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Cultural Intelligence  |  Culture Shock  |  Haggling

Cultural Intelligence

It is difficult to surmise all the different kinds and levels of intelligence that a person may have into one lump value. It is likely that you have heard of IQ (the intelligence quotient) or even of EQ, its emotional cousin, but at NIC we also seek to expand a student’s Cultural Intelligence (CQ) through the development of strong international and intercultural identities.

For example, we live most of our lives within our own cultural norms that are automatic and happen as if our minds and bodies are on cruise control. We often understand more than we realise and are able to navigate through potentially awkward situations with an air of confidence that only becomes noticeable when these unspoken rules are broken. For instance, we are able to understand certain slang words without taking offence or becoming confused, we know how to properly greet someone on the streets and at home, or even in the class room. There are many rules of society, beyond laws, that provide often unspoken cues to which we autonomously respond without much effort or thought. Here in our own culture this automation is a badge of successful immersion but while traveling abroad it is important to acknowledge the fact that other cultures do not share the same customs. But by broadening your mind with an attempt to understand a new culture and immersing yourself, a new founded respect for your own roots will emerge along with a richer comprehension for the lives and customs of others.

When put into an unfamiliar culture, it is much more challenging to know what is expected of you. Is it okay to make eye contact with the strangers on the subway? What does someone call that thing on my dinner plate and can or how do I eat it? Where are and how do I use these kinds of bathrooms? Is it okay for me to shake hands when I meet someone new and is there a preference to which hand I offer? Why does the instructor not want to hear my thoughts on the information he just shared with the class or have any questions asked?

The way to get it in a foreign culture is to first build up your CQ which is composed of three parts:

Knowledge - knowledge about what culture is, how cultures vary and how a culture affects behaviour.
Mindfulness - your ability and motivation to reflect on experiences and cultural cues you are receiving but perhaps not understanding.
Skills - developing your range of understanding for appropriate behaviours with the ability to choose acceptable reactions during various situations.

When you first arrive in a host country you will most likely be entering into a new culture where the unwritten social norms and customs have changed. Your mission, since you have decided to take this study abroad experience, is to develop you CQ in order to learn the most you can, have the most fun possible and to avoid as best you can the proverbial foot in your mouth or embarrassment that will likely occur while trying to develop your CQ. Preparing before you go with research and asking professors about anything that is unclear will help to keep you safe and out of trouble.

Here are a few tips on how to prepare your CQ before you depart:

Culture Shock

Disorientation and confusion are at the core of culture shock and a reality for many travelers whether traveling by themselves or in small groups. It can become increasingly difficult if gone for a long period of time as home sickness and a form of desensitization may set in before the end. What one might expect to have happen is to feel the culture shock in a series of waves. They are in no sense confined to this particular order but an initial sense of euphoria, a wake of rueful pessimism, before a final reaffirmed, confident attitude as one learns to cope and adapt. Until you begin to settle in and become fully immersed there may be a repetition of waves which will come and go until you find your cultural feet and adapt.

Cultural shock is also typified by disruptions in eating patterns, feelings of loneliness and an enhanced evaluating of one s own culture. If your aim is to build a better understanding or appreciation for Canadian culture, experiencing culture shock is a good thing because it is a badge of mindfulness and proof that you have begun to engage yourself in the experience.

Strategies for living with culture shock

A useful way to think about culture shock is as a stress reaction. This then allows each of us to think about what we do in our lives in Canada to work through stress; exercise, meditate, seek counseling, socialize, keep a journal, and by modifying eating or sleeping habits. By using one or more of these healthy strategies we can effectively deal with the stress and the shock of living and studying in another culture.

Get physically active

Walk, bike, swim – do something to get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes.

Journal writing

If you decide that keeping a journal is a helpful strategy to work through your culture shock and to explore what you are learning about yourself, here are some questions which might guide your writing.

