people realized that it would be good for leaders to have this trait as well. However, people who are “good with people”, may really just be good with people who are like them. That is where CQ (Cultural Intelligence) comes into play: “the ability to work with people, and lead people, who are not like you”.

Julia went around the world, studying and interviewing people who she thought to have a good amount of cultural intelligence. Through her conversations, she found one large thing in common: “They had sort of figured out which bits of them was core, and which bits of them was flex”. By core “bits”, Julia means the behaviors, values and beliefs that are absolutely crucial to you being who you are, and a part of you that you are not willing to change. By flex bits, Julia means everything else that you are willing to compromise, or be flexible about. She states, “The more core you are, the more people trust you. The more flex you are, the more people trust you”. By this I believe she means that one needs to find a good balance, and that balance is what people who obtain cultural intelligence have found. For example, a salesperson is extremely flexible, and you lose all parts of your core and no one trusts you. And then, as Julia mentions, you have people like your grandparents, who are so set in their core that they refuse to be the least bit flexible.

Julia stated that cultural intelligence is found on the line between one’s core and one’s flex, and it moves from learning new things, gaining new experiences, and meeting new people. This video really got me thinking about which parts of me are core, and which parts are flex. I thought about my life, and my culture, and I tried and am still trying to figure it out. I think it will take a long time, if not forever, for someone to truly figure out where they stand because like Julia says, the line is always moving based on the things you learn and the people you meet.

Being abroad, I completely see how this video connects with my life. I have met people from all over the world, and not only met them but have held conversations, been involved in group projects, and traveled with these people of different backgrounds. There are parts of me I have and still need to adapt in order to get things to go smoothly when I work with people from other cultures.

With that, I am talking about the part of the video where Julia mentions knots in the core. We all have knots: parts of our supposed core that are based on PRE-judgement, rather than judgement. These are things we should push at and work on changing about ourselves. They might not be pretty, but I feel like that’s the point. For example, something I know I need to work on is my emotional resilience. When coming abroad, I thought that I had a pretty good grip on the things that would be difficult: the language barrier, the bureaucracy, the new school system. However, I did not think about preparing myself for how to react when difficult things are occurring. This is emotional resilience, the ability to bounce back and be okay when something is extremely frustrating and difficult. I have bounced back, but there are situations that I know I could have been more flexible and less reactive about.

An important part of the Ted Talk was where CQ comes from: “Everyone assumes that CQ comes from understanding other people’s cultures, but you really have to understand your own” (Middleton). Julia is so right about this point. She talks about the need to understand how your culture helps you versus hinders you, how it could open doors or close them, when your culture causes other people problems, and when your culture causes you to miss opportunities. To quote myself from my application, I thought one of the most important things was for me to “experience new cultures, learn about different backgrounds, and immerse myself in these cultures”. However, I now realize that the most important thing I am doing here, aside from learning about other cultures (which of course is still important), is learning who I am and how my culture, my core and my flex, affect my life and the people around me.

It is actually extremely complex, because when I think about the many things that I thought I was flexible on, it turns out that in some situations here I have found these things as “knots” in my core: they are things I want and aim to be flexible about, but I am currently not there yet, like my emotional resilience for example. It also turns out that when thinking deeper, things that I thought were in my core are actually things that I am quite flexible on. The biggest example of that I can think of is my Judaism. Being Jewish has always been one of the most important parts of me. I grew up in Cleveland, in an amazing Jewish community, that gave me so many opportunities I am grateful for. While being Jewish is something I hold very close, this video has made me think about the fact that yes, I am Jewish. Yes, this is important to me, and a part of me that I will not change. But, Judaism is actually one of the most flexible religions in the world. For instance, I personally do not think I believe in God, or in a lot of the things that supposedly happened back then, but Judaism still accepts me as a Jew. I am flexible to new opinions that go along with Judaism, and my thoughts and beliefs about it are always changing. So while being Jewish is something in my core, something that makes me who I am, I am still quite flexible about my beliefs through my religion.

I am beyond grateful to have seen this video while being abroad, and to be able to relate it to my everyday life here in Strasbourg, France. I feel as though I am much more aware of my personal strengths and weaknesses, and what I need to work on in order to become more culturally aware and to gain cultural intelligence. I know that the journey to having cultural intelligence is not easy, and will take a long time, but I think it is so important to be open to changing things about yourself, while also realizing what you are not willing to change in order to be who you are.

