Since my blog is new and my consulting business is generating a lot of questions with new business contacts and even friends, I will take today’s short posting to explain what intercultural experiences mean to me and why it is more than an interesting business opportunity to me.
I moved to the United States 23 years ago and this October, I will be able to celebrate “cultural exposure equilibrium” if there is such a thing as I will have spent equal number of years of my life in Germany as in the United States. But wait, would not formative childhood years carry double the weight resulting a much more pronounce impact on my social psyche than young adulthood years and professional life? Or did my college education in the United States leave a deeper mark on my personal and professional development than years spent at the Leibniz Gymnasium and in vocational training programs in Wiesbaden? How do you reconcile my German personality traits with the American persona that I morphed into over the years?
My husband learned especially in the early years of our married life to tread gingerly around me the first couple of days after my return from a homeland visit. I was usually “not myself”, a bit melancholy and irritable and I explained that I felt that way because it took much longer for my mind and soul to travel back to the states than my body. Even though I enjoyed my life in Northern Virginia, I still ached a little each time when I left familiar ground, old friends and family members behind.
Years of training have helped me to manage my instant blunt unsolicited feedback on anything going on around me. I have learned the American art of small talk and there is something comforting about chatting with grocery store cashier staff about the weather and exchanging smiles with complete strangers. Traveling back to Germany on my annual trip to see family and connect with clients, I sometimes have to remind myself that I need to bag my own groceries at the supermarket and to NOT cross the pedestrian crosswalk when there is no car in sight but the pedestrian light is red. Little things that nevertheless are an indicator how adaptation to the behavior to a particular environment stays with us and will guide our action when we don’t actively engage our cognitive side of our brain.
Through conversations with “transplants” from countries outside of the U.S., studies, research, observations and a keen interest in how others are dealing with similar split-cultural personality syndromes, I learned that my experiences were not quite as unique as they may have felt at times and that it takes intentional exploration and a deeper understanding of self in comparison with the values and behavioral patterns of others to truly make sense of different cultures and different approaches to what life throws our way.
Thus began my personal and ultimately my professional quest to foster understanding and an authentic appreciation for “the other”, to explore my roots and those of others, so tease out nuances from stereotypes, to enjoy the unexpected and to build relationships across cultural divides.
For the professional world that means intentionally applying new meeting techniques to ensure that different perspectives can be explored, to allow different learning and communication styles to develop and contribute to projects and objectives. Creating team work that accounts for different cultural preferences and a mindful interaction between staff, management, and with customers.
But it all starts with a better understanding of one’s own culture to recognize our own decision making and value assigning patterns as a basis for dimensional comparison with others.