The SIETAR-USA 2014 annual conference “Pioneering Intercultural Leadership: From Awareness to Action” was held in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon recently. “Learning and awareness are never enough; action is what makes a difference in our world.” One of the most fascinating speakers was Joseph Shaules of Japan Intercultural. His new book is The Intercultural Mind: Connecting Culture, Cognition, and Global Living (Intercultural Press 2014).

I’ve long studied culture and global living, but cognition? After Joseph’s presentation, I couldn’t stop thinking about the way he took these topics out of the interaction and into the mind! Of course, I’ve known the basics for years – that a first impression is formed within 4-10 seconds. But Joseph has now taught me that we make decisions 8 seconds before our brains realize we do! In fact, he’s taught me a whole lot since we met in Portland. I recently asked him a few questions that might be of interest to you:

Joseph Intro copy

Sharon: What made you decide to write this excellent book?

Joseph: I’ve long been interested in the impact of intercultural living on the mind–foreign experiences expand our horizons, give us insights into culture and ourselves, and sometimes even transform our sense of self. In recent years, however, specialists have had the ability to study this culture-brain-mind connection empirically. For example, since foreign experiences are a kind of psychology experiment on our own minds – they can stress us but help us grow. I wanted to pull together this research because I believe cultural neuroscience can help us get more out of intercultural living.

Sharon: Which other authors and thinkers have influenced your work?

Joseph: I’ve been greatly influenced by the work of Edward Hall, a pioneer thinker and anthropologist widely considered the founder of the field of intercultural communication. Hall was particularly interested in the fact that culture shapes our mind in ways we are unaware of, and how this leads to alienation, conflict and misunderstanding. Cultural neuroscience is finally finding some answers to questions that Hall started asking in 1959 – he was 50 years ahead of his time. He saw intercultural learning as a fundamental challenge of a globalizing age — not only as a way to improve human relations, but also as an avenue for personal growth and self-understanding.

Sharon: How did you carve out the time to write your book?

Joseph: For two years I flailed hopelessly and threw away 70,000 words. Finally, my wife and I found a place to use as a writing getaway-it’s on the north coast of Bali in a village called Pemuteran. The deep concentration I got there, combined with snorkeling and exploring the countryside on a scooter, helped me have a breakthrough. Often, my best ideas would come to me when I woke up in the middle of the night. I always keep a pad, a pen and a flashlight on my bed stand. I’m helped by the fact that my wife is a researcher and writer, and so is very forgiving if I don’t make the coffee because I need to get a thought down before I lose it. And one more thing – there’s nothing like a deadline to focus your attention. Don’t wait until the book is done to look for a publisher!

Joseph’s latest book is available from Intercultural Press. I’ve ordered one already to learn how neuroscience will impact my intercultural communication training and my own grey matter!