Most of us love to travel to explore new places and cultures, to meet new people and to create memories from across the globe. The idea in itself gives you an adrenaline rush. However, this story is woven quite differently when you have to travel on work; embracing cultural differences may not happen as easily when you try to work with people from different perspectives and cultural backgrounds.
With that context, let me tell you how I went right outside my comfort zone to take a work assignment in Argentina. I was 24, two years into my career, when I was given the opportunity to travel abroad for a consulting assignment. While it was commonplace for a select few to travel outside India every year, it was very unusual for someone to travel to Latin America, especially for someone young and junior like me. Little did I realize that the reality of working in a new place would be quite different - here are few excerpts from my work travelogue - all of which like tiny droplets of water in the large ocean make up "life experiences".
1. Be prepared (beyond Messi)
The path ahead is one which you may not have tread before, so it is imperative that you are prepared prior to your travel. Spend time exploring, reading and gauging the cultural nuances you will encounter. This also implies that you must be aware of your own cultural biases and perceptions.
For example : The traditional greeting in Argentina is a kiss on the cheek, a practice of which I was unaware. The first time someone greeted me this way, I was intrigued. It was the moment, I recollect, that I thought my research about Argentina should have gone beyond Messi (Lionel Messi, the Argentinian pro football player).
2. Respect & Trust
Cultures have a deep-rooted impact in the working styles of people and teams, so you may face some struggles trying to fit into your new team.The fundamental step to ease into this, is to have profound sense of respect and trust for your fellow colleagues. Respect the differences, trust them in what they are doing and you will create a space for yourself in your new team. It is absolutely important for you to be sensitive to the do's and dont's of your new work environment.
For example : My first assignment in my new team required me to report to a colleague who was much junior to me in terms of designation. Coming from a more liberal work environment, his style of working left me a bit uneasy, as I had a timetable for the day not just timelines. Later, when this enabled me to complete my assignment successfully I realized why trusting him and respecting his style of working had truly paid off.
3. You are in the ocean
Moving to a new place and working with new people, demands you to see things from a much broader perspective. A new sense of right and wrong will begin to emerge and you ought to embrace it; this is how you grow. You will be surrounded by a lot of unknowns, but the trick is to stay calm and be a student, ready to learn.
4. Grow your network
One of the key factors that define your experience are the people you meet and the friends you make. Being polite can make you more approachable and in turn you will find it easier to approach others. Refrain from creating any embarrassing situations and be sensitive; your colleagues from this stint will stay your overseas friends for a lifetime.
For example : Fluency in a particular language is crucial to building relationships at work. I had to figure out a way to communicate with my team in Argentina, most of whom were fluent in Spanish, while I knew only English. Eventually we created a plan to teach each other our respective languages, during which time we got to know each other. I in turn, made good friends and learnt some Spanish! Agradecido!
5. A spoonful of fun
Before you realize it, you'll have settled into your new environment and it's time for you to return. Do remember to enjoy yourself and smile through. Give yourself a break, explore new places, join NGO's to volunteer; there's a lot that you could do. The important thing to do is to take chances, survive the change and down it with a spoonful of fun!
I cherish the times I spent with my Latino friends, the times I wandered the streets alone and mostly, the deep impact it left on me when I returned home with the ability to see things from a much larger perspective.
So grab those opportunities to fly across continents and explore the world. Each new change will leave you a changed, for the better.