Strategies & Skills Learning & Development
Working Cross-culturally

It is almost cliché now to say that most of us will need to work cross-culturally in our professional life, and with increasing frequency. The pace of globalization is accelerating rapidly, as our world is becoming increasingly inter-dependent. Working cross culturally is exciting and rewarding to many, but can remain challenging and even intimidating to some. It requires people to step out of their familiar turf or sometimes their comfort zone. There is an element of uncertainty and novelty, and people obviously have different appetite for that.

The SSLD approach to working cross-culturally is action oriented, and targets on the spot performance. In the last few decades, there has been a proliferation of ideas and opinions in the academic and professional literature, but not much has been done on the development of systematic procedures that will enable people function effectively in their professional roles across cultures.

Within the area of social work and psychotherapy, I started a research program about a decade ago to develop a practice model that combines contingency-based thinking, individualized understanding of intersecting differences and diversities, critical appraisal of contemporary models, engagement with socio-political and structural realities, and the integration of theory, research and practicei . The program included theory development, intensive research into the actual process of cross-cultural engagement, and the generation of research-based practice procedures. Whereas the initial research and theory building were more focused on psychotherapy and counselling, core formulations of the model have been applied to education, organizational development, health care, and planning of public policy. The model has attracted a fair amount of interest over the last 10 years or so, and I have presented on the topic at many academic conferences, as well as workshops, seminars, and training programs by professional associations, hospitals, community organizations, and multi-national corporations in different parts of the world.

One of my recent workshops was delivered in Hanoi in Vietnam in 2007, for senior managers of a leading multinational corporation. In this version, I have infused SSLD principles into the integrated model that I am developing. Through my extensive experience in training and consultation in different sectors internationally, I have synthesized a core set of principles and practice procedures, while I have also learned to custom design programs to meet the specific needs of people coming from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds.

Following SSLD principles, an effective way to develop competence in cross-cultural work is through its systematic learning process involving simulation role-plays, take-home exercises, real-life trials, high quality feedback aided with video review, and the special procedure of collaborative generation of strategies and skills. A SSLD program distinguishes itself from other training formats in this area by its heavy emphasis on experiential learning and actual performance, which enables effective translation of knowledge into action and actual performance.

Related Documents
    The following is a partial list of the academic publications resulting from this program of research and scholarship:
  1. Tsang, A.K.T., & Bogo, M. (1997). Engaging with clients cross culturally: Using research and developing research for effective practice. Journal of Multicultural Social Work, 6(3/4), 73-91.
  2. Tsang, A.K.T., & George, U. (1998) Towards an integrated framework for cross cultural social work practice. Canadian Social Work Review, 15(1), 73-93.
  3. Tsang, A.K.T. (2000). Bridging the gap between clinical practice and research: An integrated practice-oriented model. Journal of Social Service Research, 26(4), 69-90.
  4. Tsang, A.K.T., Bogo, M., & George, U. (2003). Critical issues in cross-cultural counseling research: Case example of an ongoing project. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 31(1), 63-78.
  5. Keenan, E. K., Tsang, A. K. T., Bogo, M., & George, U. (2004). Do social workers integrate sociocultural issues in mental health session dialog? An exploratory study of cross-cultural practice. Social Work in Mental Health, 2(4), 37-62.
  6. Keenan, E. K., Tsang, A. K. T., Bogo, M., & George, U. (2004). Micro ruptures and repairs in the beginning phase of cross-cultural psychotherapy. Clinical Social Work Journal, 33(3), 271-289.
  7. Tsang, A.K.T., Bogo, M., & Lee, E. Engagement in cross-cultural clinical practice: Narrative analysis of first sessions. Under Review.