Category Archives: Project Blog

Research Blog 9: Intercultural Uncertainty

Today I added a story of my own to this website that was about uncertainty – intercultural uncertainty.  I could have written any number of stories on this topic, the one posted is simply the one that comes to mind as a recent example.  I’m a first generation Canadian – my parents and ancestors are British – so you might think moments of intercultural uncertainty don’t happen to me in Canada.

Wrong – and I’m guessing that sentiment cuts right across all the cultural dimensions to be found in this country.  It doesn’t matter whether you have recently arrived in Canada, whether you are Aboriginal, speak French or English as your first language, have lived here five years or all of your life, you’ve had a moment when you’ve encountered some aspect of another culture – or your own – and you found yourself wondering about it.  Perhaps, as I did, you found yourself wondering what you should do.

From the small sample of my own lifelong experience, I know these moments turn into stories that can be illuminating, difficult, humourous, inspiring.   They can seem small in significance – or really large. I am not saying that the experience is the same for all of us – uncertainty feels different, is more daunting, when everything and everyone around you feels unfamiliar.  Still, there is something shared there, something common and I think it’s important to communicate these stories because understanding that we all have moments when we face uncertainty, regardless of cultural background, is a great equalizer.  Sharing what comes out of these moments could be motivation to step into those cultural intersections more often and now we’ll know that chance are – we’re not alone.

Hope I’m not alone after all, and you have a story in this regard you’d like to share – I’d love to hear it and I’m guessing lots of other people would too. Click here to read the story I posted,


Research Blog 8: Don’t Believe Everything You Think

MC40_BuperSticker_P1010592I passed by a bumper sticker in my neighbourhood the other day that made me think about this project – the stories that I’ve been hearing in conversations, and stories that have been coming into the website.

“Don’t believe everything you think.”   Clever.  For me, that simple sentence elegantly separates two thought processes that we so often take as one in the same.  It identifies that smallest split second between when we see or respond to something in a particular way –  and when our cultural norms kick in to confirm for us that it’s the only way to ‘see’ or respond to it.

A couple of stories around events in classrooms particularly come to mind.  In one, I was listening to a group of high-achieving students, growing up as they are in an individualist-oriented culture, venting their frustration with the way a teacher from a more collectivist culture was instructing them.  In the way that only teenagers can, the students were describing behaviour that seemed completely inexplicable to them.  So much so that as I reflected on the conversation, I found myself wondering if at least part of the perceived quality gap arose from two different orientations to learning, clashing in one classroom.  The challenge is that if the teacher and students don’t have a way of seeing that possibility – the stage is set for a lot of mutual misunderstanding and frustration.

So back to the bumper sticker – what if there was a way to freeze that moment in time – before our brains tell us that something is right or wrong, so that we could just register “different” or “unexpected” and explore it together?  That’s also what I hear in some of the stories you’ve shared – the realization of being in precisely that moment and pausing long enough to ask yourself or each other – what about that?

If this post prompts a story for you, I hope you’ll share it!

Research Blog 7: Connecting

One of the “perks” of this project research is connecting with people in organizations across the country engaged in creating bridges of communication, dialogue, learning and support.  It’s a varied network as diverse as the country itself, and a number have already been helpful to this project. MC40_Harmony Brunch_B The Canadian Multicultural Education Foundation  quickly offered to let people know about the project through the organization’s 16th annual Harmony Brunch to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.


Also in that same prairie city,MC40_EdmontonMeeting the Edmonton Multicultural Coalition  sent along this photo as they were introducing the project at one of their member meetings.

And one of the first organizations to get in touch and then contribute a story was Safe Harbour Respect For All (the Vancouver office) part of AMSSA, the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies in B.C..  Truly appreciate everyone’s help – keep those stories coming in!


Research Blog 6: The “Multiculturalism” Word

It has been some time since I’ve posted an entry on this research blog – not because I haven’t been working on the project, but because I have   – and mulling over the complex set of intersecting cultures that is Canada.

When I was originally formulating the research question for the website, I spent some time trying to arrive at an easy, shorthand way to describe what it was all about.  The notion of multiculturalism becoming middle-aged and reflecting on its life to date had the merit of making the subject more personal.  However, I also knew that using the world “multiculturalism” would have its challenges.  The term tends to direct the focus to the newly arrived, or to people of non-European origin. My intent with this site is to explore the idea that the experience of multiculturalism is one in which we all share – albeit from different perspectives – and regardless of origin.

Then there was the challenge of using a term that does not specifically reference the cultural intersections of, and with, people of Aboriginal origin, nor the intersection of Francophone and Anglophone culture in Canada – even though the intent is to encourage story contributions that speak to all these cultural intersections.

That, in turn, raised the issue of language.  While translation software made the site a little more accessible to people whose first language is not English, installing it created an unintended nuance.  French is not just another language in Canada. The site was written and conceived in English because that is my first language, but I wanted to acknowledge French as an official language as much as possible.  So I used a professional translation service to translate the home page and submission form and then to keep costs low, Francophone friends pitched in to review. (My thanks to A.M.P., P.N. and A.S)  Still I wonder whether this limited translation will be enough for the project to be at all embraced by those whose mother tongue is French?