  1. What experience this week did you find the most stressful?
  2. How did you deal with this stressful situation?
  3. If you could replay the situation, is there something you might do differently?
  4. What are the most interesting thing/s that happened this week? Why?
  5. What are the most important insights you have had about yourself this week?

Focus on your goals – are you doing what you wanted to do? Learning what you planned to learn?

Communicate with home - regular contact with OGE is expected


Although haggling is not common everywhere in the world, it is a vital part of any traveler's skill set. Places such as bazars, markets, tourist shops, taxis and occasionally hostels can be great places to haggle. The importance for haggling rises from the local merchant's knowledge that you are a traveler or tourist. They are betting on your reluctance to haggle or your confusion over what price things are actually worth. This can lead to shopkeepers charging you much more than you should have to pay for simple goods. It is smart to ask someone, who is part of the local culture and that you trust how much items should cost. Water, taxi fare, food, souvenir trinkets, you want to know how much these cost BEFORE you enter a shop. It is important to know what the base line price should be so you know how much is simply too much. Just as you would never pay $10 for a 2L of pop in Canada, you might want to pass up an offer of 8 Euro for a glass of water.

Haggling is something that many North Americans have a hard time dealing with. It can sometimes be an uncomfortable truth of traveling. If you do not haggle you may actually pay anywhere from 2 - 50x what an item may be valued at. This is a serious hurdle that many will have to learn to leap, sometimes in baby steps. The following is an example of good haggling.

Sam walks into a shop to look for a good quality ancient Greek museum replica. She greets the shopkeeper in his language. She has already asked her professors and some locals what makes up a good ancient Greek museum replica and how to avoid the fakes. She keeps a serious tone about her while browsing the shopkeeper's wears, he is watching her to see what she is interested in. She finds what she is looking for and after inspecting it; she asks the shop keeper how much it is. He replies with $120. She says that price is too expensive and that she will look at other stores. When she is just about the leave the store the shop keepers offers her $90 because she seems like a very nice and intelligent girl. She declines and leaves. After she checks a couple other shops Sam decides to return. Before entering she decides the maximum she wants to spend is $60, so she removes all but $60 from her wallet and hides the rest. She renters the store, greeting the shop keeper once again while maintaining a serious tone. She makes him an offer of $40 for the museum replica. He says no and offers $90. She then picks it up and points out small imperfections in the work. The shop keeper brings the price down to $80. Sam then compliments the shopkeeper's wares, mentioning she has friends that might be interested in some of these things. She asks for a deal, in return she will tell her friends how nice his shop is. The price drops to $75. She then mentions that she is a student and does not have much money. The shop keeper then offers her an exclusive student deal of $70. She takes time to make herself look overly frustrated with the deal and begrudgingly accepts. Then when she opens her wallet to pay the man she finds only $60. She tells the shop keeper that this is all she has as she desperately empties her pockets and searches her wallet. The shop keeper stops her and says that $60 will do.

This ordeal may seem long and painful, but it may possibly save you hundreds of dollars in the long run and will actually gain you respect in the eyes of some shopkeepers. Not everything that Sam did will always work, but each time one of these ploys does work, it will save her a lot of money. Another great trick is to buy two items at once then offer around 20% less than the total. These bundle deals work well. Also, when haggling try to not be in a group of your friends or strangers as merchants will be less likely to give you a deal if he/she thinks that everyone else is going to hear it too. Whispering or writing out offers not only establishes a more serious haggling tone but it also makes the merchant feel more secure about giving you deals.

It is also important to note that haggling is not an accepted practise everywhere outside of North America. Places like Japan or Australia have cultures where such a thing would be seen as quite rude. Know what is appropriate for the culture of your destination.

Other Helpful Documents

Here are a number of helpful documents related to understanding culture and preparing yourself to explore a new culture:
Not sure what to bring on your journey? Let us help you pack!
Questions? Contact the Office of Global Engagement with your study abroad questions. T: 1-250-334-5033 or