Culture Shock

Stories and experiences about culture shock

Culture Shock after Brexit Decision

This week-end, after the results of Brexit, must have been a very difficult week-end for a lot of People, and I would like to share not only what I went through but what some of my fellow European and pro Remain British friends may have gone through too.

I am Intercutural Consultant and I help expatriate and global managers adapt to their new environment. By helping them adapt we always mention the Culture Shock curve that has five stages: Excitement, Denial & Depression, Culture Shock, Acceptance and Acculturation. The last time I went through the Culture Shock curve was when I moved to Singapore 10 years ago !

Over the course of this week-end I went through the first two phases and am heading towards culture shock.

The excitement Phase was before the Referendum results, I think most of us were positive that the UK would vote remain and thus demonstrate that we are a strong Europe and that Europeans are part of the British folk. When the results came down on friday morning, and I woke up at 5:30am to see the results, I couldn´t believe that Brexit had passed, I was in complete denial, I just couldn´t wrap my head around it although I had a feeling that it might happen but again my excitement at the time was stronger. I accepted in a  way the decision of the British public as I live in their Country and I need to accept their wishes but trust me I still felt a bit out-of-place especially going out for dinner in the evening. The atmosphere felt colder than usual, but then I just put that on the account of my own projections.

The rest of the week-end was the depression phase, waking up in tears not knowing what the future will bring, especially working as a freelance Consultant and delivering Trainings to mostly European expats as to how to integrate in the UK, so that was a big shock ! What will I do ? I thought I would spend the rest of my life here, I have friends which are now my Family, I have a home that I bought, i have a car, what will that mean? What does the future hold?

I also had a few talks over the week-end with a few Young British People and asked them what they thought of Brexit and a lot were shocked and angry. They said they were “Europeans” and not British citizens, what will happen for their future and their kid´s future? They won´t have the opportunity to have work experience abroad, travel, learn languages and go abroad to train themselves, so Overall a big shock.

When I spoke to European friends and colleagues most felt betrayed, stabbed in the back, not welcomed and are also fearing for their future.

We all know that nothing major will happen over the next two years and that as Europeans we will be able to stay, what will be the conditions after though? I think the acceptance phase after the shock is that one way or another if there are no Jobs, I/ we will have to move back to Europe, and I think this is what our culture shock is about, leaving a beautiful country, our friends, our lives.

For now however we need to wait and see and try to get out of the shock phase to get on with our lives.

I would love for fellow colleagues, Europeans or British citizens to share their view and how they coped with the Brexit decision.

Best

Nadege Welsch

Be-a-chameleon

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How to have a successful expatriation

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Being told that you are going to be relocated to a new country may not be easy especially if you were not expecting it !

By training expatriates coming to the UK, I have seen that many were happy but also many entered the UK already with a culture shock ! Why is that ?

The problem with relocations is that we either get hooked on them and look forward to moving to the next place after 3 years or we can get attached to the current country we are in and do not wish to leave.

In the latter case, so if we settled well in the country we are currently in, enjoy the culture and the country it feels alarming to move to a new one. We have to go through the process once again, we need to settle in, learn about the  new culture, leave our friends and family behind once again, and we are getting a little tired. This is one side of the culture shock we may be going through. Another aspect of the culture would be that we have already been in the new country and have experienced very bad things there which have stuck to our minds and hinder us from moving in a positive light ! This happens to some of us, and it is not a good state to be in as we shut ourselves down, duck our heads and just wait for the next assignment to come !

How do we deal with these issues if we are already in culture shock when we arrive to our new country ?

The best is to start afresh, bad experiences happen, and sometimes they are lessons life throw´s at us, we just need to see past them, and perceive them as a lesson rather than a constant which will happen again. The best is to reflect on what happened previously or why it is one is in shock ! If you are in shock because you didn´t want to move, make sure you surround yourself with positive people as these people will show you the beautiful side of your new location and will lift up your spirits ! Because if you surround yourself with people who think the same way then your culture shock will most probably last the entire duration of your assignment and make your life miserable !

So the point is, when in shock, try to identify why it is that you are in that state:  if it is because of a bad experience, try to study this experience and put it into perspective. Once you have identified what is causing your shock, try to see what you could do to reduce it ! Meet new people, surround yourself with positive people, talk to your colleagues, your family, find a coach or a trainer with whom you can discuss it !

