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Saint Vincent College Faculty Blog

Experiencing Different Cultures

Posted by Michael Urick on Tue, Jul 3, 2018 @ 15:07 PM

Since many people take vacations this time of the year and have the opportunity to experience different locales, I thought that, for my blog this month, now might be a good time to talk a bit about traveling.

In the past several years, I’ve had the pleasure to travel to 10 different countries on four different continents. I’ve also had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the U.S. Much of my travel is professional in nature such as when I present my research at conferences. Other trips are either recreational in nature or tours with my band. But, no matter the purpose, I always feel I learn something new from every trip I take.

When traveling, I recognize that I will likely be going to a new culture different from anything I’ve yet experienced. Sometimes, especially when traveling on business, understanding and following the expectations of that culture can be difficult.

So, I try to prepare as best as I can. I talk with people who have visited (or lived in) the culture that I will be going to. I oftentimes read a guidebook or two about the culture that I’ll be traveling to. From this preparation, I gain a sense of what I will experience. But…

I am always wrong about what I thought the cultures would be like. Each culture that I have traveled to has been completely different from what I had expected and, in most cases, the cultures have allowed me to have very positive experiences learning from them.

This is not to say that one shouldn’t attempt to prepare before visiting a new culture. One definitely should learn as much as possible. However, travelers must also keep an open mind to what they will experience and try not to judge another culture as “right” or “wrong” based on their preparation or what the culture they are most familiar with (likely the one in which they grew up or lived most of their lives) is like.

In business meetings abroad, I’ve tried to keep an open mind regarding the foods we ate, the topics of conversation that were appropriate and how quickly negotiations occurred. Experiencing other cultures, after all, has a lot to do with my academic topic of interest, organizational behavior. It is likely that, upon graduation, students will be working with a culturally diverse group and that they will travel to another culture at some point during their career. In my organizational behavior classes, we talk extensively about this topic. We even simulate two different (fictionalized) cultures to have students interact with both. From this activity, students understand both the importance of interacting with others from different cultures and understanding some potential challenges.

I have written about these benefits in other blogs (as well as my published research) and they far outweigh potential challenges of learning about a new culture. I would highly encourage others to step out of their comfort zones and experience a culture unlike the one in which they live.

Have you ever traveled to a culture that was different from what you expected? How did you come to understand (and potentially fit in with) the culture’s expectations? I’m looking forward to hearing about your experiences! Email me at michael.urick@stvincent.edu, search for me on Facebook and LinkedIn or leave me a comment here.

Dr. Mike Urick


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Topics: international communications, culture, saint vincent faculty, learning, mike urick

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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