Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you have cultural agility?

What does it mean to have cultural agility as part of your professional toolkit?

In today’s episode, Lindsay interviews Paula Caligiuri, professor of International Business and Strategy at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.

Listen in to find out how you can become better at building international relationships in business and why it matters.

What is cultural agility?

Paula shares that cultural agility is the ability to be comfortable and effective in different countries and with people from different cultures.

In today’s interconnected global landscape, being culturally agile is a game-changer.

This goes beyond adapting to customs or speaking another language.

It’s about creating genuine connections and effectively collaborating with people from diverse backgrounds.

Why does cultural agility matter?

Anytime we’re all coming together with different lenses on the world, we need cultural agility.

Never forget that your “normal” is not necessarily someone else’s “normal.”

There are a lot of different ways to define culture as well.

Within one country, we could have a family culture, a religious culture, a socioeconomic culture, and rural versus urban culture.

In this episode, Paula shares three strategies that will empower you to become culturally agile and flourish in the realm of international business!

Paula’s story

Lindsay asks Paula how she became interested in cultural agility.

Paula was studying abroad in Rome, Italy in 1987 when the stock market crashed.

She had to choose between getting a job in Italy or coming back home to the United States.

Her time was spent with local Italians and in Southern Italy with her relatives.

She immersed herself more than her American classmates who stayed within their small groups and did not interact as much with the local culture.

When she came back home, she went through a hard time adjusting back to life in her home culture.

She knew that she had undergone a profound shift.

At that moment, she decided that she wanted to research how people change through deep cultural immersion abroad.

Below, Paula tells us the three steps that we must follow to build true cultural agility.

Step 1: Self-discovery

Self-awareness is key to cultivating cultural agility.

You must discover your level of tolerance toward ambiguity.

Understanding your own comfort level with change and ambiguity sets the stage for personal growth.

Are you someone who thrives on new adventures or seeks stability in routine?

Are you the kind of person who prefers predictability?

In this case, you will want to enter new cultures in a way that works for you.

If you are a person who can handle a lot of ambiguity and take on change on your own, then you will approach cultural immersion differently.

Based on Paula’s research, your comfort with ambiguity can go up as you get more immersed.

However, if you go too deep too early, you will pull back.

It’s important to gradually add more ambiguity over time.

There is a quiz that you can take to see how tolerant you are of cultural ambiguity.

Go here to take the quiz.

Step 2: Gain cross-cultural training

Prepare your brain for what you will find.

When you see cultural differences during your time abroad, you will make assumptions.

However, if you go through some basic cultural training about differences, you will have an easier time understanding things abroad.

You will also be less likely to resort to stereotypes.

For example, you will understand why someone might be very formal.

You will learn that this is their way of showing respect to you.

Challenge your assumptions, broaden your perspectives, and embrace diversity.

By expanding your cultural knowledge, you’ll be equipped to navigate cross-cultural encounters with finesse.

Can you develop cultural agility remotely?

Paula is currently conducting a research study about this.

She is looking at remote teams as well as consulting projects across cultures.

In both cases, they are seeing cultural agility increase.

It’s not happening as quickly as it would in an immersive scenario.

However, to gain that agility, you have to be engaged on a deeper level than just emailing or uploading files.

We hope to have Paula back on the show to share final conclusions once the data is collected.

Step 3: Seek high-quality intercultural experiences

Cultural agility is not just about collecting passport stamps.

Superficial experiences will not lead to cultural awareness.

Try to have real interactions with local people.

You could do this with the help of a bicultural friend.

Engage in projects involving multicultural teams or venture into cross-cultural consulting.

These firsthand opportunities allow you to apply your new competencies and awareness in real-life scenarios.


To be successful in the business world today, you must be culturally agile.

In this interview, Paula has shown us the three steps to develop that agility.

It’s vital to combine these three steps: understanding yourself, gaining cross-cultural training, and having real cross-cultural interactions.

You will then be on your way to developing the tools for building real and respectful relationships internationally.

Don’t skip any of these steps. They are all part of the building blocks for success.

Cultural agility will not only fuel your professional success but also broaden your global perspective and foster appreciation for the richness of cultural diversity.

Embrace the adventure ahead, skillfully navigate diverse cultures, and become a true champion of international business!

Good luck and enjoy the journey!

Paula’s bio

Paula Caligiuri, PhD, is a DMSB Distinguished Professor of International Business and Strategy at Northeastern University and has authored numerous award-winning articles and books on multicultural effectiveness, global careers, and fostering cultural ability. She is the CEO and, with Andy Palmer, co-founder of Skiilify, a public benefit corporation dedicated to helping people build professional success.

Are you culturally agile? Yes or no?

Let us know in the comments below.

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