As I spend time thinking about the acknowledgement and inclusion of Aboriginal peoples within Canadian society generally, I have felt uneasy that the framing of this project may not be sufficiently inclusive. The specificity of the term  “multiculturalism” may exclude, or appear to exclude, stories of these cultural intersections – when, by contrast, it seems so important to include them.

At the same time, I have not wanted to presume, or define, too much with this site. It is, after all nothing more than an open invitation to individuals who see themselves as belonging to any number of communities – and who connect in some way with the question that is being asked.

There doesn’t seem to be any way of saying all that easily. And I haven’t even touched on the discussion being waged in academic and other circles, about interculturalism vs. multiculturalism.  I find it interesting that in Canada, of all places, we don’t have ready-made language to discuss this broad definition of all our cultural intersections.  Still, I hope the spirit of the site speaks for itself, if language has failed to do so.

Research Blog 5: From Children to Parents

Screen-Shot-2013-02-19-at-8.30.57-AMParents are writing about the cultural navigation they see happening in their children’s lives and finding some wisdom in what kids do – and don’t see.  Check out the contributions from:

Research Blog 4: Getting comfortable with differences

Last night I participated in an interesting discussion presented by Sietar BC on the intercultural aspects of hosting events such as the Olympics, Paralympics, and Commonwealth Games.  I was struck by how language and perspective shifted in the conversation, depending on whether we were talking about the process of putting on the Games  — or the intended outcome of the Games.

When discussing process we talked more about cultural differences – how the cultural orientation of staff working at the Games can affect how the work gets done, as an example.  When discussing outcome, we talked more about cultural connection – how bringing people together creates a spirit of commonality that speaks to the essence of the event.  While those conversation threads can seem almost contradictory when viewed separately, together they represent the larger whole that intercultural communication looks to embody.

That discussion led me to think about Multiculturalism at 40 and what I am asking people to do: write about a personal experience observing cultural difference in their everyday lives.  It’s not a topic that rests comfortably with everyone. I know in speaking about the project, I’ve occasionally had the feeling that multiculturalism in Canada is on that list of topics that people feel they “shouldn’t” talk about. I also admit I’ve had moments when the notion of focusing on differences has made me feel uncomfortable.  What makes us nervous?

If I go back to the evening with Sietar BC, there is something in the duality of that conversation that is important to realize.  We know that an awareness and openness to different ways of seeing, and being in the world is one way to foster greater connection.  Perhaps in our everyday lives, though, we fear that the process of discussing differences won’t be perceived as supporting an outcome of greater understanding – or will become disconnected from it.  If we can find more ways to keep  the discussion process and that intended outcome framed together perhaps we’ll grow more confident about the conversation as a whole.  And from the stories submitted to this project so far I can see there is such a range of human experience to be explored that is variously thoughtful, startling, joyful, challenging, amusing and inspiring.








Research Blog 3: Train Talk

During the big snowstorm that hit Ontario and east a few weeks ago, I happened to be travelling by train between Toronto and Ottawa.  Standing in line before boarding and listening to the chatter among strangers, I could hear the default Canadian conversation starters – speculation about the weather, and the question “where you from?”

The second one caught my attention because I know that being asked that question often comes with the inference that you’ve somehow failed to appear as though you’re from “here.” Explaining yourself can get old pretty quickly, especially if you have the sense you’re always being singled out for the question.  Without that additional freight though, it’s a question that I think is often used in much the same way as talk about the weather.  It’s a way to make a connection.  As a nation of travellers and people “from-away,” most of us are from somewhere else, even if it’s just the other side of the province or territory, or the other end of the country.

I offer up this small observation to all those who get asked the question more often than they should.  In a strange way, perhaps it’s a badge of inclusion.  You’ve been asked the second most common Canadian question. A complaint about the weather can’t be far behind.

Research Blog 2, Give Us a Sign

January 31, 2013

I’ve received some great early feedback from visitors and those who’ve submitted stories.  The two column format on the front page was a challenge for the translation of languages that read from right to left, as the software switches the columns as well.  So I now have the front page copy repeated in one column under the translation tab.  But that creates another issue.  If English isn’t your first language and there’s a tab that says “translation” it may not mean very much.  I know this from being on Chinese language websites that had English translation, if only I’d known how to get there.

This seemed as good a time as any to go looking for an international symbol that stands for translation or interpretation.  Couldn’t find one – although individual countries such as Australia have taken the initiative to come up with their own.  I’m going to do the same – and create one for the site.  In the global village, don’t you think it would be great to have a universal sign for multiple languages offered?   If I’m missing something – and one already exists, I’d love to hear about it.

Research Blog 1, On Languages & Software

January 24/2013

It is about a week before I plan to launch this site.  I’ve been working away on the copy and researching  software that would automatically translate into different languages.  I found one – Transposh – and decided to install. After doing so, I very tentatively clicked on a language. Presto! I was momentarily speechless – in any language! It felt like a small miracle to see the entire site instantaneously translated into Danish, and then Chinese, and then Hindi….and on and on.  I know that automated translation isn’t perfect –  I can wince just thinking about potential errors.  But recalling times when I have felt helpless to communicate because of language differences – this felt like one enormous leap forward. It means people can read the content on this site in one of more than forty languages – and they can write posts in different languages too, and I’ll be able to translate into English. Just as long as we can all forgive the anticipated hiccups!  And if you’re interested check out transposh. As I finish writing this I see a little orange bar reporting the rapid translation of this post into all the different languages. Magical.