A trip to the Black Forest in Germany

In Bruges, Belgium

Sydney Lapin shares her adventures in Belgium, meeting the locals in Brussles and Bruges. Family dinners, an amazing hot chocolate, and a picturesque towns welcomed her to the country as she studies on the Student Exchange Program in Strasbourg, France.

Today I was thinking back to one of my first trips in January, Belgium. I had taken an overnight bus to Brussels with a few friends, and we arrived around 7:30 am. Anna, my friend from Finland, has a home is Brussels! Her parents work with the EU, and they move there every few years from what it sounds like. We were warmly welcomed into their home, and her mom had even prepared a lovely European breakfast for us! There were croissant, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and muesli, and juice. Anna’s mother spoke great English, and I was so appreciative to be around a parent again! It was like being at home a bit.

Anna showing us around Brussels!

We had a wonderful day of Anna showing us around Brussels. We took the long way to the city center, so that we could see the Parc de la Cinquentenare, (the park with the large gate that looks like the Brandenburg gate), the European Parliament, the Royal Palace, and a stunning view of Brussels near the Fine Arts Museum. We made our way toward Grand Place, where the buildings are gorgeously trimmed with gold decals. It was absolutely stunning. I think in the square alone there were four chocolate stores! Safe to say I was not dieting on this trip. But first, street waffles.

The group roaming Brussels!

We were on the hunt for the perfect street waffle. I ordered one with caramel, Belgian chocolate, and bananas. It took until I had about two bites left for me to realize it was landing like a pound of rocks in my stomach…but the taste was SO worth it!

Carly, Haley and I with our Belgian Waffles!

We walked around a bit more, and had planned to go home and relax and then head back out for dinner somewhere. When we arrived at Anna’s however, her mom had cooked a traditional Finnish meal for us! We all had drinks and discussed things about America and Finland, and each of us wrote a little note in the guest book that Anna’s family keeps.

In the morning, my friends had planned to go to Cologne, Germany but I was a little more interested in seeing Bruges, a more Northern town in Belgium, so I booked a night in a hostel just outside of the town and jumped on a train to Bruges! The train took about an hour, and when I arrived I had to take the public buses over to the area that the hostel was located. As I was sitting on the bus, I was a little unsure of what stop I was getting off at. An old man next to me noticed, and started speaking something in Flemmish. When he realized I had no idea what he was saying, the guy across from us laughed and translated. In Belgium, they speak Flemmish and French, so the man who spoke English and I had a nice conversation about speaking French, his friends in the states who live in New Mexico, and about the canal tours.

After dropping off my things, I headed out with my camera into the extremely picturesque streets of Bruges. I went on the canal tour, which was really cool and showed the entire city from a different perspective.

View from the water.

I had done some research on where I wanted to spend time in Bruges, besides just walking around, and so I headed to ‘The Old Chocolate House’ for hot chocolate! It was AMAZING. I sat in the restaurant upstairs, and ordered Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, and an assortment of 10 pralines (mystery chocolates!). When the hot coco arrived, it was a mug of steamed milk, and then a cup filled with your ingredients that you are supposed to dump in and stir. Even the cup was made of chocolate! It was so delicious, I went back a second time while being in the town.

The Old Chocolate House style Hot Coco!

The thing about Europe I noticed, especially in these smaller towns, is that so much closes around 6/7 pm. So I walked around a little, and bought my friends some assortments of chocolates, but then just sat in this little restaurant I found for a while until I felt hungry enough to eat again! I had to eat dinner, because there was a dish I was told I needed to try called “Waterzooi”. I ordered a drink, and the traditional dish, and wrote in my journal about my travel day. The restaurant was called “Brugge-Link”, and the dish was so amazing. It was almost like a cream of potato base with chicken and vegetables, and came with mashed potatoes on the side. Totally worth being overly full!

As I was walking back to the hostel, I ran into some sort of fire festival being held behind the Basilica of the Holy Blood. There were stands for food and drinks, a band playing music, and entertainers playing with fire! It was such a cool thing to run into!

In the morning, I got up before the sun rose to pack up my things and walk around the town while it was quiet. I was happy that the hostel was situated a little outside of the town, because the streets and alleys were just stunning. I was happy to be with my camera.


The rest of the day I explored. I roamed the town, went into the Basilica of the Holy Blood church, climbed the Belfry (the town tower in the center), walked around the ‘Lake of Love’, and then found a place called ‘Wijngaerde Beguinage’ which was a home for women, religious women, and widows who wished to live an “independent but committed life outside the recognized orders with their vows of fidelity and poverty”. It was considered a “city of peace”, and was a really beautiful area.

