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Summary: The Art of Crossing Cultures by Craig Storti


If you’re planning on going overseas as a first-time expatriate worker, expect to pass through various phases – euphoria, disillusionment and adaptation – before you finally come to regard your new destination as home. In this handy guidebook, intercultural communications consultant Craig Storti offers tips to help smooth your transition. Storti explores the sorts of cultural incidents expat workers often encounter, and discusses remedies – some of which might feel predictable – to help you avoid awkward missteps. He also highlights the value of crossing cultures with foreigners at home.


  • The ability to interact effectively with locals is imperative for success in an overseas assignment.
  • Acknowledge the challenges of adapting to your new setting.
  • Cross-cultural incidents present in one of two ways: The expat offends the locals (Type I) or local behaviors and norms upset the expat (Type II).
  • The majority of cultural incidents inflict no lasting harm. Both expats and locals tend to be quick to forgive minor offenses.
  • You may feel tempted to live life in an expat bubble; resist this urge.
  • Accept that people abroad differ from people at home – both in their mannerisms and in how they interpret situations.
  • Observe locals, ask questions, study the language and tap into rich sources of cross-cultural information that exist online and in books.
  • Treat foreigners at home as you would like to be treated overseas.

Summary: The Art of Crossing Cultures by Craig Storti


The ability to interact effectively with locals is imperative for success in an overseas assignment.

Once upon a time, overseas job assignments were the realm of the bold, the ambitious and the daring. These days, anyone with leadership aspirations at a multicultural company should expect to do a stint overseas. Some studies suggest that as many as 50% of overseas assignments fail, with the deployed worker either returning ahead of schedule or growing unhappy and unproductive. A 2018 survey found the top two challenges to working abroad were homesickness and cultural or social differences. Many expatriates are unable to adapt to the local culture, which cripples their ability to form productive relationships with local colleagues. The resulting isolation, which often strikes the employee’s spouse or partner hardest, can cause the overseas assignment to end prematurely or fall short of expectations.

“If there’s one thing nearly everyone who lives and works abroad has to get right, it is this: They must be able to get along with the local people.”

When an employee accepts an overseas posting, they are often putting their career, reputation, family and marriage on the line. A failed assignment has high emotional, financial and professional costs for the employee, while the business pays dearly in recruitment and relocation costs, lost productivity, broken relationships and more. One estimate claims that premature expat returns cost US firms as much as $2 billion every year. Psychological preparation before, and a conscious understanding of your likely reactions to situations during the assignment can make the difference between a career-accelerating experience and an unpleasant year or two that may damage your reputation and career momentum. Failure can sting especially hard if taking the assignment involved uprooting the lives of your family members.

On the other hand, success in an overseas role can make you more valuable to your firm (and others). You will have developed skills that employers find exceedingly difficult to source. Provided you successfully adapt to the foreign culture, unparalleled personal growth awaits you. A whole new world will open up, filled with perspectives you’ve likely never considered before.

Acknowledge the challenges of adapting to your new setting.

Adjusting to a new physical environment can prove disruptive to say the least. Add a new job (or, if you are the partner or spouse, the lack of one); the absence of certain foods, goods, comforts and amenities; and the possibility of imperfect services, such as spotty internet connection or a poor public transportation network, and the ingredients for severe culture shock abound. So many simultaneous changes will exhaust your energy reserves. Acknowledging these challenges can help prevent stress and anxiety from overwhelming you.

“Wherever you live overseas, the list of things ‘they don’t have here’ sometimes seems to have been designed with you personally in mind.”

Don’t underestimate the impact that a new climate can have on your experience, health, lifestyle and mental state. Consider, for instance, moving to a tropical climate for the first time: You may have to get used to living in an air-conditioned building, and you might have to abandon your usual exercise routine. You could suffer from headaches and dehydration until your body adjusts to your new setting, and an upset stomach while you adjust to local cuisine and water.