Once you have overcome this stage, you will be ready for an exiting time in your assignment, you will enjoy life more, your work and your new country !

Once last thing would be to keep fit, find a routine so that your mind doesn´t wonder off too much, as the mind is our worst enemy in culture shock cases !

 

All the best of luck, and if you need any help, or have examples, feel free to share or contact us !

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Being culturally aware is not only about others but also about ourself !

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When working internationally, managers and organizations focus on their business partners and clients. What are their needs, their demands, and how can these be met ?

Meeting the customer´s demand and providing excellent customer service is of utmost importance in today´s global and competitive business world.

Being aware of cultural differences through leading intercultural teams, working with business partners from other countries and doing business on a global scale is of the essence. Many organizations are aware of the need to be culturally aware, however do they take the right steps to achieve this awareness ?

Many businesses and mostly SMEs fail on the international scene as they lack the know how and awareness, training their managers and leaders would be a strategic advantage that could secure them further business abroad.

Business failure starts already with the communication: how do the managers communicate with their business partners and customers ? Then it is about customs: what is important for my customer ? Relationship or business ? How do I introduce myself ? How do I speak about business if we are at a social event ? How should I interact ? What kind of question may I ask ?

And when working in intercultural teams: how do I need to communicate with my fellow team members ? What is acceptable behaviour ? How do I provide feedback to my colleagues ? How can I bring my team to work more harmoniously to increase its performance ?

As we can see all these questions are about behaviour and how we should behave towards others. When doing business internationally it is of course the most important thing and this is what is taught in cultural awareness trainings: how to do business internationally.

An aspect which we, at be-a-chameleon, take into consideration, is the individual taking the cultural awareness training (which we call Cultural Consciousness). Additionally to providing him/her with know how about how to adapt and communicate better across cultures, we look at how he/she perceives these changes and tools and how these affect him/her. In our training we make sure that you learn to adapt without changing who you are, we give you tools and know how, however before that we seek to understand how you perceive the world and what your values and beliefs are because we are aware that certain situations may bring you out of your comfort zone. So understanding what your comfort zone is, we can help you go beyond it and make sure that in your next intercultural experiences you will be more comfortable and confident.

We will be providing a Cultural Consciousness training mid-June 2013 in London, please feel free to contact us for further details at info@be-a-chameleon.com, and watch this space as we will post more information this month.

 

 

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Case Study: doing business as a woman in the Middle East

Whilst I was working in Germany, I was sent on an important project to Yemen. It was my first time on business in the Middle East and my task was to represent the Structured Finance division at our client´s office.

My sales team was composed of Lebanese men and the banks we were working with had a British and Omani representative. All of them were men, including my Australian lawyer.

The first little faux pas I made, having been used to my Middle Eastern colleagues shaking hands with me was to go forward to shake hands with our client. No need to say that the reaction of the client was to back away from me; he slightly bowed and put his hand on his heart. I understood that i made a faux pas! That was ok said my sales counterpart, not to worry, he is used to it! If I could have avoided it, I would have preferred though!

Then we went into the meetings, all questions were addressed to my lawyer and my sales people, to which i had to provide an answer. It was quite interesting as I was not questioned directly! I thought it was probably because I was a woman. I did not make any assumptions, I just followed the flow and everything went well!

When we do business with cultures we do not know much about, it is always wise to look at what is happening around us, how do people interact, talk to one another, what kind of question do they ask, do they need clarifications, where do I stand as a woman for example. This will reduce the risk of faux pas and mistakes and ensure good relationships with your counterpart.

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„People don´t understand me“ syndrome

When coming back from your expatriation, have you ever thought that people around you in your home country had changed? That to get a pen or some paper in your company, it takes time and you need to go through a lot of paperwork before you get it? What happened, why is it that people don´t understand you?

People haven´t really changed, the one who may have changed is you. Indeed, you have been living abroad for a certain amount of time, adapting to your host country and incorporating some of your host culture´s values and customs. Let´s also not forget that whilst you were abroad you had probably more freedom in your job, you could make your own decisions, direct your own team and get as much paper and pens as you wanted!

