Online Intercultural Communication on Educational Platforms

My dissertation, chaired by Dr. Gerry Philipsen, was an ethnographic case study of a company that provided live, on-demand, one-on-one language instruction for English language learners in China. Using a VoIP-enabled interactive web platform, the company’s students connected in real-time with language instructors in the United States for short conversation lessons.  Broadly, my dissertation looks at the communication that took place between the Chinese learners and US American trainers.  Using both traditional and online ethnographic methods, I analyzed the ways in which culture, technology, and the company’s communication protocols mediate and shape the interactions. I’ve presented parts of this project at AoIRICA, and NCA.  I have also used some of the data in a chapter for an edited volume on online education published by IGI Global.

Starbucks & International Customer Service

One of my favorite studies to complete examined how Starbucks baristas working at cafes in Berlin, Germany perceived and used the company’s customer service protocols.  Interestingly (and perhaps not surprisingly, given the fact that these protocols are rooted in US American culture) there were several customer service requirements which baristas felt did not “match” the context of the Berlin servicescape.  Some of these requirements included asking customers for their names, displaying what might be perceived as excessive friendliness (smiling, making small talk), and addressing the customers in the familiar du form. I have presented this work at numerous conferences, including NCA, WSCA, and the Qualitative Research in Management and Organization Conference.

Facebook and Other Social Networking Platforms

As part of Dr. Phil Howard‘s NSF-funded project “Human Centered Computing: Information Access, Field Innovation, and Mobile Phone Technologies in Developing Countries,” I collected data on the use of social networking platforms in Delhi, India and Istanbul, Turkey.  In India I focused on urban women’s use of social networking technologies such as Facebook, Couchsurfing, and LinkedIn.  In Istanbul I collected data on how local social activists use blogs, mailing lists, and social networking platforms (particularly Facebook) to organize and mobilize support.

Call Centers, Customer Service, and Cultural Masking

Another area that I’m very interested in is the “cultural masking” trend in call centers serving North American clients.  As many US American call centers have been outsourced to other countries, such as India and Mexico, a curious trend of what I call “cultural masking” has been adopted by the companies behind the call centers.  Specifically, call center employees are often required to cover up their own cultural identities and pretend to be US American themselves, ostensibly in order to provide better service.  As a culture and communication researcher, I find this both fascinating and troubling.