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What Is Cultural Intelligence and Why It Matters to 21st Century Learners

February 19th, 2019

According to the Cultural Intelligence Center,

“Cultural intelligence (CQ) is the capability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations. It is a form of intelligence that has been tested by academic researchers in over 98 countries for nearly two decades.”

As the workplace becomes increasingly global, preparing students to navigate a culturally diverse society is a core priority at Selwyn School.

What Is Culture?

One unique aspect of being human is the way we perceive and process information. We break down the outside world into a mass of mental symbols, and then recombine those symbols to recreate the world. This transformation of outside stimulus is influenced by culture. Culture includes a person’s values, beliefs, customs, languages and traditions. Through our culture we develop a sense of belonging, personal and cognitive growth and the ability to empathize and relate to each other. Culture can be thought of as the software of the mind. As we perceive symbols and other stimuli from the outside world, this “software” serves as a filter for how we recombine those symbols to recreate the outside world. In other words, culture plays a significant role in how we apply meaning to what we observe, perceive, and experience. In turn, it informs how we relate with one another, problem-solve and make decisions. Understood in this way, it is obvious why it is of paramount importance that students begin to fine tune their cultural intelligence skills at an early age and continue to develop them throughout their adult life.

Why Cultural Intelligence Matters to 21st Century Learners

The modern workplace requires the emotional and intellectual ability to embrace constant and rapid change. In just a few years, more than two-thirds of students will be working in jobs that do not exist today and perhaps have yet to be imagined. While traditional academics are important, the skills in demand in the coming years — problem-solving, community-building, leadership — go beyond traditional learning. At Selwyn, our mission revolves around this broader set of skills and experiential academics necessary for students to thrive in a constantly changing world and this includes the development and honing of cultural intelligence skills.

The Cultural Intelligence Center explains that,

“Cultural intelligence predicts your readiness for working and relating effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. The higher your CQ, the more likely you will gain new opportunities, earn higher wages, and experience success working in today’s diverse, globalized world.”

In a Harvard Business Review article, authors P. Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski explain,

“Cultural intelligence is related to emotional intelligence, but it picks up where emotional intelligence leaves off. A person with high emotional intelligence grasps what makes us human and at the same time what makes each of us different from one another. A person with high cultural intelligence can somehow tease out of a person’s or group’s behavior those features that would be true of all people and all groups, those peculiar to this person or this group, and those that are neither universal nor idiosyncratic. The vast realm that lies between those two poles is culture.”

In the modern workplace, individuals with a high CQ are able to bridge divides and knowledge gaps, and make unique and meaningful connections in ways that those without these skills simply cannot do. Whether it is educating and/or coaching their colleagues about differently cultural nuances, transferring knowledge between culturally diverse groups, or helping to bridge interpersonal connections, culturally intelligent individuals bring increased innovation and creativity to the workplace because of their enhanced ability to integrate diverse resources and navigate culturally diverse spaces.     

At Selwyn, we integrate cultural intelligence development through all aspects of a student’s education. Our student-centered, experiential approach to education allows students numerous and ongoing opportunities to develop cross cultural skills such as: relational skills, tolerance of uncertainty, adaptability, empathy, and, of course, emotional intelligence competencies such as self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and social regulation.

A high CQ, will be required for 21st century leaders. A Selwyn education prepares students to embrace the challenges of the modern workplace by offering a learning environment that embraces experiential learning and individualized, student-centered teaching and that respects independent thinking with a persistent attention to proven and evolving educational practices.

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