How Do They Say Thank You in Poland, Belize or Japan?

As cultural competency becomes increasing important, Michigan State University Extension is working on implementing a 4-H global curriculum.

A new 4-H global curriculum is in the works here at Michigan State University Extension.  As we become increasingly interconnected globally, the need to be culturally competent becomes more important.  Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has this to say about the need for youth to learn to communicate effectively with diverse cultural groups, “The compelling changes in our economy, the dawning of the information age, and the horrible events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath have created an unprecedented need to focus on international knowledge and skills. To solve most of the major problems facing our country in the 21st Century requires every young person to learn more about other world regions, cultures and languages.” 

The new curriculum will provide simple but powerful activities that volunteers can do in one or two club meetings to help young people build the skills to become globally competent. Here’s a sneak peek at one of the activities in the curriculum.  Invite an international visitor who’s here through one of the 4-H international exchange programs to speak to your 4-H club.  Getting to know people from other countries is one way young people learn about the world.  According to Tracy Williams, Education Abroad Coordinator at Texas Christian University,  “…if they have made friends . . . with individuals of a different culture, taken foreign language or cultural courses, . . .  or in other ways learned about or interacted with people of another culture, their intercultural communication skills seemed to proportionally reflect that exposure.”

The key to learning is to prepare the young people by brainstorming questions they might ask and processing the experience afterward by reflecting on what they learned and how they will apply it. Young people learn about other cultures and how to communicate across cultural barriers through experience. Learning about other cultures also helps us understand our own cultures. 

Marcelle E. DuPraw, Program Director at the National Institute for Dispute Resolution in Washington, D.C., gives us a good example of how cultural differences can cause misunderstandings, “When Japanese people say ‘we’ll think about it,’ Americans might think they’re being evasive or wishy-washy, when really, they’re just being polite.”  She goes on to say, “. . . learning more about other cultures can give you a new perspective.  You can understand that a Japanese person who says, ‘I’ll consider that idea’ likely means ‘No,’ and you’ll understand that they’re being polite rather than misleading.”

Wrap up this activity with a thank you card for your guest and look for other ideas that you can do build more cultural understanding.  As DuPraw says, “When kids learn about other cultures, it helps them understand and feel engaged in the world.  Talking with people different from ourselves gives us hope and energizes us to take on the challenge of improving our communities and worlds.” 

Contact Betsy Knox, knoxe@anr.msu.edo or 1-517-432-7603, for more information on when the curriculum will be available or how you can pilot an activity right now.

Dupraw, Dupraw and Marya Axner. Working on Common Cross-cultural Communication Challenges: accessed on the Internet on April 23, 2012 at

Powell, Collin.  Accessed on the Internet on April 23, 2012 at

Williams, Tracy; Impact of Study Abroad on Students’ Intercultural Communication Skills: Adaptability and Sensitivity.   Accessed on the internet on April 24, 2012 at

Submitted by Patricia Waugh, MSU Extension Educator in the Institute for Children and Youth

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