Skip to main content

Gursahib Gill

SFU Student
Beedie School of Business
International Communications and Marketing Assistant

empty
a neon glowing building
Siobhan Ennis (Singapore)
One key factor of success is your ability to act as a sponge and soak up all the diversity and cultural richness around you... [by] demonstrating that you have the willingness to want to learn, adapt, and abide by local cultures and traditions.

Participating in an International Co-op can be great! You are exposed to different experiences, climates, people and cultures. However, this exposure can also come with its fair share of challenges. A common fear most people have when working abroad is the language and cultural differences. Fear not, as this article will provide you with steps to check your cultural bias, become more culturally sensitive, and help you fully immerse yourself into the culture of the host country.

To break down how to approach dealing with cultural differences in the workplace, it is imperative to develop a high degree of cultural competence. As outlined by the Human Services Guidecultural competence is a set of values and beliefs that we must develop to get the most out of our interactions with people of different cultures. Cultural competence is a component of four pillars: awareness, attitude, knowledge, and skills.

Awareness

Ultimately, it is normal to experience culture shock, especially if the host country’s culture varies vastly from yours. However, the most important lesson to note is to always be mindful and respectful of these differences. Therefore, the first step is to acknowledge that there are differences. Next, be mindful that certain behavioural norms can be misinterpreted in a new culture. This is also transferable in your work, as your interpretations of instructions can largely be influenced by your cultural familiarity. Therefore, check your expectations – what are you anticipating and is it realistic? – and reflect on how your cultural bias is reflected in your work. A tip would be to sit down with your supervisor to understand what expectations they have, to better understand where your cultural bias lies.

Attitude

After reflecting and becoming aware of your personal biases, examine your own attitude. In the context of cultural competence, an attitude refers to your ability to understand the difference between being aware of your cultural bias versus actively trying to change yourself and analyzing your internal belief system. While reflection is key in discovering bias, it is the changing of our actions that will allow us to progress. Therefore, to push the boundaries and become a culturally competent individual, one must be willing to change aspects of the way they think. 

Knowledge

Going by the saying -  “Talk the talk and walk the talk”, it is not enough to solely speak about changing your attitude and perspectives to become more culturally sensitive, you need to show it too. It is often said that people “say one thing, but do another.” This is highly applicable in the realm of equality and cultural sensitivity. We often underestimate the degree to which our actions misalign with our beliefs. It is important to note that if you are going to a different country, with a different mindset and way of life, you cannot project your norms and views onto them. To develop a high degree of cultural competence you need to understand where the paths of belief and execution diverge and take steps to connect them again; staying consistent with what you believe and what you say/do.

Skills

The skills part of developing a high degree of cultural competence is perhaps the most difficult. It entails practicing what we have been preaching until it becomes our new norm. This can be executed by actively trying to learn the local language, or trying team-building exercises to get a better understanding of where your colleagues are coming from. Actively trying to embrace the cultural differences without placing weight upon them is what causes the development of cultural competence.

Therefore, the trick lies in developing a high degree of cultural competence. Overall, working abroad can be intimidating, especially if you have not been exposed to the cultural norms and ways of life of your host country before. One key factor of success is your ability to act as a sponge and soak up all the diversity and cultural richness around you. By becoming a culturally competent individual, you are demonstrating that you have the willingness to want to learn, adapt, and abide by local cultures and traditions.

Beyond the Blog

About the Author

Gursahib Gill

SFU Student
Beedie School of Business
International Communications and Marketing Assistant
Photo of the author giving a presentation
Creating Value: The Adventures of an IT Co-op Student

As someone who didn’t have a lot of direct experience in a technological setting, providing value to the organization had to come from something much bigger than my direct skill set.

A photo of the author
The 201st Application

It’s been two months and 20 days since my first day of my Co-op term at Westcoast Family Centres, but I still find myself waking up every other day in utter disbelief that things worked out!

You Might Like These... During the Work Term, Professional Development, Workplace Success, Workplace Transition, Communication

Co-op coordinator wth student during site visit
Make the Most of Your Co-op Site Visits

Your Co-op Coordinator, supervisor, and you in the same room -- time for a site visit! Co-op site visits are a time for reflection on your work term including what could be improved and what has been great so far.

person with their head in a book
Responsibility and Success

One of the most memorable parts of my time in co-op was the collection of accidents, errors, mistakes, and mix-ups that happened in the course of working in the laboratory.

 

Faline with some of her students
Faline Lee at Teach and Learn in Korea

"One of the many reasons why I chose TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea) is to determine whether or not being an ESL teacher is suitable for me. This program gives students in rural areas of Korea the opportunity to interact with the foreign teachers TaLK places in their schools." Read Faline's story to learn more about the TaLK program.

You Might Like These... Co-op Reflections

Ellen Lu at work
5 Important Lessons I Learned From My First Co-op

Nervous about your first co-op job? Don’t be! These five tips will help prepare you for success and boost your confidence levels in no time. Keep calm & read on!

person with their head in a book
Responsibility and Success

One of the most memorable parts of my time in co-op was the collection of accidents, errors, mistakes, and mix-ups that happened in the course of working in the laboratory.

 

SFU Big Fair event
I Hated Networking, Until...

For Pauline, an invitation to a networking event automatically elicits feelings of anxiety, triggers the sweat glands and generates one glaring thought, “no freakin’ way.” Read as she navigates her way through her networking anxieties.