Moreover, the strain of meeting a barrage of new people, remembering their foreign-sounding names, trying not to say the wrong thing or leave a bad first impression, and not knowing anyone more than superficially can be exhausting. It may not take long before you feel lonely and homesick. You must navigate all of these obstacles while getting up to speed in a new job: learning new skills and assuming new responsibilities, and adjusting to new protocols and regulations. If your family relocated with you, they may experience an even worse ordeal. Partners without a job or a context for meeting people can feel especially isolated. Kids can struggle to adjust to a new school, especially if they are unfamiliar with the local language. Resentment from your partner and kids can fester.

The cumulative effect of so much change is that you will be physically, mentally and emotionally drained. To cope with country shock, first expect it. Acknowledge the problems, and realize that you’ve dealt with them before. After all, this is unlikely the first time you’ve started a new job or moved to a new location. Try to remain healthy by eating well, getting rest and exercising. Stay in touch with family and friends at home to stave off homesickness. Explore your new setting with an open mind. Forgive yourself if you feel overwhelmed, and remind yourself of the benefits: You likely took the assignment because you were bored with the status quo and wanted to experience something new.

Cross-cultural incidents present in one of two ways: The expat offends the locals (Type I) or local behaviors and norms upset the expat (Type II).

If you move to a culture whose values, beliefs and customs differ starkly from your own, you will almost certainly experience culture shock. The habits, norms and behaviors of locals may frustrate, confuse, offend or disgust you. When this happens repeatedly, your negative attitude toward the local culture might harden. Your relationships will suffer, and you’ll compromise your ability to work with locals and communicate effectively.

The inability to mesh with colleagues leads to cross-cultural incidents that can doom your assignment and harm your career and organization. Think about cross-cultural incidents in two ways: Type I incidents occur when locals’ behavior or customs confuse or upset the expat. Type II incidents occur when the expat’s actions offend or upset the locals. Note that frustration and annoyance can accumulate on both sides. Avoiding a cross-cultural incident depends on your ability to control your reactions when misunderstandings occur. Say you are an American and have a meeting with a local Argentinian PR firm scheduled for 10 a.m. You arrive early. At 11 a.m., your contact eventually emerges from his or her office with a big smile and ushers you in, with no explanation or apology. Your response determines whether this becomes a Type I incident.

“Because of cultural differences – different, deeply held beliefs and instincts about what is natural, normal, right and good – cross-cultural interactions are subject to all manner of confusion, misunderstanding and misinterpretation. In a word, they are often unsuccessful.”

Now imagine an American couple on assignment in India. They accept a kind dinner invitation from a local colleague. On arrival, they fail to ask whether they ought to remove their shoes. The wife brings flowers, and the husband brings scotch. The wife enters the kitchen asking if she can help with anything. The meal is served without cutlery, and the husband, a left-hander, uses that hand to eat. The wife enjoys her lassi beverage and offers a sip from her glass to her husband. Here, the couple has broken a host of cultural rules – Type II offenses – though they mean to show their hosts nothing but kindness.

The majority of cultural incidents inflict no lasting harm. Both expats and locals tend to be quick to forgive minor offenses.

Locals won’t expect you to grasp the nuances of their culture right away, and most will take a liberal attitude to your transgressions, at first. They also watch closely to see if you learn from your mistakes and demonstrate a willingness to adapt to local norms, however.

“Even as you’re being thrown by the annoying, unaccountable behaviors of the other person, chances are that person is also being put off by you.”

When an expat succumbs to the cumulative effect of Type I cultural incidents, they typically withdraw from the local culture and turn against it. Sometimes, expats get haughty and judgmental about the locals, viewing them as lazy, tardy, untrustworthy or unwilling to do hard work, for example. This mind-set can poison every interaction: You will start to see only the behaviors that reinforce your negative view of the locals. In some cases, expats who fall victim to this mind-set try to change locals’ ways of doing things. These attempts almost always fail; you have a chance of succeeding only once you’ve developed a deep understanding of the local culture.

You may feel tempted to live life in an expat bubble; resist this urge.

