Cultural Intelligence: the importance of changing perspectives

Zambria 2019

Two boys in Bombwe, Zambia (Unsplash, 2018)

This article was exclusively written for the The European Sting by Ms. Giorgia Soldà, newly graduated doctor from Turin, Italy. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Julie is a 22 years old medical student, she comes from Germany. She is spending her practical year in Zambia, at a local hospital. When she first arrives, she immediately falls in love with the country: the neighbours are welcoming and cheerful, her tutor helpful and the landscapes amazing.

But after few weeks she starts feeling homesick: she doesn’t know what to do at nights, the power often goes out and then she cannot even use her laptop. She often feels sick and has to spend few days at home to recover. Sometimes she wishes she was home spending her holidays with friends.

After a while she starts feeling better again and goes back to the hospital, she already learnt some basic words to communicate with the patients so that her tutor doesn’t need to translate everything; he even invites her to have dinner with his family few times. They find themselves speaking about the most different topics and eventually become very good friends.

It is already six months Julie has been in Zambia and she is finally starting to feel like home: she knows the best places to get the most delicious nshima and got new friends.

What Julie went through are the phases of what is called the cultural shock: honeymoon, at the very beginning, negotiation, when the differences with her previous life started to make her uncomfortable, adjustment, when she tried to compromise, and adaptation, when she finally settled in. They were not easy steps, but necessary. This process is characterized by peculiar symptoms: anxiety, boredom, withdrawal, irritability and more.

It is something that million of people experience everyday: people moving to other countries to work, to study, to escape from conflicts or to reunite with their families, but not all of them have the motivation or abilities to react and integrate as Julie did.  However, there is something everyone can do to help these people going through this process.

Julie made it successfully because she was involved in an environment where people were including her, talking to her; they wanted to know her, see her point of view, discuss together about their cultures and values, so different at first sight, but so similar when they got to speak about the deepest things.

She had the courage to go, change her life and routine, eventually she changed her perspective. When she went back home everything felt different, she was different. When she had her Italian Erasmus friends over for dinner telling her that they could not get used to German food or weather, she knew exactly what they were feeling.

This is what cultural intelligence is about, being able to relate and work with people and situations culturally diverse. You don’t need to fly thousand of kilometers away to get it, but for sure, in our globalized world, it is not an option to develop such skills. We need to be open, flexible, understanding, empathic. Change perspective, build a better future, create a cultural intelligent society.

About the author

Giorgia Soldà, newly graduated doctor from Turin, Italy. She considers herself a “citizen of the world” and she has been part of IFMSA since 2013, for the Professional Exchange standing committee. She is passionate about intercultural learning, cross-cultural communication and global health. Loves traveling and learning about other cultures and ways of thinking. She dreams about working in the global health field to contribute to the development of better health standards for all the people in the world.

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