Over the past year, I had the good fortune to host a high school exchange student from China. Before Rose came to stay with us, our student representative from AFS-USA, which manages international exchange programs, compared cultural history to an iceberg—with one-third of culture visible and two-thirds hidden beneath the water.

While some people may find this standard iceberg metaphor a bit tired, I find it appropriate in this case. So much of what my daughter Mei, husband Peter, and I learned from Rose came through an evolving process of discovery. And so much of what Rose learned about us and our culture, I suspect, came from that same evolving process of discovery.

Culture, tradition, and values often aren’t easily discernible. We have to dig deep to truly understand another’s culture. I was thinking about this while working on a new hospital in Thailand. The client asked for a hospital that “reflects Thai hospitality with an international perspective.”

Whenever approaching a new healthcare project, my HGA colleagues and I always start from a research process, sitting down with the client to understand their institutional values and business objectives, meeting with caregivers and staff to discern their workplace needs, and talking with community members and patients to learn regional variables.

So much of our initial work with the hospital started from this same planning process. Yet we soon learned that designing an international healthcare facility that reflects ancient Thai hospitality is more involved than simply mastering Feng Shui.

The facility serves more than 1 million patients annually, with approximately 400,000 coming from 190 different countries outside Thailand. The iceberg runs deep.

Yet whether designing a hospital in an international city in Southeast Asia or a small town in central Iowa, the design process of discerning cultural value is the same. A healthcare facility should offer measurable benefits to the community by providing world-class care that addresses community needs. Discovering those community needs is the fun part of design.