When Stefan Kammhuber and I sat down for our interview, he had just returned from a trip to Russia. I took it for a good sign. We had never met before that October morning, but we already had one thing in common besides our profession – our appreciation of St. Petersburg. By the end of the interview, I discovered even more common ground. Notably, how intercultural competence is not only about harnessing cultural sensitivities, but also about realizing that there is always something to learn from each other.
Dr. Stefan Kammhuber is an intercultural psychologist. His interest in culture’s influence on human behavior started during his studies with Prof. Alexander Thomas at the University of Regensburg. After traveling through Asia with Professor Thomas and writing his doctoral thesis on intercultural trainings, Dr. Kammhuber was left fascinated by the impact that the intercultural profession can have in the world. Presently, he performs many different functions in the field of intercultural psychology, dancing on a tightrope between research and the application of theory in the real world.
As a professor of Applied Sciences in Rapperswil School of Technology, where he is the head of the Institute of Communication and Intercultural Competence, he researches and teaches intercultural communication to students with engineering backgrounds. As a consultant and a trainer, his voice reaches a much wider audience. He has worked with the German military, refugee counselors, managers and expatriates. He has given workshops at hospitals about how to work effectively with culturally diverse teams of doctors and he has helped companies to become more globalized. In all instances of his involvement with the field, Stefan Kammhuber’s focus is on the intercultural encounter.
He keeps his intercultural toolbox brimming with insights from his research nearby, as it always comes in handy when he needs to understand the inner logic of his clients and find creative solutions for their cross-cultural challenges.
There is a lot to like about his work, which appears rich, multifaceted, and never boring. For Dr. Kammhuber, the favorite part of his job is meeting new people and the fact that he never stops learning. The possibility to have our feet dipped in both research and the field where the research can be applied may prove as a great advantage in any profession. For those of us whose work involves the understanding of culture’s impact on communication, it can be particularly rewarding. After all, examining the same question from different angles and contexts will undoubtedly ameliorate our understanding of it.
I asked him what he thought the main purpose of our professions in the intercultural field was.
“To facilitate human understanding in our complex world,” he replied. It’s not a small feat, given that the main prize riding on the coattails of mutual understanding is peace. “When we can put ourselves into the other person’s shoes and look at the world through their eyes, if we are able to show ourselves each other’s attitudes and explain the reasons behind them, then it is easier to reach a goal. We are there to organize this process and to help better understand the individuals behind the attitudes. We are there to acknowledge that we share some things on the individual level.”
When it was time for the final question, I asked him if he thought human beings around the world were more different or more similar.
“Both at the same time!” he exclaimed with a warm Bavarian chuckle. “People share the same fundamental needs around the world. The approach to getting those needs fulfilled, on the other hand, may be different.”
We said goodbye, in Russian for that matter, but not before Dr. Kammhuber reminded me of Kluckhohn’s fitting words: “Every man is in certain respects like all other men, like some other men, like no other man.”
Dr. Stefan Kammhuber (*1970 in Wuerzburg, Germany) is Professor at the HSR School of Technology Rapperswil, University of Applied Sciences Eastern Switzerland. He is heading the ikik-Institute for Communication and Intercultural Competence at HSR. Stefan graduated in Psychology and Speech Communication from the University of Regensburg, Germany. Since then, he is doing applied research as well as consulting, training, and coaching in the realms of intercultural learning and cooperation as well as organizational communication and rhetoric.