This year I am dedicating myself to the area of art as labor. It is an attempt to get insights on how labor is defined in the arts and what it means to choose a profession in the creative sector. This blog tries to balance between the right amount of theoretical approach and hands-on experiences and insights.
A reality a lot of cultural workers face, is the need for flexibility, in particular when it comes to work cross-culturally. A lot of contracts are short-term and project specific and you need to be willing to work in different cultural contexts. Other times you just want to get the valuable experience to live abroad and explore the exciting part of it. I lived in Spain, Germany, Denmark, Italy and moved a few months ago to Switzerland, so I can tell from my own experience that moving to another country is exciting and stressful at the same time.
The topic of being a cross-cultural worker in the creative field is divided into a series of articles and starts with this summary of skills on how to succeed living in another country. Read next week interviews from voices who are working in the creative field and are well experienced with working cross-culturally. They will talk honestly about their specific experiences, which rituals they develop, how the notion of home changed over time and what their most difficult lessons were.
Of course everyone handles cross-cultural experiences differently and I guess the most important thing is to remain authentic and to give yourself the permission for a learning curve. Find here my takeaways and 6 skills that will help you to make the best out of your time and eventually succeed in another country.
1. Coping with Stress
Cross cultural experiences cause stress because everything is still unknown, one might feel lonely due to the lack of an established community, the new country’s bureaucracy drives you crazy, often the former home seems so much more appealing compared to the new one, or the new work situation is not as imagined. Stress is a process and everyone copes differently. To handle the stress you want either to decrease the stressful situations or to increase your resources, things that help you, to cope better with stress or both.
- Stress is cumulative, so try to space out stressful events rather than clumping them together. For example, if you have to deal with a difficult co-worker, do not schedule the meeting right after you had to do some paperwork at the city department which might have involved long waiting hours and another appointment because you had the wrong papers with you.
- Take time for adequate rest and relaxation. Take time for exercise. Go for a run, do some stretching. Focus on yourself, your breath and give yourself the time needed to process everything.
- Develop a long-term view. Remember that everything takes much time. Learning a language and culture are long term projects never really completed. Relationships are important and take time. The hassles of daily living in many cultures take time. Paper work is necessary and takes time.
- If you must set time frames and goals, be sure to set sub-times and sub-goals as tiny steps to get to the larger ones. Estimate how long it will take you to reach the goal and which steps you need to do, make as many small steps as possible to get a feeling for how long this goal might really take in achieving.
2. Understanding Cross-Cultural Communication
Living in another country is often connected to learning or perfectioning a foreign language. One has to keep in mind that languages are not just situated in a frame of grammar and vocabulary, but come along with cultural awareness about how to address someone, gestures and the appropriate way to address certain topics. Communication is of course a very individual matter and it is always preferable to sound natural and authentic than to sound forced out of the fear to make mistakes. You should never integrate to the extend that you behave like stereotype of the cultures and force yourself to to a certain communication style.
- The business environment is a particular sensitive area, as language is an indicator for professionalism. One should be aware of the general business etiquette and protocol of the country. It can be particularly important to be aware about the differences in addressing critique without sounding inappropriate or even offending. Another important area is the knowledge about negotiation styles and decision-making as this can be a key to any future success.
- There are differences in communication styles: how much gesture expression, comfortable physical space in personal communication, pace of communication, how to address someone etc.
- Sadly humor is notoriously culture-specific. Some things that are funny in one culture are an absolute no-go in another and it is really difficult to make jokes in a foreign language.
3. Bridging the Skills Gap
- When working in a new cultural environment one can feel in the beginning like an absolute idiot, as everything is new and one has to adopt to the new ways of doing things. Concentrate on the skills you bring with your unique background. What can you provide that others cannot? Make yourself known for that.
- Ask when you don’t know things. Let people know that you are new and that some things might not be familiar to you. You will be surprised how understanding people can be when they know about your situation.
- Be curious! All the new impressions and experiences can be overwhelming in the beginning and that can lead to a general shut down, but if you give yourself time and try to be curious instead of approaching everything from a perfectionist point of view you will have more fun and you will get eventually comfortable with the new situations.
- Don’t be judgmental when it comes to differences! Just because things are done differently they do not have to be necessarily bad and if they can be improved the communication has to be open and professional.
4. Building a network and relationship
- Knowledge about the correct manner of greeting and how to introduce oneself or others correctly can be the first step to meet new people.
- Punctuality or the knowledge when punctuality is not important (to others) might safe you from disappointment and miscommunication.
- Become active in a community related to your interests, join a sports club or try any form of membership that will facilitate the contact with others.
- Don't forget the friends and family back home. Schedule regular updates and find time to talk to them. You might not be able to stay in contact with everyone along your journey but it is important to keep in touch with those who matter the most.
5. Getting around in the country
- Orientation with bureaucracy: which paperwork has to be done? Social security, insurances, formal registration, opening a bank account etc.
- Keep a structure for your to-do list and important documents.
- Adapters for electronic equipment! Your electronic devices might become your best friends in the beginning.
- It might be helpful to explore the new city like a tourist and do a guided tour, a pub crawl, etc. Getting comfortable with knowledge and explore the city with the eyes of an expert helps for a better orientation.
- What do you need to do to make the experience a joyful one?
- Explore your future favorite places. I find it extremely comforting to explore nice cafés, bakeries and libraries. These places are some of the first things I explore in new cities as they help me to feel connected to a city.
- Find new things you can do that you were not able to do before: going to the beach, going hiking, visiting certain places etc.