Nearly eleven years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, Sidd Chopra ’88, was in New York City watching the second tower crumble. He was on a business trip that was supposed to last two days. He was stranded there for nine. Chopra, an Indian who was born in Canada but lived in North Carolina since the age of two, could relate to the thousands of immigrants he passed on the streets mourning the attack on America. He might look different, but he was just as American as anyone else.
Chopra grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C., and was the only Indian throughout his school years until he attended NC State. He chose to live in Alexander Hall to participate in the international program and be exposed to more people from different backgrounds. It was that program that piqued his fascination with cross-cultural communication.
“It was the tipping point of learning to communicate with people who had different backgrounds than me,” he says. “For once I wasn’t the only ‘different’ kid.”
Chopra is founder and president of LookWiser.com, a global consortium of communications experts who help professionals to become better, more efficient communicators. Learning to communicate with others – especially those from different cultures – is becoming increasingly important in today’s global climate, says Chopra.
“For a long time, as Americans, we had the privilege of making others speak to us on our terms. Other cultures learned to adapt to us. Now we’re dealing with China on China’s terms, and India on India’s terms, and so on. The burden has shifted to us and we’re not so well-equipped to do that,” Chopra says. “There are nuances that come with cross-culture communication – perceptions of quality, or deadlines or relationships. There is so much to learn about doing business with people in other cultures, and there can be major consequences that stem from miscommunication.”
And to Chopra, the implications that come from a lack of understanding can have devastating effects far beyond the business world.
“Take the recent Sikh shooting in Wisconsin, for example. The shooter, Wade Page, has his image splashed all over all the news standing in front of a swastika. He probably never knew that the swastika is actually an ancient Indian symbol – a sign of good luck that has been used for more than 5,000 years. And the term ‘Aryan’ that he sees as the perfect blond haired, blue-eyed race, is actually derived from Sanskrit – the primary liturgical language of Hinduism. So the ultimate irony is that he killed a group of people who first bore the symbol and term he sought to embody,” Chopra says.
Chopra is one of eight speakers selected from nearly 150 submissions to address the attendees at the International Toastmasters Convention in Orlando, Fla., later this week. He will be speaking on the challenges of cross-cultural communication.
“My experiences at NC State really opened my eyes to collaborating with those from different backgrounds,” he says. “This university has such a strong international reputation, and is the first choice of schools for a lot of people to leave their home country. Students have the chance to encounter extraordinarily brilliant people from around the world during their time on campus – they should take advantage of it.”