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Developing Cross-Cultural Competence
A Guide for Working with Children and Their Families


Eleanor W. Lynch & Marci J Hanson (Eds.)

2nd Edition

Table of Contents

About the Editors
About the Contributors
For the Reader




Suggested Readings and Resources
Author Index
Subject Index

About the Editors

Eleanor W. Lynch, Ph.D., Department of Special Education, San Diego State University, San Diego, California 92182-1170

Eleanor W. Lynch is Professor and Chair of Special Education at San Diego State University (SDSU). She received her doctorate in teaching exceptional children in 1972 from the Ohio State University. Prior to joining the faculty at SDSU, she served on the faculty at Miami University and the University of Michigan. Dr. Lynch has been involved in teaching, research, and community services that focus on improving services to young children who have, or are at risk for, disabilities and their families. She directs the Early Childhood Special Education graduate program at SDSU and serves on the faculty of the SDSU-Claremont Graduate University joint doctoral program. She has directed a model demonstration project and personnel preparation grants in early intervention and early childhood special education as well as a series of research grants on topics such as parental perspectives on special education, the status of educational services for children with chronic illnesses, and individualized family service plan development. She also serves as one of the national collaborators on the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Early Childhood Research Institute.

Dr. Lynch has lived in and taught special education in Indonesia, taught in American Samoa, given invited presentations in Australia and Taiwan, and lived in India while her husband served on a U.S. Agency for International Development project. She is the author of numerous articles and chapters and co-author of Early Intervention: Implementing Child and Family Services for Infants and Toddlers Who Are At-Risk or Disabled, Second Edition (PRO-ED, 1995) with Dr. Marci Hanson and is a frequent presenter and workshop leader in the area of cultural competence.

Marci J. Hanson, Ph.D., Department of Special Education, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, California 94132

Marci J. Hanson is Professor of Special Education and Coordinator of Early Childhood Special Education, Department of Special Education, San Francisco State University (SFSU). Dr. Hanson received her doctorate in special education in 1974 from the University of Oregon with a minor in developmental psychology. Prior to joining the faculty at SFSU, she worked as a research scientist in charge of the Early Intervention Unit of the Institute for the Study of Exceptional Children, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey.

Dr. Hanson coordinates a graduate personnel preparation program in early childhood special education that emphasizes a familyfocused, interdisciplinary, and cross-cultural approach to service delivery. Dr. Hanson also directed an interdisciplinary early intervention program, San Francisco Special Infant Services, that provided services to children from birth through 3 years who are at risk for or have disabilities and their families. Both the graduate training program and the early intervention program reflect the cultural diversity of the Bay Area.

Dr. Hanson has lived in Austria and consulted widely in the United States and in Italy, Egypt, Australia, and New Zealand. She is the author of numerous articles and chapters, and she has edited, coauthored, or authored the following books: Teaching the Infant with Down Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, Second Edition (PRO-ED, 1987); Atypical Infant Development, Second Edition (PRO-ED, 1996); Teaching the Young Child with Motor Delays: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (PRO-ED, 1986), with Dr. Susan Harris; Early Intervention: Implementing Child and Family Services for Infants and Toddlers Who Are At-Risk or Disabled, Second Edition (PRO-ED, 1995), with Dr. Eleanor Lynch; Homecoming for Babies After the Intensive Care Nursery: A Guide for Parents in Supporting Their Baby's Early Development (PRO-ED, 1993), and A Guide for Professionals in Supporting Families and Their Infant's Early Development (PRO-ED, 1993), with Kathleen VandenBerg. In addition, Dr. Hanson is a principal investigator in the Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion (ECRII), a federally funded study of preschool inclusion.


We are fortunate to live in cities and teach at universities where the mixing of customs, colors, and languages makes daily life a kaleidoscopic experience. We are as equally fortunate to be surrounded by friends, families, and colleagues who share our passion for high-quality programs and services for all children and their families. We all strive to ensure that service delivery systems are designed to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse group of individuals, service providers who work effectively with families across cultures and languages, and a sociopolitical climate that supports all children and their families. When the first edition of this book was published in 1992, we felt that programs and services for young children with disabilities and their families were at an important crossroads. The diversity of the families being served was dramatically increasing, while the field was undergoing its own metamorphosis from child-centered to family-centered approaches. We were struck with how much more we and the students who we teach needed to learn in order to effectively implement these new approaches, especially to implement them in family contexts that were unfamiliar to many interventionists. With encouragement from our students, we began to look for published material that would contribute to our understanding of the many issues involved in cross-cultural service delivery; however, we found that little was available that combined a strong conceptual framework with the kinds of specific information that we felt our students needed to know.

