Home > Barack Obama, Business, Islam, Politics - Domestic and International, Religion > Obama In Turkey – An Exercise in Cross-Cultural Awareness

Obama In Turkey – An Exercise in Cross-Cultural Awareness

Over the past week, President Barack Obama was up to quite a lot. He had a few things on his plate – the G20 Summit, a speech directed at nuclear non-proliferation, a meeting in Turkey with political, religious, and future leaders, approving his kid’s new dog, etc. You can read more about Obama’s busy schedule in the article I wrote entitled, “A Busy Busy Obama.”

Through all the excitement something struck me that goes to the heart of why Obama will be a GREAT president. During his town hall with Turkish university students he mentioned that he wanted to finish the town hall before the Call to Prayer. Check it out at 3 minutes and 20 seconds (3:20) into this video.

Why does this grip me so? Well, a few years ago I did a seminar/presentation on cross-cultural understanding in the business world. The whole presentation centered around a simulated business meeting, where one group had to do business with another. One group however was deeply religious and had something similar to the Call to Prayer they had to do.

During this simulation everything went well, and business was looking good except for when the religious group realized the people they were dealing with were insensitive to their religious beliefs. And to be fair, the other group wasn’t really privy to such general but detailed information. (I withheld such information, and only told the non-religious group that the people they would be dealing with are very socially conservative and deeply religious.)

Both groups asked me how I would have dealt with such a situation. I told them I would have done my research concerning the others’ religious faith and customs. The moment I read, “deeply religious,” in my briefing report I would have asked follow up questions. I told the group I would have vocalized and stated that I was aware of their “call to prayer.” This little step would have made all the difference during the initial negotiations.

Acknowledging these cultural characteristics, even in a lip-service way shows, at least, that you are aware to some degree of the difference in the room. From that point on people know that you know about them, and can feel that you are taking everything into account.

By acknowledging the Call to Prayer Obama showed that he was culturally sensitive to the people he was engaging. If Obama shows this level of thought and sensitivity to another people, something tells me his policies are not fly-by-night suggestions.


  1. Delphinias
    April 20, 2009 at 1:29 am

    Hey, found your site again while looking for old comments.

    Looking at your site I couldn’t quite figure – are you in Japan, in the Eikaiwa business?

    Seeing the bit on your site, Nova is no more? I was in Japan many years ago, so was wondering.

  2. denisehummel
    April 20, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    I’m very impressed by this entry and your acknowledgment of such a culturally sensitive issue and I’m gratified to see that my candidate is off to such a good start in demonstrating his social consciousness about another culture’s priorities.

  3. April 21, 2009 at 9:16 am


    I am based in Japan. I live in Akita City, Akita Prefecture. I’m independent right now, although I teach at the local university teaching EAP. I also teach some adult groups during the week.

    Where in Japan were you? And where are you now?

    Yep, NOVA as it was known to many is no more. Corrupt CEO, a spineless management core, and politicians can cause bad things to happen (surprise surprise). Now its called G-Education, but they use the NOVA brand.

    Keep in touch.


  4. April 21, 2009 at 9:31 am


    I think that is what makes President Obama so unique. He seems to understand that people attend to different priorities, and we (the United States) must take the lead in acknowledging the positive differences.

    That said, I’m sure President Obama has a different mentality towards the Taliban and the extremism that has caused an erosion of womens’ rights in Afghanistan (as if women had any rights to begin with).

    Let’s hope that this President does what is necessary to make sure that ALL people in Afghanistan have freedom.

    Thanks for the commentary.


  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: