Although I have been outside of the country several times, I have only ever been exposed to a foreign business environment once before. I found it very difficult to adjust to the different business culture I was exposed to. In Israel, where I had visited for business purposes, I felt very unprepared walking into my office for the first time, even being familiar with the social culture outside of the office.
Visiting Germany for the first time, I am even unsure of the culture outside of the office, leading to new challenges and learning opportunities. In some ways, it seems German business norms and American business norms are not so different. Through some research I have found that there is a formality and high level of standards for what is expected and acceptable behavior in the German workplace.
In addition, something that may vary from American business to German business is dress. Depending on the industry, in America, it is usually acceptable to be in “business casual” dress throughout the workweek. It seems in Germany, it is expected that people should be wearing dark suits with white shirts. There is not an emphasis on individuality in dress, as the work should be the main focus of the workday. Flashy jewelry or decorative prints are not typical. It is even more common to see black and white than any other colors.
Luckily, most of the people in the company I will be working with speak and understand English. However, I am aware that in a social setting, outside of the office, many people that I encounter may not speak English, and we may have difficulty understanding each other. A personal area of improvement I would like to work on is understanding accents or broken English, which is something I have always struggled with when communicating with people who do not speak English as their first language. Being in an unfamiliar setting, it will be vital that I am able to communicate with Germans to remain safe and get any information I may need. This will be a practice in listening and focusing on a person when they talk, which is something I would like to continue to work on after my time abroad.
I have identified dietary restrictions and language barriers as primary potential challenges. I know that the German education system teaches German students English, but most Germans probably don’t use English very often and would have trouble communicating with Americans, like myself. This could pose a serious threat because I am a vegetarian, and German cuisine usually contains meat of some kind. I have been a vegetarian my whole life, so consumption of meat causes illness for me. I need to be able to communicate with food servers and properly identify dishes which I cannot eat.
This is something I can carry with me after my travels. Being able to clearly communicate what I need and want from another person is sometimes something that I struggle with. I am more likely to do something myself than to trust others to do it. This will give me practice in being able to articulate my thoughts both formal and informal settings, whether it be objective or subjective information to any audience.
One thing I hope to keep in mind through my visit in Augsburg is to maintain an open mind and not to get too bogged down in my expectations of business behavior and to remain flexible, since every company has their own culture that may not slightly different than what I have found through my research for the country as a whole. When people act differently than how I would expect, I would like to be able to pick up on that quickly and adjust my behavior accordingly.
Along the same lines, I would like to take this as an opportunity to manage expectations and focus on going with the flow. Traveling is a great way to get to know yourself, since you are in an environment where you are uncomfortable or unknowledgeable. I hope to disregard and leave behind any ignorance in America walking onto the plane ride to Augsburg. Having an open mindset will serve as good practice for any future consulting experience. Since every business operates differently, it is important to walk into a consulting job without judgement and without bias, able to be fluid to changes, adjustments, new information, and unexpected scenarios.