Six years later we find that family-centered approaches have been adopted throughout service delivery systems, and nearly every program in the United States has experienced an increase in diversity. However, the work is not finished; we have simply reached another crossroads. At this juncture, it is no longer enough to understand one's own worldview and the worldviews of others. It is time to consider the larger context of our similarities and differences and to understand the impact that each of us has on the children and families with whom we work as well as the world in which we all live. It is a time for stronger voices, for thoughtful action, and a commitment to open the circle and welcome others in.


As we have worked with our own student and colleagues, engaged in special projects related to diversity, and traveled around the United States and other nations discussing cultural issues, we have been convinced that our collective journey is just beginning. We have met people who do not believe that they have a culture as well as people who identify strongly with their own heritage but know little about different lifeways. However, we have seldom met anyone who did not want to learn more and be more effective with the children and families they serve. We offer this edition as one way to learn more.

Like its predecessor, this edition is based on literature that describes recommended practices in early intervention, literature on intercultural effectiveness, and insights and information from the contributing authors who are bicultural and often bilingual. Its primary purpose is to be of use to the full range of professionals who provide educational, health care, and social services (e.g., educators, nurses, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, occupational and physical therapists, physicians, social workers, psychologists) to families of children who have, or are at risk for, disabilities. Regardless of the program, service, or one's professional discipline, the attitudes and skills that facilitate cross-cultural competence are a prerequisite to quality services.

Although the focus of this edition is on children with disabilities and their families, it includes information that is valuable to individuals in other programs and settings. Much of the information that is included is equally applicable to teachers, child-care providers, clinic staff, spiritual leaders, and volunteers who work with children without disabilities and their families. We also hope that this edition, like the first, will be used and enjoyed by individuals in other fields-from world music to world cultures to sociology.


The philosophy underlying this edition is based on five perspectives or principles. It is our intent that these principles are clear throughout the book.

  1. A prerequisite to any successful intervention is an understanding of our own cultural, ethnic, and language background and the values and beliefs that we hold about individuals who are different from ourselves.

    All families/ children/ individuals are unique. Although they are influenced by their ethnic, cultural, racial, and language backgrounds, they are not fully defined by them. Therefore, differences in these areas should be used to enhance our interactions rather than to stereotype or to serve as the sole determiner of our approach to intervention.

  2. Culture is not static. Cultural beliefs and behaviors are always being influenced by new information and new experiences. Therefore, culture is fluid and dynamic, not something about which one can reach understanding in a single experience. Rather, learning about one's own and others' cultures is a lifelong process-a journey with many destinations.
  3. Our role as interventionists is twofold. It is our obligation to work with families to develop interventions that are culturally competent. It is also our obligation to interpret the new (i.e., mainstream) culture to families and help them find ways to negotiate it effectively.
  4. All interactions and interventions take place in a larger sociopolitical context. This context varies from family to family and is powerfully influenced by one's culture, race, language, and economic status. Many of our assumed differences do not spring from the individual but from the sociopolitical boundaries within which people are forced to live. The ultimate goal of cultural competence is to recognize and rectify political and societal barriers that artificially separate us.


It is our hope that the goals that we share for more culturally competent service systems and service providers and a sociopolitical climate that supports all children and their families will be shared by our readers. It is also our hope that this book will contribute to each of these goals.

For the Reader

Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: A Guide for Working with Children and Their Families, Second Edition, is organized into three sections. Part I introduces the issues that surround working with families from diverse cultural, ethnic, and language groups. Recommended practices 'in early intervention as well as recommended practices in intercultural training are the basis for Chapters 1-3. Examples and suggestions are provided to help interventionists work more effectively with families whose cultural, ethnic, racial, or language background differs from their own.

