Traveling abroad in itself is often a completely uprooting experience—it shows us perspectives far outside of our own. Though traveling to another country and working there are on quite different levels. Here are five things I’ve learned in my internship in Paris:
1. Be aware of new perceptions
Ask yourself, how do you believe others are going to judge you right off the bat? First impressions are something we all do unconsciously, and they are important! So when we’re abroad it can be especially clear just how out of place we might be. In one of my first classes here, we were asked to make a word map of how we self-identify—words like sibling or student came up, but almost no one wrote Midwestern, American, wealthy, or well-educated. When we are abroad, it’s important to be self-aware of privilege and position because they define how we act subconsciously. It can show how others will perceive us in ways that we might not have ever understood before. In the workplace this might become especially clear in your interactions with coworkers.
2. There’s much more than what’s in a book
There are objective facts about the country’s culture, and then there are the limitless subjective ideas that make up their collective identity. You can learn a lot through books about where you’re traveling to before you arrive, but you’ll still be missing about fifty percent of the picture. There are inevitably going to be things you have to learn through immersion; things that will blindside you. So what can you do about it? Always try to be mindful and perceptive of what’s going on around you—being immersed is the best way to learn more than you ever could from the other side of the globe! Take this time to keep a journal and be astute in observing what is happening around you. Notice how your coworkers will be interacting with each other, and notice how your boss approaches team meetings. Your firsthand account will be the most valuable piece you have to understanding your foreign workplace culture.
3. Communication is key
You might already have a mastery of the language if you’re lucky, but that’s not all there is. Even if you don’t speak the language, it’s still very possible that you’ll succeed by learning the language along the way! What’s important is that you’re adaptable with the way you approach your communication method. What has worked in your native culture might not translate well. I’ve found that there are plenty of other things that communicate just as well as words—things like body language and visual pictures can get a point across far better than words might. We have so much of our communications tool kit at our disposal aside from language!
4. Keep in mind how different cultures operate
Another thing we learned in class was about the many different cultural dimensions that another country might operate on. With status, is it about achievement or birthright? With time, do they concern themselves with the short or long term? Are they direct or indirect? Are they individualistic or collectivistic? There are plenty of dimensions to consider when becoming immersed in a culture. Oftentimes you’ll find the best way is to perfectly blend the two different sides into one—but most cultures are going to be leaning towards one side or the other. Its important to be aware of these dimensions that exist in every culture.
5. How can we be leaders?
This is my final, and most important piece of advice. Always ask yourself the question: how can you be a leader? When we cross cultures, we are bringing with us an opportunity to improve the cross-cultural understanding for all those around us—we are cultural ambassadors in our time abroad by exposing others to ideas outside of their norm. This means it's important we are conscious of how we act. It doesn’t mean compromising our values; in fact, it’s the opposite. How can you demonstrate the best sides of the culture you are from? The more we can help each other understand another approach to life, the more good we are putting into the world. A good leader, a good international representative of a culture, is someone who seeks to spread this understanding around the world.
More Blogs From This Author
<p>I love writing so much that it has become both my job and my hobby. One of my favorite things to write for lately has been my (very nerdy) hobby of Dungeons and Dragons. I love it because I get to create a story together with my friends. Otherwise, I enjoy creative writing (short radio plays, stand up comedy) and reading.</p>