04 Engage


Reassess and Repeat


Most interactions, whether they’re difficult to get through or generally positive, will warrant some reflection, and some of them will really change you. You’ll want to continue to check in with yourself as you continue to get out there and engage with people.

After each cross-cultural experience, you should take the time to reflect on what happened, what you learned, and what you might do differently in the future. This way you’ll continue to build your skills to handle difficult situations.

This section will provide key takeaways about reflecting on your interactions and maintaining a positive attitude after you’ve dealt with difficult questions.
This section covers the After phase of the interaction cycle. Once you’ve navigated through an interaction, it’s important to take a step back and revisit how things went.
Interaction cycle with After highlighted.

At the End of the Day

  • Celebrate the successful and meaningful interactions.
  • By paying attention to the positive in each interaction, you’ll continue to build your confidence. Your successes help you understand which techniques can be effective.
  • Learn from the challenges you’ve encountered.
  • Finding effective methods is a process of trial and error. By remaining flexible and open to learning, you will find a greater range of options for responding to difficult questions.
  • Continue to seek out interactions with a variety of people in a variety of situations.
  • Making new connections and finding friends will create a sense of comfort and belonging in your new culture. These new confidants can help you navigate the culture more effectively.
Select the arrow to the side to see how these tips will help you answer difficult questions.

Reflect on Your Experiences!

At the end of each interaction, you should try to process what happened. By continuing to reflect on your choices and the responses of the person you were communicating with, you will learn more about yourself and about the culture you’re engaging.

You can start by generally assessing the situation as a whole...

Your friend Michelle's apartment
Your friend Michelle's apartment

Wow! I kept my cool, even when things got a little heated. I feel like I did really well there!

I handled the situation as best I could, given the circumstances. I couldn’t believe everyone was listening in on our conversation!

Oof. I shouldn’t have insisted as much as I did. I didn’t realize I cared about that topic so much!

You can take reflection a step further through self-questioning and follow-up activities. By taking the time and energy to look back on individual interactions throughout your entire journey, you’ll be able to see things more clearly.

This will help you to be better suited to field difficult questions, make any necessary adjustments, and jump into your next adventure!

Drag the slider to view questions to ask yourself and follow-up activities.
Questions to ask yourself
What was the intention of the person I was communicating with?
How much do I know about the cultural norms of my host culture?
Should I have adjusted the way I communicate?
What did I do well?
What could I have done differently?
How did our interaction affect his or her perception of Americans?
What did I hope to get out of the conversation?
How did I feel about addressing the topic we discussed?
Follow-up activities
Write your thoughts down in a journal.
Debrief with your family or friends who are also in country.
Debrief with a cultural informant.
Write an email to friends and family sharing details of your interaction.
Replay the conversation, practicing changes you wish you had implemented.
Question mark
Questions to ask yourself
Notebook and pencil
Follow-up activities

Keep Trying

The surest way to continue developing your confidence and skills is by having more conversations. So, keep practicing!

Collage of scenarios you’ve experienced in this resource

We’ve outlined a number of processes and steps to successful cross-cultural communication. How you fare will depend largely on your attitude and what you do after you’ve interacted with people.

Be a Student

You can always learn something new if you’re open to it. You will meet many people who want to share their culture with you.

And you will encounter people who are genuinely interested in your experiences and perspective.

Student desk with apple on top

Small, everyday interactions can furnish powerful insights and teach you valuable skills.

Be a Teacher

Illustration of an owl with a graduation cap, standing on top of books.

You have an opportunity to share information about American culture outside of movies and stereotypes.

In some locations you might be the first American that people have encountered in their lives. They may be genuinely interested in learning from your experiences and perspective.

Your willingness to share what you know will help to broaden others’ understanding.

View from inside of a passenger train, looking out the window.

The give and take of learning and teaching involves time and effort. It can be challenging, but it’s also exciting and rewarding.

If you are willing to take on new perspectives and remain open to new experiences, you’ll continue to grow.

While you’re out there in the world you may encounter things that frustrate you, cause you to question yourself, or simply give you pause. But the more you expose yourself to, the more you’ll be able to take things in stride.

You should strive to get beyond the surface and try to remain curious and engaged. It can be a challenge to find the right balance between personal investment and flexibility, but it can also be tremendously rewarding.

Establishing and maintaining the skills and mindset it takes to be able to go with the flow while also trying to genuinely understand others will serve you greatly— whether you’re engaging in difficult discussions, encountering new people, or having new experiences.
Man looking out at dusky landscape

We hope, as a result of using this resource, that you are more skilled in communicating across cultures and answering difficult questions.

So get out there and do it!

About this Resource

Representing the United States—and Americans—while living and working abroad is an honor and privilege. At the same time, it can be overwhelming and intimidating to answer questions on behalf of a nation and its people, especially considering the diversity of the American experience. Every American living or working abroad needs the skills and confidence to answer difficult questions politely and substantively, while at the same time respecting the many cultural realities of all interpersonal encounters.

This interactive resource, So You’re an American? A Guide to Answering Difficult Questions Abroad, is designed to build skills and confidence in responding to difficult questions about culture and nationality. Specifically, this resource focuses on handling everyday inquiries from curious folks around the globe. Have you ever jumped in a taxi and been confronted with “Why do Americans love their guns so much?” or some such question mired in history, culture, and values? Or, have you been at a local market trying to purchase a gift and been surprised that what should have been a 10 minute encounter has turned into a 45 minute ritual of tea, presentation of goods, and detailed explanations of the craftsman’s process?

So You’re an American? A Guide to Answering Difficult Questions Abroad is an online resource created by the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute for all Americans living and working abroad who are eager to prepare for the many informal and unofficial questions they will receive while overseas. Throughout this resource, you will explore cross-cultural communication techniques as well as various aspects of culture through self-paced activities, videos, and simulations. Participants will develop confidence in their ability to navigate difficult questions and conversations, including knowing how to disengage appropriately. This resource limits its scope to non-foreign policy questions, as those demand answers from official sources.