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Today, people with different cultures and countries work together at the workplace, more international students are on their journey to acquire academic knowledge and more people are travelling the world. Hence, it is fundamental to understand these cultural differences to avoid any miscommunication. Working together in a diverse culture has not been easy. I have experienced some clashes during my foreign assignments and during group assignments with students from other cultures, maybe because we could not understand each other. I am hoping that at the end of this unit, I shall be aware of other cultures, improving myself to be more tolerant, more flexible and to develop my intercultural communication skills to better work in a diverse culture.
I am Mauritian, born and raised in Mauritius. The fact that Mauritius has a diverse history, the majority of Mauritians are multilingual. Mauritian Creole is my native language and English is the official language. However, I am also fluent in French and several Asian languages like Hindi and Bhojpuri.
Before moving to Australia this year for my MBA, I was an auditor at one of the big four audit firm, KPMG. At the beginning, my auditing experience was very interesting and demanding in terms of working for domestic and international clients. While we used to work hard, we even party harder. However, during those busy seasons, I hardly had any social life left. I then realized that I can no longer entertain such kind of life. I then thought of coming to Perth to complete my post graduate degree as this destination seemed perfect to have an international degree and to discover a different culture.
Handling cultural differences at my workplace was a big challenge to me as I have been exposed to a culturally diverse work environment. I went for an overseas assignment in Johannesburg and I have worked in a team comprising of secondees from India, Luxembourg and other African countries in our office. Initially, it required a lot of efforts and tolerance in understanding the cultural variations in terms of the varying dialects and their aspects of viewing things.
Despite coming from a multicultural island, it is different here as Australia is made up of so many different cultures following the European colonization. Intercultural communication begins as a journey into another culture and often ends as a journey into one’s own culture (Adler, 1975). Intercultural learning sometimes makes us aware of our ethnocentrism and can involve barriers such as stereotyping. The assertion of Peter Adler does match one of my experiences so far, where I met an Indonesian girl at the university and we have built a kind of intercultural relationship. The fact that both of us were culturally open, we did not come across many problems. We both learned about each other’s culture and different philosophies of life. It was a rewarding experience as I have learned a tremendous amount on Indonesian people and their cultures, and even about myself and my own cultural background.
Intercultural competence is becoming a valuable asset in this interconnected world (Stadler,S, (2011) and Fantini, A.E. (2000). The more an individual experiences new dimensions of human diversity, the more he learns on himself. The main objectives that I want to achieve from this unit are to expand my intercultural communication skills and to be conscious of others’ communication. I also need to challenge ‘my way is the right way’ thinking and be flexible and open to different ways to looking at the world.
Culture is an essential part of the human society. It consists of attitudes, values, belief systems, verbal and non verbal languages, perceptions accepted and expected by a particular society. Culture is learned from parents, schools, media and the broader society. Genelot (1998) claimed that ‘men are products of their culture’’. There are various systems that affect culture, such as economical, political, social, education systems and family systems. Individuals do not view the world through the same lens. Each of us experiences the world differently, thereby making culture a dynamic and evolving subject.
Cultures do not stay the same, they evolve gradually over time. With the advances in globalization, the concept of culture has taken on a broader meaning. For instance, through international trade and advanced technology has enhanced the labor markets, presenting an immense opportunity for cultural diversity. Nevertheless, critics claim that globalization in terms of diversity ranging from food and lifestyles is neglecting smaller cultures and forcing them to assimilate in to a much more western culture. For example McDonald’s in the US provides customized menu around the world (the Maharaja Mac in India and the McLobster in Canada).
As the society is becoming more globally connected, intercultural business communication is gaining increasing prominence in the business world. For those who work in international business, initially it is very hard to adapt because of different cultures. The success of big multinationals lies in understanding and learning about other people and their culture.
The culture of a society is like an iceberg, where there are some visible aspects above the water but also there is a larger part of it hidden beneath the water surface. So, he suggests that the only way to learn the internal culture of others is to actively participate in their culture (Hall, 1976).
Moreover, to solve the problems engendered by people from different cultures living or working together, the theories of Hofstede (1980) can be used, whereby they explained the different culture dimensions or disparities between nations and individuals. I am now somehow convinced that I will be able to better work with people from other cultures in my future work assignments by applying these theoretical knowledge.
I also believe that one should also develop cognitive flexibility where he or she can switch between thinking about two different concepts and to avoid ethnocentrism. Few years back, I lacked this cognitive flexibility where I used to evaluate others’ culture based on my own. But now, I have become more culturally aware.
Values are social principles in a culture which help to distinguish between what is right or wrong, normal and abnormal. Cultural values are very individual and they come from family, formal schooling, peer groups, religious institutes and folklore of culture.
Values are the foundation of an individual’s life and they determine the sense of direction in life. My top 5 values are honesty, discipline, hardwork, responsibility and kindness. As such, I prefer to be honest and hardworking at work and maintain professional values with my clients and colleagues. I choose to be friends with kind and disciplined people. I usually spend my spare time in volunteer works for NGO or do some exercises. However, I know some people who have got negative values such as jealousy and selfishness, which eventually lead to destructive impact in their life.
