The Struggles of Relocating Abroad

Relocating to a foreign country is an arduous task that requires a large amount of research, planning, and organization: from travel arrangements, finding somewhere to live, shipping personal items, and obtaining necessary legal documents. It is easy to get so wrapped up in the logistics of a major move and overlook the impact of the cultural differences of a new country. It can be hard to ask for help, but completing intercultural training prior to moving makes a big difference in alleviating cultural barriers and easing the transition. Global Arena’s Managing Director Charlie moved from Mexico to the United States without undergoing any intercultural training and experienced numerous cultural differences in interactions with his colleagues and with the overall chain of command at the company.

Charlie was relocated from Mexico to work in the United States without the assistance of an intercultural training program. Intercultural training services were uncommon at the time of his move. Charlie had visited the United States many times; he attended boarding school in California, and he was confident that his familiarity with the U.S. was enough to facilitate a smooth transition. After relocating to the U.S., he quickly discovered that his previous experience living in the country was not enough to overcome cultural barriers. He faced cultural dissimilarities in every aspect of his life and particularly when attempting to communicate with his co-workers.

Mexicans converse and interact differently than Americans do with their co-workers. Charlie noticed the cultural differences when one of his younger associates was openly discussing her personal life. She was discussing her relationship and casually mentioning intimate situations which made him feel uncomfortable. In Mexico, it is not customary to discuss intimate situations in polite conversation, especially at work, so he was unsure of how to respond. He decided to avoid participating in the conversation since he was uncertain of how to appropriately be involved in the discussion. Moreover, he faced an uncomfortable situation with a female co-worker during a casual interaction outside of work. He greeted her with a kiss on the cheek; since that is a customary greeting in Mexico among colleagues and friends. A kiss on the cheek is not a normal greeting between colleagues in the U.S. and this became clear to him by his co-worker’s reaction. She was not offended but the co-worker was noticeably hesitant about the kiss as she was obviously not expecting it. The nuances of everyday conversations and interactions with colleagues in the U.S. were a struggle for him.

Charlie was used to employees adhering to an unwritten hierarchy while he was working in Mexico; a person’s rank informally determined their position in the company. It was normal for an executive-level employee to ask an entry-level employee to handle menial tasks beyond their job description; tasks like making copies or faxing documents. While many companies in the U.S. follow a similar structure; the company Charlie worked for did not. There were many instances where Charlie called on one of his subordinates with a task that he would assume they would handle. Instead of handling the task themselves; they would give him the solution and let him take action on his own.

He ultimately learned to adjust to the difference in work culture but an intercultural training program would have removed much of the uncertainty and avoided a few uncomfortable situations. Receiving intercultural training is a crucial part of relocating to a foreign country to ease cultural barriers. Contact us at Global Arena for a custom designed intercultural training program to ease your transition to a new country. 

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