Coming back may seem like a culture shock for you because the people you have left behind, whether colleagues, friends or family, have in reality not changed, they have continued to live their lives as before, keeping to their work habits, getting together habits and have kept their usual hobbies. It may seem strange to you and you may feel as if you were the odd one in the group. What you project onto people is actually projected onto you as well; they see you as a different person: you have been away for so long, you have seen different countries, cultures, have picked up new hobbies, have escalated the hierarchy ladder, so for them you are different and that is why they probably do not understand you.

To get back into your home culture smoothly, think about what you have experienced, what has changed in your value system and in your customs, what was important for you in your culture that you didn´t forget on your assignment and think of how you can build a bridge between you and your friends, colleagues, family to enable a smooth repatriation and re-adaptation.

When coming back from your expatriation, have you ever thought that people around you in your home country had changed? That to get a pen or some paper in your company, it takes time and you need to go through a lot of paperwork before you get it? What happened, why is it that people don´t understand you?

People haven´t really changed, the one who may have changed is you. Indeed, you have been living abroad for a certain amount of time, adapting to your host country and incorporating some of your host culture´s values and customs. Let´s also not forget that whilst you were abroad you had probably more freedom in your job, you could make your own decisions, direct your own team and get as much paper and pens as you wanted!

Coming back may seem like a culture shock for you because the people you have left behind, whether colleagues, friends or family, have in reality not changed, they have continued to live their lives as before, keeping to their work habits, getting together habits and have kept their usual hobbies. It may seem strange to you and you may feel as if you were the odd one in the group. What you project onto people is actually projected onto you as well; they see you as a different person: you have been away for so long, you have seen different countries, cultures, have picked up new hobbies, have escalated the hierarchy ladder, so for them you are different and that is why they probably do not understand you.

To get back into your home culture smoothly, think about what you have experienced, what has changed in your value system and in your customs, what was important for you in your culture that you didn´t forget on your assignment and think of how you can build a bridge between you and your friends, colleagues, family to enable a smooth repatriation and re-adaptation.

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Perception of time

Time just as any other important area of our life is a perception that not all of us share or have the same idea of !

I remember when I left France after my BA to do a Masters in Spain, i found that my world was crumbling down because my perception of time was not shared by my class mates ! Indeed I remember going with my class mates which were all from Latin America (i.e. I was the only European and poor them, half-French, half-German) on holiday to Mallorca !

There were 12 of us and we rented 4 cars so that we could go around the island and visit. As I loved and still do sometimes to plan in advance and know what we will be doing the next day, i chatted with my friends and made a sort of Agenda for the trip. The agenda was really not used, I remember asking when we should meet for breakfast and hearing everyone agreeing on 10:00am. The only one at 10:00 am at the breakfast table was me, myself and I. The rest arrived at noon ! I was still young then, and it really bothered me because for me I was losing half the day ! My friends continued doing this for 2 days until I had enough and confronted them about it and asking them to be a little more flexible with me as well as I was also different and also had my rythm. We could maybe meet halfway and find a compromise !

The response was: “Nadège, por favor tranquilisa te ! Estamos de vacaciones y tenemos todo el tiempo del mundo asi que tomate todo con calma y disfrute !” which literally means, relax and enjoy your time and holiday !

I have to say it was very difficult and I felt that my efforts to comply to their view on time was not compensated by a small gesture on their part, but when i look back today, I am truly happy that this happened ! It made me much more flexible and also made me understand that yes, time can be endless and that in certain situations you don´t need to perceive it as scarce, hence schedule everything (Here I am talking about vacation ;-)) .

This experience has taught me so much, and I am glad I went through it because one has to set priorities in one´s life ! For business, time is important (for myself), it might be different for someone else, and I respect that.

We should all respect and accept the fact that we see and perceive the world differently, which makes us in a way very unique. And our uniqueness is what defines us !

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The 5 stages of expatriation

When we are given the opportunity by our company to move abroad we go through phases of accommodation to our new role. Now some companies provide you with support and others don´t.  It is a little bit different when we decide ourselves to move abroad for a better life and work experience, however the phases we go through are slightly different as we will be more stressed about it as we take a leap into the unknown.

This article will focus on those who are expatriated by their companies, and another article will be written for those who go on their own.

