Meet the SIETAR USA Associate Editor: Chris Cartwright, Science Editor.
In 1973 at age 14, Chris Cartwright had a life changing experience when he toured Romania for 3 weeks with his high school choir. He caught the travel bug and it hasn’t left him yet. He was fascinated by the differences between the culture where he grew up in Battle Creek, MI, and the Romanian culture behind the Iron Curtain. He is still in touch with pen pals from that time and serves on the board of a multicultural center there.
Chris’ Mother was the local newspaper librarian. He helped after school by cutting out the newspaper articles so she could mount them and file them based on categories that would help reporters when they had to write about the person or subject of the article. This experience taught him the importance of good research and keeping information well organized in order to write well.
There were several building blocks that led to his intercultural career. He is trained as a sous chef and while managing the kitchen at a Tex-Mex restaurant owned by a Romanian whose staff was all Romanians he had an early cultural challenge to overcome; the staff were baffled about Mexican cuisine so Chris helped by creating instructions for what to make and how it should look using pictures to overcome the language limitations. He said he learned that language and cultures can indeed be bridged.
He also had a warm, welcoming 1st grade teacher who celebrated cultural differences. When this African American woman moved to Battle Creek from Chicago no one would hire her, but Chris’s mother was instrumental in getting her the teaching position. Returning to his elementary school as an adult, Chris was prepared to apologize to her for giving her a brooch and earring set in the shape of watermelon slices he’d given her on the last day of school as a child. The gift could have been construed as an insult, but the teacher laughed and said that she wore them with pride to this day and always on the last day of school … ‘Watermelon’ was the tension release term used by the teacher and Chris’s mother whenever they encountered push-back for bringing an African-American teacher into the local school system.
Throughout college, Chris was endlessly intrigued with what the social sciences bring to life experience. The stories and the context that surround social science theories brought him in and keep him there still. He finds the process of teasing out the patterns from what initially seems like a mish mash of data, analyzing the elements to find patterns among the situations, the players, the behaviors to be what he most likes to be doing. This is the catalyst for deep conversations that can be helpful to people by bringing them insights and when it is just right—a breakthrough in understanding. He asks “what is meaningful to you? How does it bring meaning to your experience?” and then lights go on.
He credits Janet Bennett with introducing him to the intercultural context. He took a course from her at Portland State University and then a Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) course from Lee Knefelkamp on intercultural assessment and leadership. He decided to do his PhD dissertation on assessing intercultural competence and leadership, and this work is the basis of his current consulting practice.
Chris is married to a homeopathic veterinarian who makes house calls to dogs and cats. She is also a green-thumb gardener. They live in a 100 year old house. He does yoga and meditates every day and knows it’s a good life. He is career ‘transition’ after 10 years with the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI) as the Director of Intercultural Assessment was eliminated in ICI’s reorganization. As Associate Director of the now closed Graduate Program he coached Master’s Program’s students to complete their coursework, and found it an exhilarating space to learn about motivating culturally complex students. He said he learned a lot in that decade from the SIIC faculty, the wonderful ICI staff, and especially the students. Not entirely sure what comes next he is sure that it will involve his two loves: leadership and research. We wish him well.