Many countries and cities play host to thriving expat clubs. Within these enclaves, expats can share home-country foods, play sports like golf and tennis, and otherwise achieve some semblance of being at home while living abroad. These communities can offer a respite from the stress, pressures and loneliness of expat life; they provide a haven for non-working spouses, too.

“Members of the expat community don’t seek each other out so much as they collide with each other in their common flight from the indigenous culture.”

When you use the expat community to isolate yourself from the local culture, however, you undermine your effectiveness and the purpose of your assignment. In all likelihood, many members of your expat club have turned their backs on the local culture, and their attitudes will only compound your own negative views. Remind yourself of the reasons you accepted your assignment and of the incredible opportunity you might squander if you retreat from the local culture to live almost as though you had never left home. By all means, enjoy the expat community, just don’t get overly absorbed in it. If you withdraw from the locals, they will notice and will probably withdraw from you as well.

Accept that people abroad differ from people at home – both in their mannerisms and in how they interpret situations.

Due to “cultural conditioning,” you subconsciously expect people to conform to the norms to which you have been exposed since birth. Oftentimes, you don’t realize that what seems normal to you is not universal – until you interact with foreigners. The unacknowledged belief that locals should act as people in your home culture do sets you up for frustration and annoyance. Intellectually, you know that people behave according to their own cultures. The opportunity to experience a different culture likely attracted you to your overseas assignment, initially. To overcome cultural conditioning, consciously accept that different people do things differently, then do those things yourself. In other words, to some degree, you must reflect the local culture in your own behaviors.

“The key to adjusting to a new culture, then, is to stop assuming that everyone is just like us. If we didn’t expect the local people to behave like we do, we would no longer be put off when they did not.”

You can’t expect the local culture to change and suddenly adopt your home country’s norms. Therefore, unless you want to continue experiencing Type I incidents that lead to Type II incidents and assignment failure, you have to change. When a local does something that strikes you as odd – like arriving at a meeting an hour late with no explanation or apology – you can choose to interpret it through the lens of your home culture and ascribe all sorts of negative character traits to that person, or you can interpret it from the perspective of local culture, in which it isn’t unusual and means no disrespect. Recognize the emotions that arise when you encounter local behaviors that violate your home country norms. Think about those actions in the context of the local culture, then react accordingly.

Observe locals, ask questions, study the language, and tap into rich sources of cross-cultural information that exist online and in books.

If you prepare for what’s coming, you can better control your responses and feelings. When you expect locals to act according to their norms, you’ll experience fewer Type I incidents. Likewise, it will be easier for you to behave and act like the locals expect – according to their culture – and, thus, avoid many Type II incidents. You don’t need to change overnight. Give it time. You also don’t need to adopt every local custom: You might accept and even practice most cultural norms but, for example, refuse to participate in those that don’t align with your values. Talk to locals and ask them questions, read books and websites, and take classes about the local culture to spark your curiosity and become better informed.

“Becoming culturally effective does not mean becoming a local; it means trying to see the world the way the locals do and trying to imagine how they see you.”

If you move to a country that speaks a different language, learning it – to whatever extent that you can – is one of the most important things you can do before and during your assignment. Not knowing the local language magnifies every frustration, annoyance and stressor, and it isolates you. You can’t understand the local culture without at least a minimal ability to understand and function in its language. Even on a two-year assignment where you won’t likely gain fluency, learn important words and phrases; make an effort.

Treat foreigners at home as you would like to be treated overseas.

Some 12.5% of US citizens, and 20% of the US workforce, were born in a different country. Add another three million or so students, expats on temporary assignments, and guest workers, and chances are the average American has regular and significant interactions with people from different cultures. At home, you play the role of the local, and they, the expat, even if they hold citizenship. When a foreign-born person violates a local norm, you might grow annoyed and may even try to avoid him or her. This interferes with your ability to collaborate with the person.

“One of the biggest changes is that many more folks now have significant interactions with foreigners without ever leaving home.”

Learn to recognize your unconscious biases, and give foreigners some leeway to transgress US norms from time to time, as they adjust. Realize that they don’t intend to offend you, and that mild and careful feedback, such as explanations of how they might alter behaviors to better fit US culture, will help them much more than avoiding them will. Before you start coaching though, consider whether they seem receptive and whether you are the best person to do it. If so, pause, pick the right time, keep it private, and make sure that what you want to coach them about is valid. Talk about the impact, not their behaviors, and reference their culture, not their character. Don’t expect overnight change, but offer praise when you see progress.

About the Author

Craig Storti is a consultant in the field of intercultural communications and cross-cultural adaptation. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco and a staff member in several nations.


“The Art of Crossing Cultures” by Craig Storti is a comprehensive guide that explores the challenges and strategies involved in navigating cultural differences. The book provides valuable insights and practical advice for individuals seeking to enhance their cross-cultural communication and understanding.

Storti begins by emphasizing the importance of developing cultural competence and self-awareness. He delves into the concept of culture and its impact on our perceptions, behaviors, and communication styles. The author explores various cultural dimensions, such as time orientation, hierarchy, directness, and individualism versus collectivism, highlighting how these factors can shape interactions and misunderstandings.

The book offers a range of strategies for effectively bridging cultural gaps. Storti emphasizes the significance of empathy, respect, and curiosity when engaging with people from different cultural backgrounds. He provides guidance on improving non-verbal communication, including body language and gestures, which play a crucial role in cross-cultural interactions.

Furthermore, Storti addresses the challenges of adapting to a new culture, whether it be for work, travel, or personal reasons. He discusses the importance of flexibility, open-mindedness, and patience when encountering unfamiliar customs, norms, and values. The author shares personal anecdotes and practical tips to help readers navigate potential pitfalls and foster positive cross-cultural relationships.

The book also explores the role of language in cross-cultural communication. Storti acknowledges the limitations and complexities of translation, highlighting the need for effective interpretation and understanding of cultural nuances. He provides helpful strategies for bridging language barriers and encourages readers to embrace language learning as a means of connecting with others on a deeper level.

In the final sections of the book, Storti tackles sensitive topics such as prejudice, stereotypes, and ethnocentrism. He emphasizes the importance of challenging preconceived notions and avoiding cultural biases. The author offers guidance on promoting cultural sensitivity and fostering inclusivity in diverse environments.

“The Art of Crossing Cultures” is a highly valuable resource for anyone seeking to navigate the complexities of cross-cultural interactions. Craig Storti’s expertise shines through as he offers practical advice and insights garnered from years of experience in the field.

One of the book’s strengths is its comprehensive approach to understanding culture and its impact on communication. Storti skillfully breaks down complex cultural dimensions and provides clear examples to help readers grasp their significance. By focusing on both verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication, he offers a well-rounded perspective on cross-cultural interaction.

Storti’s writing style is engaging and accessible, making the book suitable for readers at various levels of cultural competence. He strikes a balance between theory and practice by incorporating real-life anecdotes and practical tips that readers can easily apply in their own experiences. This approach enhances the book’s relatability and ensures that readers can readily connect with the material.

Moreover, “The Art of Crossing Cultures” addresses the emotional and psychological aspects of cultural adaptation. Storti acknowledges the challenges and frustrations that individuals may face when navigating unfamiliar cultural landscapes. By emphasizing the importance of empathy and open-mindedness, he provides a valuable framework for building bridges across cultural divides.

While the book covers a broad range of topics, some readers may find certain sections to be more relevant or engaging than others, depending on their specific cultural contexts or areas of interest. However, the book’s overall structure and organization make it easy to navigate and extract information as needed.

In conclusion, “The Art of Crossing Cultures” is an essential resource for anyone involved in cross-cultural interactions. Craig Storti’s expertise, combined with his practical advice and relatable examples, make this book a valuable companion for individuals seeking to enhance their cultural competence and foster meaningful connections across cultures.

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