Culturally Attuned

Culturally Attuned

A USIP & Burning Man Podcast

Have you ever wanted to work in a community or culture that was radically different than the one you grew up in?

The Culturally Attuned podcast and curriculum, a partner effort between the United States Institute of Peace and Burning Man Project, explores this question. The podcast and course will share real world stories, lessons, and practical advice for people who work in a range of settings around the world and who may find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.  The premise of cultural synergy is that people can be more effective, productive and cooperative in their interactions when the strengths of their cultures are combined and thus add value to the other.  The combination of backgrounds, approaches, and perceptions within a group or between two people is greater than those of the individual.  Together, such groups can achieve outcomes they may not be able to reach individually.  This series provides concrete examples from practitioners that will aid in developing a learning posture, integrated with both humor and humility, such that it is possible to continually grow the skills needed to do good work in the world. 

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler, a Burners Without Borders volunteer, or just wanting to make better connections with your neighbors- there’s something in this project for everyone.  Join Us! As narrator David Yang, USIP’s Vice-President, Applied Conflict Transformation, takes us on a journey of listening and learning.



What is the Culturally Attuned podcast?  

Episode 1: Crossing cultures is hard—even for ‘multicultural natives’

Laurette Bennhold Samaan

Laurette Bennhold Samaan was born with roots in three distinct cultures. But even as a multicultural native, she says, her missteps have taught her how cross-cultural competency is never fully natural, and cannot be reduced to formulas. Identity, context and humility are critical, she says.

Episode 2: Stay in the circle: Patient listening can connect across cultures

Kim Cook

Burning Man Project’s Kim Cook has—literally—danced on the cross-cultural divide. She recalls lessons in cultural competence from her work in creative enterprises like theater and hip-hop. (And one day … there was that chocolate cupcake.) For Kim, humble persistence is the way to overcome our inevitable gaps in cultural understanding.

Episode 3: A practitioner’s discovery: ‘cultural respect’ is not enough.

Stephen Moles

Any relationship is shaped by a first meeting. To prepare those encounters, USIP trainer and cross-cultural expert Stephen Moles suggests we go beyond what’s in the rule books. Stephen suggests an approach for this work that he’s built from experience in more than 65 countries.

Episode 4: Building cross-cultural trust, even in the face of extremist violence

Leanne Erdberg Steadman

How do we build trust across cultural divides? USIP’s Leanne Erdberg has spent years seeking trust across the most painful of chasms—with former violent extremists in the Middle East and Africa. She shares a story of what she’s learned. 

Episode 5: The Benefactor’s Dilemma: Am I helping? Or am I wielding power?

Tom Price

Tom Price has built a career helping marginalized communities—from Native American tribes to hurricane-ravaged towns to locales facing the Ebola virus in Liberia. He warns himself, and us, against the temptation of the outside benefactor to imagine that, because we have resources and privileges, we also have the solution to a community’s problem.

Episode 6: As cultural outsiders, we are given a pass. But, should we take it?

Kerley Most

We accept our need to show cultural respect. But Brazilian psychotherapist Kerley Most says West Africa taught her the difference between learning a culture and absorbing it. She notes the extraordinary value of correcting our mistakes. While as guests we’re often given a pass on cultural norms, that’s a privilege we should try to decline.

Episode 7: To open a ‘problem-solving space,’ honor the group—and the person

Juan Diaz-Prinz

Cuban-American-European mediator Juan Diaz Prinz says cultural competence means understanding not simply cultures but people and their values—honoring both a community and an individual. It means creating a space with another person in which they can safely talk about problems and seek ways with you to address them.

Episode 8: Connecting with others means seeing them. Labels get in the way.

Tamanna Salikuddin

Everyone’s identity is multi-layered, giving us various possible points of connection with one another. Stereotypes obscure those possibilities, as Afghan Taliban negotiators found when they talked with Tamanna Salikuddin, an Indian-American Muslim diplomat. Salikuddin explains how she seeks each individual’s identity to build trust for negotiations.


The Culturally Attuned Podcast was created by Burning Man Project and the United States Institute of Peace. 

Executive producer: Dominic Kiraly

Co-creators: Christopher Breedlove, Kim Cook; Dominic Kiraly

Audio engineer and sound designer: Tim O’Keefe

Contributors: Honey al-Sayed; Jeffrey Helsing, Ph.D.; Kye Horton; Justine Ickes; Stuart Mangrum; Namiko Uno

Narrator: David Yang

Cultural Synergy Online Course 


This course aims to prepare individuals working in communities across the world for episodic or sustained intercultural interactions. It will help such newcomers develop more appropriate mindsets for effective and sensitive engagements with those from another culture, whether working on conflict resolution, security, peacekeeping, humanitarian relief, development, international business, or community resilience building.

The course focuses on the complex concepts of culture and provides real-world examples to explore them in a practical context. The tools, insights and approaches highlighted in this course are intended to enable the learner to collaborate more effectively with his or her local counterparts by increasing intercultural competence and striving for cultural synergy.

To illustrate these key attributes of intercultural competence, the course draws upon real examples as scenarios for the learner to explore the challenging choices we face when engaging with another culture. In doing so, it also draws upon the insights of practitioners who have worked in many different cultural environments and faced unique challenges working across cultures. The course will also provide practical tips and reflective questions in each chapter as well as in the conclusion. These serve as reminders of how to be more productive and harmonious in intercultural interactions.

This course was designed and developed in partnership between USIP and Burning Man Project and draws upon experiences and insights from many seasoned practitioners from both organizations.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Cultivate relationships with their local counterparts to create trusting, inclusive and mutually beneficial connections.
  • Describe the foundational aspects of culture that influence intercultural interactions.
  • Understand how culture influences the attitudes, values and behaviors of others and ourselves.
  • Realize the importance of knowing about and respecting cultural norms of others (without necessarily finding such norms comfortable).
  • Learn how to accept differences and how to respond effectively and respectfully to situations in which cultural barriers or miscommunication arise.
  • Enhance their ability to adapt their behavior and attitudes to be more effective according to local cultural norms.
  • Discover tools to find what they have in common with people from other cultures.
  • Become much more conscious of how they are perceived by others.
  • Be mindful that having resources, expertise, power and privilege does not mean that one has the solutions or automatically knows what others need.
  • Realize how we are all shaped by the power and privilege we have in addition to our own culture and values.

Sign up for the Cultural Synergy course on the USIP website here