Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ignorant Mistake Dims the Luster of Gold

The following is a guest blog post on Athletes and Intercultural Competency by Arayael E. Brandner

This is America. Speak American.

This ethnocentric line of thinking might resonate with some people or it might make others uncomfortable. There are people who feel as though they do not have to adapt to other cultures and everyone should adapt to theirs. Cultural ignorance. People that never have an opportunity to change their worldview through study abroad, cultural programming through educational opportunities, or living in a super diverse area, might not have the understanding of why it is important to have some kind of intercultural competence.

In recent events, a United States swimmer and Olympic gold medalist, made a culturally incompetent mistake. You might be familiar with the Rio scandal that involved Ryan Lochte making a false report to Brazilian authorities about being robbed near a gas station. Instead, video surveillance showed the swimmers were not harmed, but instead vandalized the gas station bathroom. (See USA Today link for full story)

Did the Olympic athletes have some sort of cultural training before heading down to Rio de Janeiro to compete? If Ryan Lochte received some sort of intercultural training, do you think the scenario would have played out differently? Maybe, maybe not. These are valid questions, and one would think that these high profile athletes, who are representing nations, would receive some type of preparation before entering into a different culture to compete on a global platform. Darla Deardorff, a leading scholar-practitioner in the field of International Education, created a cultural competency framework, and it mentions skills that can be learned to help individuals become more culturally and globally competent when found in environments different than their own. The framework displays how one acquires global competency skills, attitudes, global knowledge, and internal and external outcomes (Deardorff, 2009). In her model she has illustrated the process an individual goes through to gain competency skills. It starts with the individual and the attitude and previous knowledge/experience one has acquired on their own in their normal living environment. Then through an international or cultural experience, the individual then moves into the interaction stage where internal and external outcomes come into play. A likely internal outcome would be something like adaptability to new environments, people, food, customs or developing empathy and understanding of your own background to this new culture you are immersed into. A desired external outcome would be proper communication and behavior in an intercultural setting. This external outcome would have been very useful and relevant for Mr. Lochte to have had in his trip down to Rio. 

I would argue that if the Olympic athletes were required to complete some kind of cultural competency training before embarking on their road to Rio, this scenario would have played out differently, or not even occurred. As globalization increases, cultural programming should become an integral part of professional development and trainings, along with infusing these themes in an educational setting through curriculum and study abroad opportunities to change worldview perspectives and enhance intercultural competency skills. We want to move away from an ethnocentric way of thinking to become interculturally sensitive and open to new opportunities and environments.


Deardorff, Darla (2009). Theory reflections: intercultural competence framework/model.  The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence at https://www.nafsa.org/_/File/_/theory_connections_intercultural_competence.pdf

Photo credit:  Toby and Tai Shan

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