Part II is the core of the book. It introduces culture-specific information about a number of groups that make up the population of the United States. Each group is described in terms of its history, values, and beliefs; particular emphasis is placed on issues related to family, child rearing, health and healing, and disability. In addition to being expanded and updated from the first edition, chapters in Part II include two new sections: schooling and death and dying. These additions provide further insight into beliefs and practices that are central in many intervention settings.

The cultural groups that were selected for inclusion in this volume are not exhaustive nor do they represent the range of cultural and ethnic groups in the United States. Instead, groups were selected because they represent a large portion of the population and/or reflect more recent immigration patterns that affect programs and services in more than one area of the United States. The contributing authors who describe these groups were carefully selected for their dual expertise and knowledge of the culture and their experiences in working with families of children who have, or are at risk for, disabilities. They come from many different professional disciplines including education, public health nursing, psychology, speech-language pathology, administration, social work, and medical anthropology.

A new section in Part 11, "Children of Many Songs," addresses the growing number of bicultural, biracial, and multiethnic children and families. It discusses the increasing number of multicultural families and issues for interventionists to consider in providing culturally competent services for these families.

Part III, the final section of the edition, synthesizes the information presented in Parts I and II, and it provides recommendations for interventionists and the service delivery systems in which they work. The intent of these recommendations is to enhance service providers' cultural awareness and responsivity to the variability across all families in matters of child rearing, communication, health care, and attitudes toward intervention, with particular emphasis on families whose culture, ethnicity, race, and/or language differ from that of the interventionist. The goal of the recommendations is to increase the interventionist's skills and comfort as he or she interacts with families from diverse groups.

The "Suggested Readings and Resources" section has been greatly expanded in this edition to include books, films, theater, and other media that provide insight, information, and entertainment to enhance cultural understanding. Its contents can help readers at all levels of cultural competence increase their awareness of themselves and of the many others with whom they share the world.


The terminology used in this edition differs in some ways from the terminology used in the first edition. The decision to change the language is an example of the evolving nature of culture and the interaction of language and the sociopolitical context. The terms that were chosen to describe each of the cultural groups represented in the book were selected by the chapter authors in keeping with accepted terminology at the time of the writing. In some instances (e.g., Chapter 6), two terms (African American and black) are used to acknowledge the variation of preference within the group. The spelling and capitalization of terms were also determined by contributing authors. Whenever possible, native spellings and pronunciation are provided; however, in cases in which understanding was compromised, this practice was not followed. Throughout this edition, non-English words are set in italics. Because many of the terms were selected to reflect what is accepted within the United States, readers in various regions of the country may use, prefer, or be more familiar with another term (e.g., Hispanic or Chicano versus Latino). The terms used to refer to Anglo-European Americans who make up the dominant culture in the United States vary throughout Part II. This inconsistency of terms was preserved because it exemplifies the differing cultural perspectives and points of view. Language is a powerful tool in any interaction and the way that it is used is full of lessons. The primary lessons related to terminology in this edition are that terms change and the ones chosen should describe groups of individuals based on their preferences.

We have chosen the word interventionist to refer to a person who provides educational, health care, or social services to children and families. This does not imply that these individuals act on, change, or contravene the family's preferences. Rather, it is intended to describe the role of the many service providers working within the sphere of their disciplinary expertise who consult with, provide information to, support, or provide other direct services to children and families.

Chapter 3

Developing Cross-Cultural Competence

Eleanor W. Lynch

Most cultural exploration begins with the annoyance of being lost. The control systems of the mind signal that something unexpected has arisen, that we are in uncharted waters and are going to have to switch off the automatic pilot and man the helm ourselves.

-Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture (1976, p. 46)

Never try to take the manners of another as your own, for the theft will be immediately evident and the thief will appear as ridiculous as a robin with peacock feathers hastily stuck on.

-Maya Angelou, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993, pp. 27-28)


Culture is akin to looking through the one-way mirror; everything we see is from our own perspective. It is only when we join the observed on the other side of the mirror that it is possible to see ourselves and others clearly; however, getting to the other side of the glass presents many challenges. Achieving cross-cultural competence requires that we lower our defenses, take risks, and practice behaviors that may feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It requires a flexible mind, an open heart, and a willingness to accept alternative perspectives. It may mean setting aside some beliefs that are cherished to make room for others whose value is unknown; it may mean changing what we think, what we say, and how we behave. But there are rewards-the reward of assisting families who need someone who can help them bridge two disparate cultures, as well as the reward of knowing more about ourselves and becoming more effective interpersonally.

