How To Adapt To Cultural Differences When Working Abroad

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Working and living abroad can be one of the most ‘eye-opening’ experiences that will help grow and shape your career as a professional.

The thought of meeting new people and starting your career in a foreign environment alone is beyond exciting. However, when planning to work abroad do not underestimate the importance of adapting to cultural differences. The truth is, you will encounter them.

When speaking of cultural differences, people mostly tend to only consider their direct social environment. Such as ‘how to interact with your neighbours’ or ‘how to politely ask for something at the local market.’ However, cultural differences are also inevitable in the workplace.

Being aware of those basic cultural differences will enable you to:

  • Fully relate and interact with your colleagues
  • Avoid any unnecessary conflicts in the workplace
  • Become more effective in a cross-cultural work environment
  • Build international skills

So, thinking about landing that amazing job offer away from home? Learning how to adapt to your new culture is key to your survival. Here are some of the important steps to take:

Be prepared

Conduct research and try to study not only the culture but also the workplace culture of your new foreign environment. What tends to be ‘normal’ in the corporate culture of your home country might be a total ‘no go’ in another. For instance, how do people communicate with each other in the workplace? And how important is non-verbal communication? For example, in high context cultures, non-verbal communication plays a very important and powerful role not only in business, but also in your daily interactions with others – From facial expressions to eye contact and common hand gestures.

Making sure you become aware of these differences will enable you to adapt more easily, especially to your corporate work environment.

Learn to observe

A useful daily practice when working abroad and when trying to adapt to a different culture, is learning how to observe. Especially in the first couple of weeks, spend time observing your work environment and how your colleagues engage and interact with each other. Ask yourself, what can you learn or take away from this? And how can you engage with or respond to your colleagues effectively?

Starting a new job abroad while having to deal with a different culture can be quite overwhelming. You are trying to manage your work responsibilities and you still need to get used to your environment. Don’t be afraid to ask your manager or colleagues for advice and tips when you are struggling. Most likely they will absolutely understand!

Avoid assumptions

Sometimes, when dealing with cultural differences it is easy to misinterpret someone’s behaviour or intentions. So, when you find yourself in an awkward or uncomfortable situation, avoid making immediate assumptions. Assumptions are made when there is a lack of understanding and mostly it only breeds unnecessary conflicts.

Instead of assuming why someone behaved or responded in a certain manner, first seek to understand by just asking for clarification.

Be Open-Minded

Having an open mind and positive attitude can bring you a long way. Let’s face it, working abroad and living away from your family and friends can be quite difficult and feel lonely at times. However, you need to bear in mind that adapting to a new culture and work environment does not happen overnight. You might not always get it right and that is absolutely fine.

Also, it is important to understand that learning how to adapt does not mean that you are changing who you are as an individual. It means that you are becoming open and willing to understand why certain things are done in a certain culture. Just because it is different from what you are used to, does not make it wrong.

Being open helps to make the experience and process a lot easier. Outside of work, you can show genuine interest by interacting with locals, learning the language and attending cultural or social events.

About the Author

Sarah Johnson is a marketing professional and the Founder and Editor of IAMICareer. Her true passion is to empower career girls in the workplace, and help millennials bridge the gap between university and the corporate environment.

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