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Cultural Intelligence for Kids?

Cultural Intelligence for Kids?

Cultural Intelligence (soft skills) have fast forwarded into mainstream teaching at many top colleges and universities including Harvard and Cambridge. Why? Because this generation’s educational needs are rapidly changing, and Cultural Intelligence is no longer  a “nice to have” but a “need to know”.  And, it is something best developed at a young age along with other skills like critical thinking, respect for diversity, and global awareness.
So, how can we incorporate Cultural Intelligence Skills into the classrooms?
Firstly, for those out there who are unfamiliar with the terminology, Cultural Intelligence is the measure of our ability to thrive in multi-cultural environments.   (Ang, Van Dyne, & Koh, 2005; Earley & Ang, 2003; Earley & Mosakowski, 2005) It’s our ability in many ways to feel comfortable in our own skin, and for others to feel comfortable in theirs when interacting with us.  It starts with tolerance and acceptance, and a true desire to get to know one another so that we can work together.
Four million students currently travel to study and this number is set to increase to eight million by 2020 (UNESCO). But studentsa recent study showed that Chinese students traveling to the UK to study saw their English language skills decrease by the second year. How? Because they did not take advantage of the city that that they were in, getting to know their classmates from differing backgrounds and cultures. Rather, they went to school, created their own communities and groups, and rarely ventured outside their comfort zone and 80% returned home ( So part of Cultural Intelligence is our ability to feel comfortable and confident outside of our comfort zone.

International schools are in many ways a small microcosm of the millions of international students that travel to study. During the past 8 years, while lecturing in many of  the international schools in Dubai,  I’ve asked the same questions of students and the results I found were similar to the UK study. How many of your students know an Emirati neighbor? A neighbor from a different country than their own? Whose first language is different than yours? How many of you have met your neighbors? How many of you have been to “Old Dubai”? Inevitably, my anecdotal evidence showed that less than 10% could answer yes to any of the answers and less than 5% had not ventured out of their comfort zone, but rather created closed circles of friends.

As teachers and administrators, we recognize its natural for children to gravitate towards other students like themselves; friendships form and that’s that. Some schools have made an effort to help students venture outside of their comfort zone, even making it a policy to change up classes each year in an attempt to encourage students to get to know one another. But without a true structured program, focusing on building Cultural Intelligence efforts can fall short.
What can you do? Well here are some tips to help students develop their Cultural Intelligence. There are many theories out there, but for kids you need to keep it simple. Colleagues Earley and Mosakowski from Purdue University published an article in the Harvard Business Review that gives practical advice about how to improve cultural intelligence.
They divided Cultural Intelligence into three parts: head, body & heart which I’ve adapted to the educational levels of young students.
Head: Learn about the cultures in your community. That means getting to know about other beliefs, traditions, and do mindbodyheartand don’ts. Knowledge is the first key to Cultural Intelligence.
Body: Understanding common gestures between different cultures in not enough. Sharing those gestures in a sincere way, even though it may not be from your culture helps people to understand one another and feel included. Many classrooms start their day with “Assalamu Alaikum” translated as “Peace be with you”. 95% of the time, students don’t know what this means. Starting each year with a short explanation and understanding this greeting goes a long way to creating a feeling of unity and togetherness. And remember this greeting is not exclusive, in some ways it means the same thing as a handshake, kiss on the cheek or hug. Let’s be friends.
Heart: This has to do with confidence. Feeling confident in your own cultural norms, including knowing what they are, helps  you to make others feel comfortable with theirs. It’s all about sharing and understanding. Instill a sense of curiosity in your students that it’s OK to ask why about cultural behaviors, and be ready to guide them to the answers. And don’t forget to self-evaluate (reflect).

The Meaning of Hajj by Nasif Kayed, Founder the Arab Culturalist

Hajj is the Arabic word for pilgrimage and is a journey to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia that a submitter (Muslim) must make once in a lifetime if able financially and physically. This fulfills what is ordained by the Lord Allah as one of the five Pillars/Acts of Worship.


Today Muslims plan to make this journey when they are able as one of the five Acts of Worship.  The pilgrim must strip him or herself from all worldly attachments, this is symbolised by the wearing of two simple pieces of white cloth for the male, and a white or plain dress for a female that is free of any designs or frills. This in itself brings about the principle of equality between all pilgrims regardless, of wealth, colour, ethnicity, language and health. 

In the holy city of Mecca lies the Ka’ba, a square building draped in adorned black cloth which was built by the Prophet Ibrahim PBUH and his son Ismael. This house of worship has been preserved, and the area built up around it is known as Al Haram Al Shareef. This is where more than 3 million pilgrims perform Hajj each year, circling around it sets of 7 times and performing daily prayers. They are many steps to the journey and worshippers must stay focused and patient.

Regardless of where you from, as a Muslim, once you have reached adulthood you should strive to fulfill this obligatory act of worship once in your lifetime. To some it is easily accomplished, to others it is very hard because of distance, the money it costs to make the journey or the physical strength necessary to perform the rituals of Hajj.

