Cultural insights from my time as an International Student Ambassador

30 May 2020

In July 2019, I was selected to be one of StudyPerth’s inaugural International Student Ambassadors. Besides me, there were nine other chosen Ambassadors (from Ghana, Nepal, Malaysia, Colombia, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, India, China, and Japan) and, after nine months of working closely together with these individuals, I have discerned nine ‘cultural intelligence’ concepts from these talented students.


But first… what is cultural intelligence?

In their book, Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures, P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang define cultural intelligence as “the capability of an individual to function effectively in situations characterised by cultural diversity.” With this in mind, I believe the easiest way to develop cultural intelligence is to personally experience the culture itself. Thus, by interacting with people from different cultures on a regular basis, exploring the way they think, observing how they solve problems, and communicating with them, it is likely that I would be more culturally aware and eventually, more intelligent.

I don’t want to oversimplify or overcomplicate the concept of culture. Learning a whole culture from just one individual is definitely insufficient and practically impossible. However, I feel that interacting with the same person over a nine-month period has been quite insightful and has given me, at the very least, general ideas of how their cultures guide their way of life.


Nine ‘cultural intelligence’ concepts

Let me start with Emmanuel, my good mate from Ghana. The most visible value I can identify from him is hard work. He once told me that the gap between educated and non-educated people in Ghana was wide. Therefore, when he was fortunate enough to win an Australia Awards Scholarship, he didn’t want to give less than 100 per cent of his effort in studying Health Administration, Policy and Leadership. He once shared with me his vision in revolutionising the healthcare sector in his country, especially in blood donation management, and I commend his passion and drive. He is also a believer that education can liberalise people from poverty, crime, and ignorance.

The next ambassador is Hasta from Nepal. Exceptional customer service, friendliness, and sincerity flow in the blood of this young gentleman, and these qualities and more will make him an excellent nurse in his future career. Hasta attributed his childhood as something that shaped him to be a risk-taker. For him, childhood in Nepal was memorable as it taught him to be adaptive, agile, and polite in any situation. This explains why Hasta is willing to take responsibility in all aspects of his life.

Next is ShuHui, who is from Malaysia. ShuHui comes from a Chinese-Malaysian ethnic group, which means she can be considered a minority in her country. ShuHui impresses me with how well she manages her expectations when she makes friends with people from diverse backgrounds, including majority groups in Malaysia. Instead of living with presumptions about what others might think of her (in an ethnic sense), ShuHui shows how kindness is the one-fits-all currency that can help a person make friends from anywhere in the world. Something else that stands out to me is that although ShuHui is a devoted vegetarian, she never imposes this idea on others. For me, this is so basic, but meaningful, because it is what it takes to peacefully co-exist with others.

Next on the list is Natalia who came a long way to Perth from Colombia. As a big fan of swimming, Natalia taught me to respect mother nature by simply celebrating our existence and enjoying beautiful things around us. The way she lives reflects her belief that collaboration is better than unhealthy competition. In addition to her studies, she has multiple part-time jobs in fashion-related areas (her chosen field of study). Just in case you’re wondering how Natalia managed to get multiple jobs, it is because she is altruistic: she is always ready to help and support others while asking for nothing in return. I’m not sure whether this is a Colombian trait or just a wonderful Natalia trait, but regardless, it is something I learn from her.

Chiedza from Zimbabwe reminds me that in the middle of adversity, there is always a better tomorrow for those who believe. Simply put, there is a silver lining in every cloud. Or, there is always thirst-quenching lemonade you can make from the lemons thrown at you. Chiedza once told me that life in Zimbabwe was tough, but she didn’t give up. She appreciated every single penny her mother made and is currently converting her mum’s sacrifice into something she can be proud of: education. Given how tough things have been in Zimbabwe over the years, to me Chiedza is the face of hope for her country.

Coming back to Asia, there is Leo Manuel from the Philippines, a living example of how and why going through one or two failures will only make us stronger. He has made mistakes and was a bit unlucky in his previous business, but he was very courageous in admitting all those things. ‘Self-acceptance’ is the right word to describe how Leo Manuel transformed a series of challenges into motivation to succeed. He has the right mentality to survive and rise when he falls, a trait that I frequently see in my Filipino friends.

Similarly, Abhijith from India regularly shows a great sense of adaptability and survival which, I have found from the people I have met, is common to people from India. Studying a Master of Geoscience, working part-time, involving himself in academic and non-academic clubs, and still having time for fun, he demonstrates determination for the pursuit of a better future. Like many Indian friends I have made in Perth, Abhijith also likes to engage in conversation, which makes him an effective networker and sociable personality.

Meanwhile, Harry from China has proven that being an international student sometimes means moving out of your comfort zone. Harry likes to do things that most people think are difficult, such as starting a club, organising high-level events, and expressing his ideas to influential figures in a particular industry. He is definitely a do-er, and he makes things happen.

Last but not least, Hiromi from Japan confirms that benevolence and politeness are two cultural values that Japanese people hold very strongly. She is the one who always says “Hi man, how are you?” in the first place and respects everyone equally. While this question might sound basic, to me it is the easiest way to make someone’s day, and Hiromi knows that she is doing it right because she is doing it from her heart and with nothing but enthusiasm.

By knowing these nine wonderful Ambassadors in person, does that mean that I acquire essential skills to be culturally intelligent? I don’t think so. But, now I know that things like hard work, sincerity, kindness, altruism, persistence, adaptability, courage, and respect are universal. And the best part of it is, each and every one of us can start learning and practising them regardless of where we are from. Good cultural values are way beyond nationalities. That's for sure!


Applications are now open for StudyPerth's next round of International Student Ambassadors until the 29th of June.