In recent years I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with several dozens of expatriates, mainly from Central Europe and the United States. Most of them were looking forward to their international work assignment or were already enjoying their stay in a different culture. Of course their levels of intercultural competency and cultural adaptability varied, depending on their education, socio-economic background, occupation and a handful of other factors. Overall, though, I didn’t find an extravagantly wide competency gap. I did, however, make one observation which may not appear to be a big revelation:
The most adaptable participants in my training programs were individuals with travel experience. In fact, the more travel experience they had the less dependent they were on their home culture’s norms. Many books have been written about the leisure pleasures, the enrichment opportunities and the educational value of traveling. Few people nailed it like Mark Twain when he wrote:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
Take it as an encouragement: Get out of your comfort zone as much as possible. Try to leave your home culture occasionally. Expose yourself to situations which require you to use the other side of your brain. Be a stranger in a world that’s new to you. You’ll be amazed how much this will increase your aptitude to learn about other cultures.
Christian is a cultural trainer, coach, and consultant with extensive experience in working with multinational companies and especially in developing global leaders. He is the President and CEO of The Culture Mastery, LLC, where he leads a team of dedicated training, destination services, and expat support specialists. Christian works with global organizations (or those who are going global) to help their employees overcome cultural differences. Typically he only uses the word “normal” in quotation marks and he is an advocate for helping people understand the why of behaviors – not just the dos & don’ts. Most just call him “The Culture Guy”. Find out more about Christian here and follow him on Twitter. You can also see him, listen to him, and experience his work – just invite him!