Cultural Awareness Tips for Working Abroad
Working abroad can be not only a great occupational opportunity, but also a great way to learn about the cultures of other countries. But in order to have a successful overseas working experience, expats must prepare for the possibility of culture shock, or just the challenges that can sometimes accompany living in a new place.
Fortunately, there are some ways you can prepare to ensure that your new overseas job doesn’t suffer because of an inability to adapt to a new culture. Here’s a short list of cultural awareness advice when working abroad:
Discover your own culture.
You may think you know everything there is to know about where you come from, but once you start researching a new culture, you may just find that you don’t even know the answers to the questions you’re asking regarding your home country. For example, are you well-versed in the inner workings of your country’s most important systems and institutions? Chances are you probably don’t know exactly how everything works in your government, or the small details hidden amongst your culture’s various laws and rules.
Learn the meanings behind the new culture.
It’s not always enough just to know what the traditions are in new cultures, but the stories and meanings behind them. Once you learn the beliefs of a culture, ask yourself: which basic values do these beliefs reveal? For example, if children are disciplined severely in a typical family, it suggests that respecting superior elders and general obedience of young people is extremely important to that culture. Knowing the background and meanings behind cultural traditions of new countries can help you have an overall better general understanding of their culture.
Take language classes.
It’s important to avoid the assumption that most people know how to speak English. Whether you know for a fact that your new culture is well-versed in your home language or not, it’s a good idea to at least learn the basics of the main language of your new country. Not only will you be able to communicate more effectively in your new culture, but a fluency in the language will also help you to better understand the cultural norms as well as address intercultural misunderstandings, should they occur. Just as important is a clear understanding of non-verbal communication and body language, so you should brush up on your skills in those areas as well.
Immerse yourself in your new country’s rituals and products.
Before diving headfirst into your new culture upon your arrival to a new country, you might try testing out their rituals and products while still in the comforts of your home turf. Travel guides provide information on local traditions and festivities, so you might pick up a couple and knock out a few hours of reading to educate yourself. You could even try some of your new culture’s recipes at home. You might also look into a way to watch movies or television shows that are popular in your new country’s culture, or listen to some of the current music hits topping their charts. By becoming familiar with some of the specifics of the culture before actually entering the new country, you might feel more comfortable when the time finally comes to make the move.
Don’t lose sight of your own culture.
In the midst of preparing for your new culture, it can be easy to forget your own cultural values and beliefs along the way. While it’s absolutely important that you participate in and appreciate the cultural traditions of your new country, it doesn’t mean you have to completely change your own views and drop the aspects of your own culture. Find a happy balance and try to stay along that line while living overseas. Being able to successfully intertwine your home culture and new country’s culture is just as important as preparing for your new overseas job by learning about the inner workings of the foreign culture.
Have you ever made the transition to a new country with a completely different culture? Did you prepare in any different ways not listed above that really helped you to assimilate? Leave your stories or suggestions in the comments box below!