In Their Own Voice:

Intercultural Meaning in Everyday Stories

by Anne P. Copeland and Marissa Lombardi
with members of the International Writers' Club

Published May 2011

A collection of stories written by people who have moved to the United States from another country and culture. In the authentic, personal, everyday moments portrayed here and the commentary that accompanies each story, we gain precious access to the thinking and action behind the value differences that reveal themselves at work and in our daily lives. The writers describe the universal experience of those who find themselves in a new country, and reveal the intricacies and challenges of living and working across cultures. Whether you are an educator, learner, or trainer, these stories are a valuable tool for understanding the process of cultural value formation and intercultural transition.

Read some sample stories along with comments for each one, and check out a complete list of story titles grouped by subject. You may also want to read more about the International Writers' Club, the group that provided the original stories for "In Their Own Voice."





"Earlier this year I read what I can only describe as an incredibly uplifting book, but I am only now getting around to sharing it with more at Adventures in Expat Land,

These stories are a wonderful tool that illustrate concepts that can be complex to describe. Not only are they succinct, they are poignant and real. That renders them all the more credible, charming, and genuine. Bravo for the rich contribution to our community!"
Stéphanie Guimarães Bibb, Intercultural Trainer & President, Convergence Global

"What I love about these stories is their attention to the small details that help you look at yourself and the way you have been formed by culture and environment. They offer the delicate tools needed to explore the richness of cultural differences, and in that way, strengthen our multicultural community by giving those who experience a new culture a clear and inviting voice."
Maaike le Grand President, World Bank Family Network

226 pages


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This is the perfect book to promote conversation about cultural transitions, for anyone involved in working and living across cultures. Members of multicultural workgroups, expatriates moving to a new country, educators trying to understand and communicate what cultural differences look like in real life – all of these have used these stories as a rich base for learning. As Copeland and Lombardi write in the book's Introduction:

On the surface, many of these stories are about what happens between a mother and a young child in a school classroom or neighborhood, so if you work with students or adults you may wonder if they're for you. But this is exactly where cultural differences in values and attitudes are formed – in the early family and school environment that supports children and prepares them to work within the value system of their culture. Nobody thinks cultural differences are in-born; so where and how were they learned? What do parents of young children actually say and do that makes their children value collectivism as opposed to individualism? What values are teachers trying to instill in their students, as preparation for success in their culture – and how do they actually do it? It is in the countless daily responses to homework, birthday parties, neighbors, shopkeepers, and waitresses that children absorb the implicit messages about what their family and culture values.  It is one thing to memorize a list of cultural differences, but quite another, richer thing to understand how they were created, and to see with clarity how these values all fit together – in short, to see another world through a mother's eyes. These essays are a window into that process of cultural value formation.

In these stories, we also get a clear narration from expatriates navigating a new and confusing culture, adult children reflecting on their relationships with parents and parents-in-law, sojourners traveling back and forth between their own and their host culture and juggling new values as they go, language learners struggling with how to communicate their interesting and complex ideas. There is something here for anyone who has crossed cultures, or wants to understand or explain to others what it's like.

These stories were all written by Asian writers living in the US … As such, they provide an opportunity to explore differences and similarities among Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese cultures as they intersect with the US American one.  But the cultural values revealed in these stories are hardly specific to Asia and the US. Individualism and collectivism, social hierarchy and respect, modesty, high and low context, face and harmony – these are concepts that are important to understand all around the world. And the experience of missing home, seeing one's culture through new eyes, worrying about one's children's values – these are familiar and core to anyone living in a new country.

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