As someone who has never worked with people outside of the United States. This project was a complete cultural shock in more ways than one.
In my group, we have one person from Colombia and one Person from Brazil. It has been truly fascinating learning how they grow up. How they lived their childhood. Likewise, it has been cool to see pictures from their childhood homes, pets and such. It’s just truly eye-opening to see how people live differently than how we Americans live. However, in the same light it is a great way to see how similar we have lived our lives and how we share the same common experience ie school activities, and hobbies ie (watching netflix) with people from a completely different continent.
However, there have been some challenges communicating with my group so far.
First of all one of the biggest challenges has been what platform we communicate on. I have only heard of Whatsapp before the internship. It was definitely an adjustment from my usual way of communicating. I was very used to using Text for quick short communication, and email for more formal communication. So it is/was an adjustment for using Whatsapp for everything. I usually ignore some group text on text and normally look on email for important information , but since WhatsApp is used for everything I have to frequently check it which is something I am not used to doing.
Another factor I did not consider was the difference in technology. When you live in an area for a long time you get used to what is comfortable there. I am used to iPhones being the number one phone of choice and most common technology. People in America actually get made fun of if they don’t have iPhone. So it is definitely a challenge to change your automatic assumptions. I needed to realize that some people in South America may not be able afford iPhones or prefer other phones. They almost exclusively use android devices. So I need to change my mindset of thinking that everyone has an iPhone. Likewise, I thought of course if we create an app it should before the iPhone instead of Android. No, I learned that is not what we should be doing.
Also when we create are plan we need to consider the resources and customs that the people in Brazil have. Many people including myself presume our way of life is the best and that everyone should or does follow that way. This is not the case. Therefore we need to ask questions like. What form of communication do they use? They might not have the experience with these apps or ways of communication that we American use like I email and such. Do they have the resources to spend money on this function? Do the clients have internet access? Are they good with using the internet? These are all things we must consider when we work with an international Company who have international clients. The thing I learned is that when you’re a consultant of an international company not only you need to be an expert in the industry. You need to be an expert in the culture of the country you are working in.
One other thing that is important and can be a challenge that I have not really run into, but anticipates possibly occurring is the different styles that people do work. In the USA there is a unique difference in how the “North”, and the “South” do work. In the North, the stereotype is there is more ruthless and more fast-paced and quick. Were the south is slower and more thoughtful. This is something one needs to be aware of when dealing with people outside of their region. Someone who’s not used to a fast paced environment might think that someone who is going fast paced thinks they are trying to pull something over them or trying to scam them. Likewise, someone who is used to the more northern might get frustrated with someone from the south who is slower. The northern person might think they are purposely trying to run up the clock or wasting time. It is important to understand that the person you are working with probably does not work in the same environment that you do and that is okay and you should not judge that person based on your own work environment preference.
However the biggest issue I have had so far. Is learning how to work with someone from a low-context environment. As someone who is from a low-context environment which is America. I am used to having direct and clear communication for my work. Where there is very little reading between the lines.
I am very much used to having things direct and clear to the point. I do not like having much small talk with my teacher or group members when given the assignment. Once I get the assignment I like to start it right after.
This is not how many other counties work. In fact, the USA is one of our most low-context country in the world. So any difference for me is definitely an Adjustment.
I was ready for the client to tell us exactly what she wanted, and we would ask questions and then start on the project. This was not how it went for me. There was less direct communication. I was never told exactly what she wanted me to do, and our group had to read between the lines to figure out what she wanted. For me, it is a culture shock to have to put a lot of work on my side to figure out what she wants. There are also a lot of nuances and body language that I do not have a lot of experience with that I need/ need to start noticing when I work with the client. Also, since face to face conversations have been limited due to the Pandemic. You can only see a person on the screen and only see their face not other parts of their body. Also when you are on zoom it is hard to see other people who are not talking. However, you can see everyone easily when you are in person. Therefore, when you are working in Low Context environment online the lack of view of people to read nonverbal communication is definitely an added challenge
I guess the last and probably the most explicit issue with working with people from a different continent is that they are on a whole different schedule than us. I was very ignorant when we first started the internship. I thought of course the other students must be done their classes, and we would find ample time to do our project with them(understanding that people have work schedules so we’re not “free all of the time”). It was a big shock to learn that they are doing this project while being in the middle of their semester. Therefore it took some work on our parts to find a time when all of us were free to work on the project. This is just another thing we had to consider when working with people from a different country.
Here are some new perspectives that these two weeks have given me about international business.
One and probably the biggest one is that you need to understand the society you are working with and for. You need to understand their schedule. What season are they in? What is happening in their county? An election? Tax season? These are answers that one needs to know when working in an international environment. Second, you need to understand the county and the people you’re working with from a low or high context society. You need to understand how they communicate and therefore when you are interacting with them you need to listen to them under those lenses. Thirdly, do you need to understand the resources that the country you are working with have? To better customize your plan to their abilities. You need to understand that their ways of operating life are different from yours and they might have different priorities than you and therefore you need to consider those when crafting your deliverable.
Lastly like I said previously in the reflection so far the biggest thing I have learned so far through this internship is when working as an international consultant you not only need to be an expert in the industry but also an expert in the culture you are working with.