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Indiana University Journalism

HLN’s Lui: Develop intercultural skills by understanding differences

Shannon McEnerney | April 7, 2010
richard lui
Photo by James Brosher
CNN’s Richard Lui talked about cultural identity and understanding during a talk Tuesday night co-sponsored by the Asian American Studies Program and the Asian Culture Center.
Richard Lui isn’t actually Richard Lui.

There was a time in the HLN news anchor’s life when he found out that his last name was different from what he grew up knowing. When his grandfather emigrated from China to San Francisco in the 1920s, he used illegal immigration papers. It wasn’t until Lui’s father learned that their real family name is Wong instead of Lui, which appeared on the fake immigration document, that Lui realized his family’s name was more than what he knew.

“I’m actually Richard Wong,” Lui said.

Tuesday, the broadcaster shared his intercultural experiences and stories with a crowd in the Ernie Pyle auditorium in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The talk was co-sponsored by the Asian American Studies Program and the IU Asian Culture Center and the School of Journalism.

Based at CNN’s world headquarters in Atlanta, Lui is a news anchor for HLN, serving as an anchor for the network’s late morning programming and as a news correspondent for Morning Express with Robin Meade. As a CNN reporter, he has covered breaking news in Singapore and Indonesia.

Lui described his intercultural experiences, beginning with his family history and heritage when his grandfather first immigrated to the U.S. Lui’s discovery about the last name Wong lead him to questions as he grew up.

“Each time I tell this story, I learn something from it,” Lui said, describing the difficulty he encountered during his teenage years as he tried to understand what it meant. “I am a descendant of an illegal immigrant.”

With his grandparents’ story, Lui showed an understanding of cultural backgrounds, emphasizing the importance of understanding a story and what’s behind it.

Lui began to understand his family heritage on a larger scale in terms of the cultural experiences that define and shape individual experiences. This lead Lui to broadcast a story for CNN about other Chinese immigrants whose family members immigrated illegally.

“As a journalist, our job is to understand a story,” Lui said. “Our objective is to get the details, the content and the profile within minutes. In my profession, I need to be able to understand differences in cultures immediately to develop intercultural skills in my job.”

At CNN, a diversity council works to reflect the faces of the consumers of content and viewers of CNN worldwide, Lui said. Even so, people must take some risks to find intercultural experiences.

“Go someplace that shocks and jolts your cultural sensitivity,” Lui said.

Lui did this by traveling to Ghana on a reporting trip earlier this year. He showed a clip of a report that will air on CNN later this week about a Habitat for Humanity team that worked in Ghana building two homes. Lui was a part of this team.

In Ghana, Lui said intercultural differences arose from differences in speech, diet and thought, among other things. Lui said he could speak only three phrases in the local language: good morning, are you hot, and the names of the Ghanaians he worked with.

“Names were very key here,” Lui said. It was because of names that Lui became close with one of the Ghanaians, Kwame.

“The use of name was the way we got to know each other,” Lui said.

There are different ways of saying a name – voice intonation changes when saying the person’s name depending on whether or not you are happy to see that person, are excited or are angry. Because Lui and Kwame said each other’s names nearly 30 different times a day, they came to know each other.

“That’s how we became good friends, by simply using his name,” Lui said. “The three phrases were enough to break the cultural barrier.”

Photo by James Brosher
Lui encouraged students to “go someplace that shocks and jolts your cultural sensitivity."
Sophomore Kate Sanders attended the event because in her English class, she is learning about literary theories. Lui’s speech, she said, allowed her to see a very personal and down to earth intercultural experience.

“I can go between cultures just by saying someone’s name,” Sanders said, reflecting on Lui’s story of his experience in Ghana with Kwame.

While Lui described structured ways to explore intercultural skills, such as selecting careers, he also emphasized the importance of unstructured cultural experiences, like the one he had in Ghana.

Junior Sarah Brubeck said Lui’s personal stories, especially the one he told about his grandfather’s immigration, allowed her to connect with his experiences and think about her own.

“We don’t know how we got here, either,” Brubeck said. “We’re just lucky enough to be here.”

When it comes to intercultural experiences, learning and understanding are at the heart of it.

“I really think the issue is that the opportunities are right in front of us no matter where we go,” Lui said.


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