You have worked for a few years in the headquarter of your company or in the branch of your company which is located in your home country and after x years your boss tells you that you will be relocated to another country. Elisabeth Kübler Ross writes about the 5 stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance) when we lose someone dear to us. In the intercultural field it si a little different however we still go through different phases which are as follows:

1. Happiness

The first time we here we will be relocated we think positively about it, indeed we get to move somewhere else, hopefully where it is sunny, and we have a role with more responsibilities which is great for our career. We start gathering information about the new country, speak about it to all are friends and family and look forward to this new opportunity !

2. Doubt

Is it really happening, am I really going to move away from the ones i love ! I know this country is great and that it is good for my career however how will it be, will I feel good over there, will I have nice colleagues ? All these questions start to pop up in our head a few days or weeks before we are due to leave for our new assignment. Some companies offer their expatriates a first glance of the new country by sending them overseas for a few days to have a look at the new environment and speak to their new colleagues which soothes this feeling a bit. Others do not offer this and that is were some expatriates might feel even more doubtful about this new experience because they are jumping head first into something they don´t know ! This phase will last until you touch down in the new country.

3. Curiosity

You are now in your new home, new country with your new colleagues, the first month will be about settling, finding a home, getting to know your colleagues, discovering the new city and all of this is quite exciting.

Where it splits is after the first or second month, there are two ways we can react:

4.a. Adaptation

You have spent a lot of time going out, exploring the city, getting to know your colleagues, meeting local people and you feel comforted and at home. You are now in the adaptation phase, it is all about understanding what and who is around you.

4.b Depression

You have satisfied your curiosity however you don´t feel good about it and you start questioning everything you see and the way people work around you. You don´t feel comfortable living and working here so unfortunately you fall into depression because you miss your friends and family. This usually happens when we omit to meet with local people to integrate or understand the local culture better. We all react differently to such an experience that is what makes us human !

5. Acceptance and integration

For those of you who have adapted well you finally accept that this is your new home and that you will spend a few years here. You have found new friends, created a network and have colleagues you work well with. For those that went through the depression phase it might be tricky, there are those who stay but whose performance is not very good due to them feeling uncomfortable, and there are those who decide to leave the assignment and return to their countries.

Most expatriation or at least 50% of expatriates fail and return early to their home country because they had problems adapting or integrating to the new culture. There is nothing bad about it, probably they would have needed help which we can provide for example to adapt better to their new host country.

Many of us think that asking for help may be a sign of weakness however in many intercultural texts you will find that the best results in expatriation comes from those who have been helped with the adaptation. Not all of us need help that is true !

Conclusion is that yes some of us may or may not need help however when provided with training/ briefing or coaching before leaving for a new country can accelerate the process of integration.

 

 

 

 

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A cultural shock turning sour

Whilst I was working for a major German Telecom company I was given the opportunity to go for a year to Singapore. At that time I had met a young German Team Assistant that was also going to be relocated with her boyfriend over there. She left Germany before me, and we kept in contact until I arrived in Singapore.

When I arrived, she was telling me about her bad experiences with house hunting and with Singaporeans themselves, which I have to say made me feel a little bit anxious, however I knew I had to find out for myself. Luckily I met great people and was surrounded by new friends quite quickly. On the other hand she kept on running into bad experiences up to a point where she did not want to leave her home and go out and meet people. She had lost about 10kg in the space of 6 months and looked very sad and depressed so I decided to have a chat with her and understand what she was going through as I wanted to help her integrate better.

The major issue was that although she was with her boyfriend, she missed her family. She also unfortunately kept her bad experience present in every encounter she had with a local, meaning that for her, they were all after her and wanted to do bad things to her. Her mindset was so strong that she probably projected this on every single person she met and so could not integrate fully as she despised being around some of the locals.

What happened here? My friend had never left Germany in her life before she moved to Singapore, and had not undergone any preparation before she left. Probably that resulted in miscommunications and misunderstandings with her colleagues and contacts. Having a preparation and a constant contact with a coach could have helped her understand why she ran into problems, and could have spared her a depression which led her to leave the country after 8 months.

 

Many companies sending employees overseas experience early repatriation of these employees due to such experiences and lack of preparation.

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