This chapter focuses on the knowledge and skills that interventionists can use to help build bridges between themselves and the families who come from cultures different from their own. It is organized into the following four major areas: 1) defining cross-cultural competence; 2) self-awareness; 3) culture-specific awareness and understanding; and 4) communication issues, including working with interpreters and translators. The material presented suggests specific strategies that can be used to assist interventionists to improve their ability to work sensitively and effectively with families from cultures different from their own and to help agencies and organizations develop more culturally competent approaches to serving children and their families. It is designed to be used by those who are just beginning to develop crosscultural competence, as well as to provide a refresher for those who are skilled in cross-cultural interactions. Although built on openness and a willingness to try new ways of interacting, the strategies are not just an experiential splash into unknown waters; they are, instead, the beginning steps in a long journey toward discovering new ways of knowing oneself and others. They require action, practice, review, feedback, and evaluation. As Storti so aptly stated in The Art of Crossing Cultures, "The old proverb notwithstanding, we cannot put ourselves in someone else's shoes; or, rather, we can, but it's still our own feet we will feel" (1989, p. 51). Although it may be impossible to feel or experience what someone else is feeling, becoming more culturally competent can help interventionists understand, appreciate, and support families more effectively.

The section of this chapter titled "Working with Interpreters and Translators" was originally contributed by Samuel Q. Chan, Ph.D. It has been expanded for this edition by the chapter author.


Cross-cultural competence is important in professional and interpersonal interactions and an area in which every interventionist should be educated. Defining what cross-cultural competence is, however, is considerably more difficult. Cross, Bazron, Dennis, and Isaacs (1989) described cross-cultural competence in terms of behaviors, attitudes, and policies that are congruent, converge, and result in effectiveness in cross-cultural situations. In their definition, the notion of cross-cultural competence can be applied to individuals, agencies, and systems.

Barrera and Kramer used the term broadly "to refer to the ability of service providers to respond optimally to all children, understanding both the richness and the limitations of the sociocultural contexts in which children and families as well as the service providers themselves, may be operating" (1997, p. 217). They cautioned that their definition does not refer to a specific set of skills nor is it based on a cultural, ethnic, or racial paradigm in which one group is considered normative and all others diverse. Rather, it encompasses a wide range of possible diversities and differences and focuses on knowing oneself in a cultural context in order to relate to individuals operating in different cultural contexts. Diversity, as defined by Barrera in a discussion of assessment practices, "is deemed to be present whenever there is the probability that, in interaction with a particular child or family, the assessor might attribute different meaning or values to behaviors or events than would the family or someone from that family's environment" (1994, p. 10). In other words, socioeconomic status, religion, education, political affiliation, and language may be as predictive of different interpretations as culture, ethnicity, or race.

In discussing cultural competence in health care for women, Rorie, Paine, and Barger defined cultural competence as "a set of behaviors, attitudes, and policies that enable a system, agency, and/or individual to function effectively with culturally diverse clients and communities" (1996, p. 93). Their conceptualization of diversity is similar to Barrera's (1994) in that in addition to cultural and ethnic diversity it includes economic differences, sexual orientation, and the social context in which an individual lives.

For the purposes of this book, cross-cultural competence is defined as "the ability to think, feel, and act in ways that acknowledge, respect, and build upon ethnic, sociocultural, and linguistic diversity" (Lynch & Hanson, 1993, p. 50). This definition assumes that all individuals and groups are diverse and does not imply that one group is normative. It also acknowledges that sociocultural factors often play as great or greater a role in people's shared or unshared experience as their ethnicity, language, or culture. This text, however, focuses on ethnic, cultural, and linguistic dimensions of diversity because diversity has not been as widely available in or applied to as many environments for young children as information about sociocultural factors such as economic status or parent education.