Swans in the “Lake of Love”
City of Peace

After strolling around some more, sending a couple postcards, and of course eating more chocolate, I took the train back to Brussels where I was catching another overnight bus back to Strasbourg. On the train I got to reflect on my time in Bruges, and my love of travel. Sometimes it’s just good to get away for a little and let yourself explore new things. I learned that I enjoy my own company, and that’s something that is really important in life! I hope to one day take my parents to Bruges and show them around, because it was such a lovely and picturesque little town.

Bruges City Center

Not Your Typical Group

With some struggles, Sydney Lapin shares her success expanding her network at Strasbourg, France, as she attends Ecole de Management Strasbourg on the Student Exchange Program. Now she has made friends from Canada, Hungary, Finland, Czech Republic, Columbia, France, Germany, Norway, Ireland, and the U.S!

Bonjour!

My Finnish friends, Anna and Emilia, and I at the East Side Gallery in Berlin, Germany.

My name is Sydney Lapin, and I am in the Fisher College of Business studying Marketing and minoring in Fashion Retail Studies. Currently, I am  spending my Junior year second semester abroad in Strasbourg, France on the Student Exchange Program! I am taking classes through EM Strasbourg, the business school here.

I have been in Strasbourg for one month, and while I haven’t been too active on blogging yet, I have kept a journal of most of my days here. So far I have had bad days and good days, but overall I am always grateful for this opportunity. Not many people can have the chance to study abroad, and I would like to thank Ohio State and my family for being supportive of my decision to be here.

I’ll start with a bit of background. Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to study abroad. My mom studied at Miami, Ohio, and went abroad to their school in Luxembourg. My parents are probably the people who gave me the travel bug, and I will be thanking them the rest of my life. There is nothing more amazing than traveling to a brand new place and exploring the different things it has to offer: a new culture, a new way of doing things, new foods, the list goes on. I have a lot of friends from other schools around the states who have also planned on studying abroad. However, when it came down to it, our programs are, for the most part, quite different. Fisher’s Office of Global Business made sure that those of us who chose to go through the business school knew that this is a very independent program. While they offered assistance when we came to them with issues, most of getting here and being here is all on us. Luckily for me, another student from Ohio State, Brad, decided to come to Strasbourg last minute as well, making my transition a little bit easier.

Most of the friends I know are on these Student Exchange group trips through their school or other schools. For them, they were placed in Facebook groups, given contacts for roommates, and are dropped in a different country with a support group of what sounds like 50 other Americans. Brad and I arrived in Strasbourg, and had our “group” of two. On the second night we were here, someone posted in the Facebook group (that we were added to about five days before arriving) about meeting up somewhere. When Brad and I arrived, we sat down to a table of three Canadians, two Finnish girls, a girl from Turkey, a girl from Norway, a girl from Estonia, and a girl from Argentina. It was really cool to meet these people from around the world, and to have Business in common.

After the first week and a half of meeting people from all over the world, I was a little lonely. It was hard to create friendships, there seemed to be some cultural barriers and miscommunication. I was feeling bitter towards other Student Exchange Programs, because they were with all Americans and able to make friends and connect with others in an instant. I was on the phone with a friend, helping her pack for her Student Exchange, and she was telling me all about her roommates (that she hadn’t even met yet) and how they already have four trips planned out together. She asked: “So tell me what the first day was like!” And I responded, “First day? Brad and I were alone the first day, what do you mean?” She expected me to say that we were immersed into this huge group of people to meet and make connections and become best friends with. Well, we did have orientation the week after we arrived, and I can tell you it was nothing like an orientation you would expect in America. No “ice breakers” no name games, just sitting in a room for half an hour at a time and then being released. We did not meet many people at orientation, so we really had to reach out to the Facebook group and see if anyone was making any plans.

Now, I look back on these past few weeks, and forward at the next three months, realizing that I have been given the best opportunity of all. How many people get to not only study abroad, but to create friendships with such culturally different people? I am so grateful that I am on this program, and while it has had its hard days, I finally feel like I am starting to make good friends. These friends are from the United States, from Canada, from Hungary, from Finland, and from Czech Republic. They’re from Columbia, France, and Germany. I have a friend from Norway, friends from Ireland. Yes, it was and is harder to create close friendships with people who aren’t from the same place as us, but it has been a growing experience and it has taught me that sometimes it just takes a little extra time to get to know someone, and get them to open up to you and your culture, just like you have to open up to them and their culture.

I would not trade this experience for any other, and I look forward to more challenges that I can grow from and overcome.