“Nothing is comparable to the new life that a reflective person experiences when he observes a new country. Thought I am still always myself, I believe I have changed to the very narrow of my bones” – Goethe
The opportunity in my life is that I have had the fortune to live in different countries and to get to know life and work of diverse cultures.
In the beginning everything is a challenge – I am in a foreign country, raised with a different culture which is the part of the very fabric of my thought, and I cannot separate myself from it. I`ve thought many times that it may have been easier to visit the country for two weeks, and go back home only with positive impressions and the feeling that I`ve learned a lot about people and custom during the trip. But with the perseverance and understanding of the different, you realize that every experience, regardless of how it felt at the time slowly becomes an advantage. Learning and becoming part of cultural differences is now the successful process of learning and the ability to use the learned. For example – in my country business is often mixed with dinner, private life and friendship. It took me a while to figure out that in some countries it’s not common to combine these things.
Working in a foreign country and in an international environment gives you insight into another subcultures, that have its own behavior, values, symbols and communication. At a workplace it is normal that groups or subcultures are formed over time. Consequently, the challenge is much higher in an internationally operating company, because you would communicate with multiple groups over different countries that have their own behavioral patterns, symbols and values. Additionally, you are preoccupied with the cultural norms, regulations, in other words foreign “formal systems” which guide the behaviors and standards of these cultures. Hard, isn’t it? But, it`s worth every effort. This has helped me gain:
• Tolerance – which I have developed to accept differences in other cultures
• Personal growth – cultures are different, but I have realized that there are commonalities and exploring commonalities help us grow over our differences
• To recognize individualistic / collectivistic cultures
• Patience and empathy to accept the different cultures as they are without judging
• Understanding the challenge of communicating in non – native languages
• Accepting different behavior, and where it comes from…
Gaining new business acquaintances and friends is priceless. Building relationships with people from different cultures, is the key for achieving significant goals, and it is important to diminish ethnocentrism, which holds us back. While I have working in Germany for an international company, to maintain better communication, we played out various activities to foster inter-cultural understanding. This has enabled us to understand cultural gaps and resulted in our Brazilian co-worker trying to learn a few sentences in true Scottish, Germans cooking Serbian food, English watching Japanese game-shows… This little activity has taught me a lot about the wonderful people I have had the opportunity to meet, work with and call my friends.
The diversity of culture must never be a barrier, but something from which we learn and advance ourselves. It is true that occasionally you will encounter some unpleasant experiences, from which you should not take a step back, but realize that perhaps someone who is standing across from you did not have a chance to experience a different culture and environment. What is important is to never stop to learning about different cultures…because they might not be so much different than you think?