Various authors discussed the process of developing cross-cultural competence. Harry (1992) underscored the critical nature of selfawareness when working with children and families from different cultural and experiential contexts. Cross, as cited by Chan (1990), suggested that there are three critical elements, including 1) self-awareness, 2) knowledge of information specific to each culture, and 3) skills that enable the individual to engage in successful interactions. Hanson, Lynch, and Wayman (1990) discussed four slightly different but related elements. These are 1) clarification of the interventionist's own values and assumptions, 2) collection and analysis of ethnographic information related to the community in which the family resides, 3) determination of the degree to which the family operates transculturally, and 4) examination of the family's orientation to specific child-rearing issues. Authors such as McIntosh (1988), in discussing white privilege, suggested that true cultural competence can be achieved only when those who have been privileged in a society recognize that their advantages are based on systems that disadvantage others, and they actively work against those systems. Regardless of the process that one selects, it is apparent that personal awareness, knowledge of other cultures, and application of that knowledge are common elements.

Researchers and theorists in intercultural communication continue to work toward unified theories of cross-cultural competence and communication, particularly in relation to effective functioning in overseas assignments (e.g., Abe & Wiseman, 1983; Hammer, 1989; Ruben, 1989; Spitzberg,1989; Spitzberg & Cupach,1984). This chapter does not presume to provide answers to questions that these theorists are posing nor does it deal with successful interactions outside of the United States. Instead, it focuses on strategies that have been demonstrated to be effective through research and clinical experience working with families in the United States whose cultural, racial, ethnic, or language background is different from that of the interventionist. According to Brislin, Cushner, Cherrie, and Yong (1986), the goals of cross-cultural competence are threefold. When applied to service providers who work with families from diverse cultures and life experiences, the goals are to assist interventionists to 1) feel comfortable and effective in their interactions and relationships with families whose cultures and life experiences differ from their own, 2) interact in ways that enable families from different cultures and life experiences to feel positive about the interactions and the interventionists, and 3) accomplish the goals that each family and interventionist establish.


Everyone has a culture, but often individuals are not aware of the behaviors, habits, and customs that are culturally based (Althen, 1988). According to Hall,

There is not one aspect of human life that is not touched and altered by culture. This means personality, how people express themselves (including shows of emotion), the way they think, how they move, how problems are solved, how their cities are planned and laid out, how transportation systems function and are organized, as well as how economic and government systems are put together and function. (1976, pp. 16-17)

Although this is true for all people, Anglo-Europeans who are part of the dominant or mainstream United States culture may have the least awareness of the ways in which their culture influences their behavior and interactions. This is true because Anglo-Europeans have predominated in the United States; their culture, customs, and habits have shaped the society more than any other single group. In addition, the "melting pot" to which America aspired during the early waves of immigration took its toll on the diversity among Anglo-European groups; the diminishing of these early immigrants' roots has resulted in some mainstream Americans feeling that they do not have a culture or that they are "cultureless." During the past few years in workshops throughout the country, the editors of this book have often heard from Anglo-European participants, "I don't have a culture; I was raised American." This is not unique. Hammond and Morrison (1996) suggested that one of the most common characteristics of mainstream Americans is their denial of any sort of collective culture.

To understand and appreciate fully the diversity that exists among the families that interventionists serve, interventionists must first understand and appreciate their own culture. Self-awareness (Chan, 1990; Harry, 1992) is the first step on the journey toward cross-cultural competence. But how does cultural self-awareness begin? What are the steps? And how does cultural self-awareness lead to improved understanding of other cultures? This section of the chapter addresses these questions.

Cultural self-awareness begins with an exploration of one's own heritage. Issues such as place of origin or indigenous status, time of immigration, reasons for immigration, language(s) spoken, and the place of the family's first settlement in the United States all help to define one's own cultural heritage. The political leanings, religion, jobs, status, beliefs, and values of the first immigrants provide a sketch of one's family and heritage. Information about the economic, social, and vocational changes that subsequent generations have undergone complete the picture. Perhaps the most enriching way to gather this information is through the recollections of the oldest family members as they tell stories of their early lives and the lives of their grandparents and greatgrandparents. Although oral history often is neglected among mainstream Americans, it can provide a wonderful bridge between generations. In some families, oral traditions may be supplemented by photographs, journals, family albums, or notes of important events in family books such as bibles. When none of these are available, a document search in county courthouses can reveal clues to the family's past through marriage records; records of births and deaths; and titles to lands bought, sold, or occupied. In some areas of the country, church, parish, temple, or synagogue records provide a wealth of information about family history. Some public libraries also contain extensive collections specifically for those interested in genealogy. In the 1990s, computer-based search strategies have become available through electronic genealogy forums, bulletin boards, and World Wide Web sites.

