How to be a good storyteller and a good listener in intercultural settings

Hi, I-House folks! My name is Taeho Kim and I am an exchange undergraduate student from South Korea. I am studying Systems Biology at my home university and Integrative Biology here at UC Berkeley. I would like to tell you briefly about what was covered at the second session of the Intercultural Leadership Initiative.

The theme of the session was “Our Intercultural Stories.” We discussed what is important about storytelling in intercultural settings and how to be good listeners for the speakers who have different cultural backgrounds. And lastly, we exchanged our own intercultural tales represented by posters, which we made before the session.

What do you think are the most important aspects of giving a presentation to people from different countries? For someone who is nervous in front of audience like I am, you might say that practicing as much as possible is critical. However, what we discussed focused on how to organize the way we present our stories most effectively in special circumstances. Here are the things we concluded. First, the key is that you should try to be “authentic” about what you want to say while communicating well with the audience. Targeting and engaging with the audience, such as getting their attention and interacting with them, is strongly encouraged. Second, non-verbal or body language can be a great tool in intercultural settings to enable the audience to engage well. However, you should take into consideration what is not accepted or what would be thought of as a negative expression in a specific culture. For example, doing a thumbs-up is considered as good or “OK” in some countries, but it has a vulgar meaning in others. In addition, we agreed that evoking emotions of the audience is always essential by telling some anecdotes, being humorous or doing a brief performance.

Furthermore, we briefly talked about how to listen well to a presenter’s intercultural stories. The point is to look upon them in appreciative ways. You can see the same situation different from how others see it. The most famous example could be whether to see a cup of water, which is filled half, as “half-full” or “half-empty.” We could easily judge how “bad” or “good” other cultures are by just listening to a few descriptions of them. To be a leader in intercultural settings, or just to be a friend to other international people, you should appreciate and find positive aspects in what you experience, watch, or listen to.

And finally, we tried applying the skills by doing our own intercultural storytelling, which is an essential part in the process of learning. We exchanged each other’s stories in pairs and tried to present them more succinctly in two minutes. Of course, this was our first time we gave it a try, so it was not as easy as we concluded before. Nonetheless, what was fascinating to me in both speaking and listening was that we should make efforts to be both honest and interactive with the other person. As I need much more practice in my English language skills, I felt inclined to pretend to understand the other person’s story and manipulate my story to make it easier to express, even if just a little. In other words, to be both “authentic” and to be good at communicating at the same time is not easily achieved whether you are speaking or listening.

This was the key of the lesson, and it seems to me that this is more important if the proficiency of a language is different from that of the person you are speaking with. At International House, we are lucky to have more opportunities to meet people who have different levels of fluency with languages, so we practice this communication every day. Even though it is very natural for a person to be frustrated by or misunderstand what other people mean, this ILI session showed that we can get better and be more effective storytellers and good listeners to empathize with each other and to deepen our friendships.

About Lake Taeho

I was born in Jeju Island in South Korea and I have lived in Jeju City(Korea), Paramaribo(Suriname), Seoul(Korea) and Berkeley(CA, USA). I study biology and psychology, and I love performances, nature, music and sports. I like to be on the stage or before the audience even though I tend to get nervous when I do a performance or presentation. What I would like to do as a job is to make people happy.
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