Some Muslims never get a chance to go before they pass away. In this case, someone else can perform Hajj on their behalf, but not before they have completed their own.

Following the completion of this journey, all Muslims celebrate Eid Al Adha, which starts with a congregational prayer shortly after sunrise, and then involves dressing in new clothing and visiting family and friends. Children receive gifts and families spend time together.


The principle behind this journey is to commemorate the story of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) who is known as the father of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He reestablished the belief in One God, Allah, in an era when idol worshipping had become a way of life. According to Islam, he grew up in a home where his father was an idol maker, making idols from wood, stones and dates and sold them. Ibrahim felt in his heart that this was wrong, and would spend days journeying and contemplating the nature of the true Lord. Ibrahim was chosen by the Lord Allah to deliver this message, and he endured numerous tests and trials of faith…


Ibrahim had a desire for a son, but became an old man without children. He remained patient and faithful and continued to ask for a son until Ismael was born from his wife Hajar in old age. Later he was blessed with Isaac from his wife Sarah, Peace be upon them all. (The moral behind this story is patience.)


Allah asked Ibrahim to take baby Ismael and his wife Hajar to the desert, and leave them alone in the area that is known today as Mecca. Hajar trusted in Allah‘s order and waited patiently. Once out of food and water and alone with her baby, Hajar ran between the hills called Safa and Marwa, looking for help. She prayed for Allah’s Mercy and protection, and the Almighty provided for them a spring called Zam Zam which opened from under the feet of Ismael. This story is reenacted by the Pilgrims at Hajj who run in between Safa and Marwa 7 times, and drink from Zam Zam.

It is this spring that made life possible in such a harsh place that grew into the great city of Mecca and became the home of the holiest mosque in Islam.

(The moral behind this story is to trust in Allah.)


Once again Ibrahim is tested by the Lord as he is told in a dream to sacrifice his son. When Ibrahim tells Ismael of the dream he obediently answers, “Do as you are ordered!”. When both son and father are ready to obey their Lord without questions or hesitation, Allah bestows His mercy on them and presents Ibrahim with a ram to sacrifice instead of his son. (The moral here is absolute obedience.)


The last tale is commemorated by sacrificing a lamb on Eid Al Adha at the completion of Hajj.  The meat is shared among family, neighbors and the poor, and we remember how blessed we are. It also reminds us to relinquish our love for material possessions, think of those who are in need and appreciate the most important and dear to us, our Lord, our families, our neighbors and community.

Hajj is a commemoration of the devotion to worshiping the one and only God, to be willing to sacrifice what you most adore and has been prescribed on the people since the time of Ibrahim.

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Recipe for Corruption? Cultural Intelligence without Core Values

For the past two decades, experts, gurus, and psychologists have been equating high Emotional Intelligence with success in leadership. But what if that leader is simply using his EQ skills to mask his emotions and control the emotions of others for his personal benefit? What about the common good and well-being of employees and goals of the organization?  Is EQ being taught in a vacuum?

With all the crash course and solicitations for EQ certifications and seminars, I began to do some self-evaluation.  Years ago I was told to be a great manager you need to understand the psychology of motivation. “Take a behavioral psychology course,” one of my associates said, “it will make you a better manager.”  I understood the impact of pulling at someone’s heart strings to motivating them into action. But what if the action is morally wrong or self-serving? Are there underlying common core values that must be taught before we can be given the “weapon” or skills of EQ?

Emotional Intelligence is being taught in our schools, colleges, and workplaces, as a system that promotes successful leaders and healthy work environments. Unfortunately, I have witnessed just the opposite and seen its destructive side. EQ without a moral code of conduct is a dangerous tool.  Its dangers are seen all around us, in the workplace, in politics, and in governance. Teach a bully EQ and he’ll be a better bully. Bullies have a high level of “social intelligence” and teaching them EQ could actually help rather than hinder bully behavior. While some advocate that EQ can reduce bullying, EQ without the proper moral codes won’t stop the bully from “reading people” to his advantage.   Many political campaigns and “exits” in hindsight make little sense to us and we wonder about how we were swept up in the emotional wave that’s out of sync with our core values.

Neuroscientists tell us that emotions are in the subconscious part of the brain. For instance, if I see something that emotes jealously, I cannot stop the emotion, but I can control how I react to it with thinking and intellect, which are in another part of the brain.  On the other hand, values, are cognitive and emotional. They combine thinking, concepts, goals, and beliefs with emotional attitudes that can be positive or negative. For example, if one of your core values is justice, and you see injustice towards one of your co-workers in the workplace, emotions such as empathy or anger will motivate you to action.

Some core values are universal while others may vary according to regions and cultures, and again have a variety of factors that influence them.   If we are going to teach Emotional Intelligence in our schools and workplaces, then we need to teach it in the context of the values that go along with it. It’s important to teach how to manage our emotions, but not to use that control to control others to their disadvantage. Otherwise, the acute development of Emotional Intelligence without a defined set of core values can lead to corruption and manipulation of human behavior rather than true leadership and a team  or community motivated to achieve  a common goal for the benefit of all.

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