For African Americans in search of their roots, information is often impossible to obtain because of the institution of slavery; however, records from the Freedmen's Bureau established in 1865 can sometimes provide information, as can military records that include the names of African Americans who fought in all of the nation's wars. Other historical documents, such as treaties and military records and accounts, contain information about Native American people and their holdings. For example, the names of the Dineh (The People)-Navajo in English-can be found in military history. The 420 Navajo Code Talkers, whose language is one of the few unbroken codes in military history, were instrumental in ensuring that top secret communications could be sent to the Pacific Front in World War 11. Ironically, the Code Talkers who sent the message that the United States flag had been raised on Iwo Jima had to wait another 3 years (until 1948) to receive the right to vote in Arizona (Watson, 1993).

Learning about one's own roots is the first step in determining how one's values, beliefs, customs, and behaviors have been shaped by culture. This new knowledge helps individuals separate the ways of thinking, believing, and behaving that have been assumed to be universal from those that are based on cultural beliefs and biases. When one has explored one's own cultural heritage, the second step of discovery can begin.

The second step is to examine some of the values, behaviors, beliefs, and customs that are identified with one's own cultural heritage. Although the sociocultural variables such as educational level, socioeconomic status, and degree of identification and affiliation with one's culture are potent forces in shaping one's value system and behavior, there are certain salient characteristics for which cultures are known. (For a more in-depth description of the values and beliefs often shared by members of various cultural groups addressed in this book, see Part II, Chapters 4-11.) For example, in addition to the values described by Althen (1988) (see Chapter 1), Robertiello and Hoguet (1987) discussed 39 values that underpin the culture of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants in the United States. Among these are stoicism in adversity, honesty, courage, frugality, resourcefulness, optimism, fairness, wit and sense of humor, physical attractiveness, cheerfulness, and good taste. In developing a new framework for productivity and profitability for business and industry, Hammond and Morrison (1996, pp. 5-6) described seven cultural forces that they believe define Americans. These forces include

Interventionists who are members of the Anglo-European American culture or are strongly influenced by it may want to examine these values to determine their degree of identification with each and the extent to which each affects their practice. For example, interventionists who value punctuality and careful scheduling may need to examine their frustration with families who place less emphasis on clock and calendar time. Interventionists who value optimism and humor may discover that they are uncomfortable with individuals who are depressed or those whom they see as complainers. Interventionists who value frugality may have trouble understanding why a family with very limited resources has just purchased a videocassette recorder (VCR) or a cellular phone. Interventionists who pride themselves in sensitive but direct communications may have difficulty with families who do not look them in the eye or those who nod "yes" when the answer is "no." Interventionists who value privacy may have difficulty understanding why a preschooler is still sleeping in the parents' bedroom. Interventionists who create extensive "menus" of services may not understand why some families are reluctant or unable to choose. Interventionists who are ecstatic about the latest technology or technique may be frustrated by a family who does not share their enthusiasm.

Likewise, interventionists who do not come from the mainstream culture of the United States and are not highly identified with it must examine their values and beliefs in relation to the families that they serve. Interventionists from cultures that value interdependence over independence, cooperation above competition, authoritative rather than permissive child rearing, and interaction more than efficiency may need to examine how these values affect their practice. For example, families who are striving to toilet train their child at a very young age, who are encouraging self-feeding, and who are leaving the child with nonfamily babysitters starting at infancy may be puzzling to interventionists who place a higher value on interdependence than independence. When a young child talks back or interrupts adult conversations, many Anglo-European American parents view the child's behavior as his or her right to personal expression, whereas many Native American, Asian, Latino, and African American parents and interventionists may see the same behavior as disrespectful and obnoxious.