People share different values and attitudes. With the advent of globalization, we will be more likely to work with people from different nationalities. It is fundamental to recognize that different cultures have different attitudes towards women, work and ethics. For example, in my home country, a recent development that was made to gender parity was that the proportion of seats held by women in our parliament increased and the gender pay gap is being bridged. However, in countries like Pakistan and in some African countries, women are still considered as subordinates to men.
Different cultures also have different perceptions towards work. For example, I heard that in the Japanese culture, they are very good at teamwork and are very supportive to their colleagues so much so that teamwork even extends after the working hours. Employees work for longer hours, in an open area (obeya seido) and they normally hang out after work which eventually leads to very strong relationship at the workplace. There is continuous opportunity for learning and a leader is assigned for each team who outline the daily work in a morning meeting called chorei. I also became aware that Americans highly value individualism and self-reliance while Chinese culture demonstrate collectivist attitude only when Guan Xi has been established.
Culture plays a big role in the attitude of an employee and in turn different work attitudes lead to different work behavior (as in the above examples). Hence, it is important for leaders to become aware of their colleagues’ past working environment and of the possible cultural differences to prevent any miscommunication. We need to understand their cultural orientations and values and in some cases, we need to adjust our own behaviors, build trust and commitment across cultures.
Culture shock is one which I experienced as I moved to Perth. It relates to the problems of adjusting to an unfamiliar culture (Oberg, 1960). I experienced culture shock when I became aware of the food, the prevailing climate, the ‘Aussie slangs’ and the language accents in Australia. Attending university in a culture completely different from mine was even more difficult as I assumed that it operates as in my home country. Initially, all these contributed to some physical and psychological effects. Overseas students tend to experience more social hardship than host students (Furnham and Bochner, 1982).
Oberg’s (1954) identified the four stages that people undergo when adjusting to a new cultural environment. Before migrating, I was very excited to expand my academic knowledge and to discover Perth. I then experienced culture shock when I became aware of the different world over here. However, I am now becoming acculturated to this new environment. Instead of spending most of the time with students from my own culture, I am now interacting with more international students. I am somehow integrating into this new culture but I have also retained my cultural identity. I believe a healthy balance is fine. This will be a rewarding experience for me as this journey will enhance my personal experience, make me acquainted with new cultures and new people.
International business relations have caused cultural shock for most employees from prolonged stay in foreign countries. Culture shock also occur when they return back to their original culture as well and this readjustment phase is termed as ‘’reverse culture’’. Hence, employers carefully select and prepare employees for foreign assignments. As per Ch. Bullock and Sh. Oswald (2002), the four criteria that must be accounted for when selecting expatriates destined for foreign projects are: technical expertise, desire to work abroad, human relational skills and spouse and family adaptability. For the expatriation process to be successfully, an expatriate should have cross-cultural communication skills and possess flexibility, adaptability and maintain a high degree of tolerance. My previous foreign assignment was not that successful but I am now aware of the additional skills that I need to develop as international mobility makes a positive difference in one’s career.
Language is so closely related to culture. While it can binds different communities into one, it can also create barriers between different culture groups.
Edward Hall in his studies namely The Silent Language (1959) and Understanding Cultural Differences (1990) introduced how diverse cultures of the world can impact on the verbal and non-verbal communication of people and thus he distinguished societies according to a scale of low- and high-context.
High-context culture is described as one that depends mostly on non-verbal, indirect, implicit, coded and circular communication. They are viewed as collectivists and they have close connections for a long period. Countries like Japan and China are considered among the highest context cultures. On the other hand, low-context cultures are more open where communication is made direct, explicit and precise such as the Australian and German culture.
Reflecting on the above, I used to communicate in indirect ways to express myself, for example to intentionally beat around the bush, making use of irony and weird facial gestures to express my level of discomfort. These were easily inferred within my social circle. I soon realized that my communication with people would require much changes as what prevails in my home country may not be suitable here. Hence, it is important for me to understand as to how the Australian culture interpret language and then try to work accordingly to adapt and communicate effectively.
My biggest challenge in Australia is the language barrier. I was challenged with communication barriers. Having English as my second language, the different accents and my colloquial language can confirm my Mauritian identity. Also, being a second language learner have put me at a disadvantage as I was exposed to rote learning methods at school while the first language learners were exposed to inherent and informal methods of learning English at an earlier stage. As a result, if I don’t understand something at the first time, I ask for clarification as many times.
However, as John Powell quoted, ‘‘Communication works for those who work at it.’’ Ongoing efforts are being made from my end to expose myself to the local culture. Finally, knowing some of the ‘‘Aussie slangs’’ might make a difference in both my personal and professional life. It will allow me to connect with the local people, to learn from others and to secure more professional opportunities.
The world is becoming more globally connected through the evolution of multinationals and increasing number of migrants. As a result, the issue of working across culture becomes very important to acknowledge. This unit has enhanced my knowledge on intercultural learning and has changed some of my wrong perceptions that I had on culture.
There is something beautiful about stepping outside your cultural comfort zone. Being in Perth and among international students, I have undergo cross –cultural experiences and these experiences have broaden my perceptions on culture and made me aware of my own ethnocentrism. This unit has enhanced my knowledge on intercultural learning and it will also help me in my future workplace to become an effective and culturally competent leader.
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