Navigating Cultural Difference in Planning: How Cross-Border Adaptation Nurtured Cosmopolitan Competence Among U.S.-Taught Chinese Practitioners

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Problem, research strategy, and findings: As urban issues become globally intertwined, planning education must train future practitioners to confront cross-border, intercultural conflicts. In U.S. planning schools, although campus diversity has internationalized, it remains hotly debated how to teach global dimensions of planning. We tackled this understudied subject from the perspective of mainland Chinese practitioners who studied planning in the United States and then returned home to work. We examined how cross-border journeys shaped their career choices and their attitudes toward different planning cultures. Through in-depth interviews, we found that although intercultural struggles triggered nationalist-leaning defensiveness in some returnees, most developed bicultural appreciation, embraced plural worldviews, and pursued transformative agency locally and cross-culturally. Returnees’ intercultural competencies and expanded consciousness reflect the value of cosmopolitanism for navigating differences. Amid cultural wars and geopolitical shifts, we call for a cosmopolitan ethos in planning education and practice and invite continual dialogues about future priorities for global planning debates. Takeaway for practice: When working across borders, urban professionals inevitably confront cultural differences, institutional constraints, and value conflicts. U.S.-taught Chinese practitioners helped ideas, practices, and ethics travel and take root across borders through entrepreneurial, internationalist, interventionist, and reformist approaches. This suggests that international, multicultural training can equip practitioners with cosmopolitan competencies and pluralist worldviews, which can enable them to navigate cultural–political differences, identify ethical common grounds across borders, and nudge meaningful shifts through incremental, value-aligned action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • China
  • comparative planning cultures
  • cosmopolitanism
  • international students
  • planning education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


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