Parents who want to "get down to business" in planning meetings and do not engage in "small talk" may be viewed as brusque and rude by interventionists who are more used to connecting interpersonally before conducting business.

The examples in the previous paragraphs illustrate the ways in which cultural beliefs may affect practice. All cultures have built-in biases, and there are no right or wrong cultural beliefs; however, there are differences that must be acknowledged. Cultural self-awareness is the bridge to learning about other cultures. It is not possible to be truly sensitive to someone else's culture until one is sensitive to one's own culture and the impact that cultural customs, values, beliefs, and behaviors have on practice. For a further examination of one's personal cultural heritage, the reader is encouraged to review the activity in Appendix A, "A Cultural Journey" at the end of this chapter.


After interventionists become familiar with their own culture and its effects on the ways in which they think and behave, the foundation for learning about other cultures has been laid. The next step is to learn about other cultures through readings, interactions, and involvement. As Storti stated, "The success of any interaction, in or outside our own culture, rests primarily on our ability to anticipate the behavior of others, including their reactions to our behavior. If we cannot do this, . . . then even the possibility of successful interaction is largely precluded" (1989, p. 92). Culture-specific information helps explain the cultural values, beliefs, and behaviors that may be encountered in crosscultural interactions. Culture-specific information provides a framework of possibilities to consider. It does not provide a fail-safe prediction of any individual's or family's beliefs, biases, or behaviors. In fact, when culture-specific information is used as a recipe for expectations and interactions, it is likely to cause rather than resolve problems. Because Part II of this book provides a wealth of culture-specific information to consider, this section offers only a brief introduction to the topic.

(This is an excerpt. The chapter continues...)

Appendix A
(for Chapter 3)
A Cultural Journey

Culture is not just something that someone else has. All of us have a total, ethnic, racial, linguistic, and religious (or nonreligious) heritage that influences our current beliefs, values, and behaviors. To learn a little more about your own heritage, take this simple cultural journey.


  1. When you think about your roots, what place(s) of origin do you identify for your family?
  2. Have you ever heard any stories about how your family or your ancestors came to the place where you grew up or how they came to the United States? Briefly, what was the story?
  3. Are there any foods that you or someone else prepares that are traditional for your place of origin or some other aspect of your heritage? What are they? What is their significance?
  4. Are there any celebrations, ceremonies, rituals, or holidays that your family continues to celebrate that reflect your place of origin or some other aspect of your heritage? What are they? How are they celebrated?
  5. Do you or anyone in your family speak a language other than English because of your origins? If so, what language?'
  6. Can you think of one piece of advice that has been handed down through your family that reflects the values held by your ancestors? What is it? Does it reflect a cultural, religious, or individual value?


  1. Have you ever heard anyone make a negative comment about people from your place(s) of origin or about another aspect of your heritage? How did you handle it?
  2. As you were growing up, do you remember discovering that your family did anything differently from other families because of your culture, religion, or ethnicity? What was it?
  3. Have you ever been with someone in a work situation who did something because of his or her culture, religion, or ethnicity that seemed unusual to you? What was it? Why did it seem unusual?
  4. Have you ever felt uncomfortable, upset, or surprised by something that you saw when you were traveling in another part of the United States or the world? If so, what was it? How did it make you feel? Pick some descriptive words to explain your feelings. How did you react? In retrospect, how do you wish you would have reacted?
  5. Have you ever done anything that you think was culturally inappropriate when you have been in another country or with someone from a different culture? In other words, have you ever done something that you think might have been upsetting or embarrassing to another person? What was it? What did you try to do to improve the situation?


  1. Imagine that for a week out of this year you will become a member of another cultural or ethnic group. Which group would you choose to be part of for that week? Why?
  2. What is one value from that culture or ethnic group that attracts you to it?
  3. Is there anything about that culture or ethnic group that concerns or frightens you?
  4. Name one concrete way in which you think your life would be different if you were from that ethnic or cultural group

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Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: Families with Native American Roots

View Description for this Item Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: Families with African American Roots
View Description for this Item Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: Families with Latino Roots
View Description for this Item Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: Families with Asian Roots
View Description for this Item Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: Families with Pilipino Roots
View Description for this Item Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: Families with Native Hawaiian and Samoan Roots

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