When "exchange" builds a community

International collaborations provide new challenges as well as exciting opportunities to find new colleagues

By Susan T. Fiske

International exchange programs have a bad name, literally. We should call them by some other name that reflects their truly communal, interdependent nature, rather than a term implying this-for-that. In our lab, we develop international relationships that go beyond trading knowledge to create a global professional family. Like most families, some relationships are mostly long distance, while others are up close and personal. The long-distance kind, anyone can create. The close kind requires more investment.

Long-distance collaborations, for free!

Soon after Peter Glick and I published a new scale of sexism (Glick & Fiske, 1996), we began receiving requests to transport it to other cultures. We were delighted. Ambivalent Sexism should be culturally universal, not a modern invention of North Americans. So, with the miracle of the internet, when people over seas requested permission, we also welcomed them as collaborators on the scale's crosscultural validation. Grateful to our international colleagues, who could access translators and local populations, we included their data and their names as 30 coauthors, who read like a United Nations roster (e.g., Glick et al., 2000).

Some of these people we knew already, for example, from international meetings, but others we still know only electronically. We do not know everyone's face, or even, sometimes, gender. At first, this seemed strange, but ultimately, must we know someone's gender and age, etc., in order to work together? We became familiar in the process of coordinating the data collection, standardizing procedures, and gaining feedback on the manuscript. Altogether, a win-win situation.

Of course, we encounter complexities. People's time-tables range from a few weeks to a couple of years. Sometimes we misunderstand each other, resulting in unexpected procedural variation. Sometimes people's assistants are unacquainted with research methods. Sometimes we learn cultural nuances that do not translate. Culture appears even in creating the citation: Our collaborators might have any number and sequence of personal and family names, or even only one name total. Our collaborators educate us about their cultures, offer wise advice and improve our work. And we sometimes teach them, mostly about the particularly demanding culture of American social psychological science. The mutual benefits continue in enthusiastic long distance collaborations that allow all of us access to each other's cultural perspectives (Cuddy et al., 2009; Durante et al., in preparation; Glick et al., 2004; Glick et al., 2006). All we need is the Internet, people's skills and mutual commitment.

Visiting collaborations make extended families

In college, I lucked into a nature-nurture global study tour, privileged to live with families and to learn anthropology from Gregory Bateson and genetic psychology from Daniel Friedman. Graduate school and early career, however, afforded no chances for travel. Then, Seymour Berger and Jacques-Philippe Leyens inspired the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-neuve Belgium, to send students and faculty for visits of a day to a year. Allegedly, we had too many faculty, and they had too many students, so we shared. Besides Belgian beer and chocolate, we gained lifelong collaborations that extend to our students' students. We gained each other's perspectives on social psychology. The widening family circles defy description, but to illustrate, I've now co-authored projects with three generations at LLN.

The European connection has facilitated other visitors to our lab. The rewards are many; I am particularly proud to see American graduate students grow to appreciate European social psychology. And I have never been so touched as by receiving honorary degrees from LLN and from Universiteit Leiden, Netherlands, both surely enabled by our collaborations.

Simultaneously, collaboration bloomed across generations and continents when Mariko Yamamoto of Tsukuba University, Japan, inspired a comparative project on social cognition. Although she has not lived to see its fruition, our lab is proud to work with some of her former students, including Sousuke Miyamoto and Shinya Okiebisu. Together with other colleagues, they have taught us much about the subtleties of Japanese culture, as well as some cultural universals, such as friendship (Fiske & Yamamoto, 2005; Lee, Fiske, & Miyamoto, under review), which may vary but at the core is always about attachment.


The main challenge is our ability to secure funds. To that extent, maybe these are indeed exchange programs. But finances will never capture such deep relationships.