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Mind the Gap: International Travel Is Tricky

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International Travel Is Tricky

Riders on London’s Tube are constantly reminded to “Mind the Gap” between the train (carriage) and the platform, and we need to Mind the Gap between our home and host culture. Are you planning international travel in the next 12 months? Everyone plans their transportation, packing, and finances, but many aren’t aware of the cultural gaps that exist between our home countries and those we’re visiting.

How do you prepare culturally for a trip abroad? I suggest three principles that guide pilots preparing for a flight: (1) advance preparation, (2) objective guidance, and (3) strategies for collision avoidance.

Advance Preparation

Being a good international traveler begins with some advance cultural preparation. Just as a pilot puts his aircraft through a pre-flight check and ensures that his skills are appropriate for the journey, international travelers need to put some advance preparation into getting their intercultural skills up to the task. Pre-field training that focuses on the particular differences between your home and host culture is critical to stepping out and fitting in around the world. After all, you’ll want to do more than just take selfies in front of famous landmarks. You’ll also want to build relationships with your hosts and learn from their wisdom.

Objective Guidance

Before piloting your jumbo jet to your international destination, flight crews obviously consult maps and aviation charts. They want some objective guidance that will plot their course. After all, just taking off in any old direction isn’t likely to result in you landing at your intended destination. Throughout the flight, those high-tech in-flight maps help pilots adjust their heading so they remain on course, despite varying winds and weather.

Similarly, cross-cultural travelers need some objective forms of guidance to explain the cultural differences between their home and host cultures. Believe it or not, people all of the world are NOT just like you! They vary across a number of dimensions. It pays dividends to understand your cultural differences and similarities before you discover that you’re just not connecting with your hosts. Objective guidance is essential for international travelers who want to do more than be the Ugly American.

Strategies for Collision Avoidance

Modern commercial aircraft are equipped with the TCAS system. TCAS stands for Traffic Collision Avoidance System. When the plane you’re in gets close to other aircraft in the skies, warning annunciators sound in the cockpit: “Traffic…TRAFFIC!” The TCAS display then provides the pilots with vectors to avoid a midair collision. I’m sure you’re like me: thankful for the TCAS system!

Similarly, when traveling across cultures, it’s easy to come into conflict with your hosts. Sometimes that happens when you’re not even aware of it. These unconscious conflicts are like aircraft flying without a TCAS system. They’re in danger of a cross-cultural collision that could hurt them or someone important to them. It could scuttle a business deal or damage an important relationship. To succeed in intercultural travel, you need strategies for collision avoidance. You need a plan both to detect an impending collision and to steer you away from a dramatic crash.

Learn More

Whether you’re leading a cross-cultural team or traveling for either business or pleasure, you need to Mind the Cultural Gap. With advance preparation, objective guidance, and strategies for collision avoidance, you can have a successful trip, build lasting relationships, and avoid being the Ugly American.

To learn more, see our Destination…World video series. Free previews are available here.

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