How living abroad has made me into who I am today

I’m a third culture kid, a global nomad, a citizen of the world. H/t to Buzzfeed.com memes.

This is me: I’m a Third Culture Individual

This is my life: What people didn’t tell me about growing up in multiple cities and countries

This is how I feel, most days: An on-going identity crisis and the feeling of being misunderstood

This is my coping mechanism: How I have grown, learnt to adapt and appreciate what I have

What can I say, I’m still on my journey – this is only my third continent, fourth country and fifth city…and I am not done. I am truly a strong advocate of people studying, working and living abroad. The experiences gained can only be described as life changing, each unique and only meaningful to one’s own takeaway. It is with this amalgamation of cultures and experiences that I look back on my life and realise that if I had stayed put, I may not have developed into the person I am today – for that, am truly grateful. When our eyes are opened, we gain something absolutely invaluable and inalienable: perspective.

It is with perspective, we learn to feel connected to the world around us better – to understand the responsibilities we have to each other. With such influence, we begin to believe in ourselves that we can make a difference.

So how can I take the invisible skills that served me so well for so long and connect them to where I now work?

In a world where international careers are becoming commonplace, it is important to understand how culture influences workplace dynamics. Some people find it easier than others. Whether by sheer luck or strategic career choices they land in a place where they can use the best of who they are as third culture kids in their places of work.  Others struggle. To be honest, it has not always been smooth-sailing for me but I have been learning to adapt. Somewhat of a scary thought – but I admittedly have developed multiple identities quite different to my birth culture, a hybrid almost – to easily adopt the culture of the country I am currently in. This has been my survival tip for the workplace, especially if you are in a company that lacks diversity, or find yourself a subject of a cliché or being stereotyped on just one or two dimensions.

Erin Meyer’s Cultural Profile assessment tool on Harvard Business Review

Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map and “Navigating the Cultural Minefield” has developed a new assessment tool for hbr.org (click on the link to take your own test). It identifies 8 dimensions that captures most of the differences within and among cultures, which offers insights about where people in countries other than your own, typically land on the scales. Alternatively, you can use this tool like I have to self-assess how your cultivated cultures compare to your home-grown colleagues around you.

The 8-scales representing the management behaviours where my cultural gaps are most common when  compared with the culture in the UK. 

1. COMMUNICATING
cultural profileSuggesting I prefer precise, simple and explicit communication. This ‘direct approach’ might be  something I picked up in the US, or that I’m married to a German (double whammy)


2. EVALUATING

I like to think that through learned self-awareness, I have managed to strike a balance between giving frank and diplomatic constructive feedback.  This is quite different to my birth culture.


3. PERSUADING

This is an eye opener for me – I now realise I apply more deductive reasoning than my British peers and now can understand why I sometimes feel frustrated when my points do not get across. It is not because people lack common sense, they just process information differently.


4. LEADING & 5. DECIDING

My Chinese roots draw strong tendencies to give a considerable amount of reverence for authority and social hierarchical structures – respecting the chain of command. It has been a strong influence in my upbringing to ‘respect authority’, be it my parents or the elderly. Filial piety is a virtue.

A strong respect for authoritative figures is an indirect consequence on the way I see decision makers – top-down. It is pure psychological that to be a person who has earned their ‘rank’, the burden of decision-making lies on one’s shoulders.


6. TRUSTING

Again ingrained in my Chinese roots, good ‘Guanxi’ has been a driving force to build trust in weaving personal, affective friendships: We laugh together, share time relaxing together, and have come to know each other at a deep, personal level – so I trust you. Maintaining a harmonious relationship can have priority over accomplishing tasks.


7. DISAGREEING

As I’ve live among Western societies, the more I have learned to drop the concept of ‘saving/giving face’ – a birth culture that has taught me to avoid confrontation to save from embarassment at all costs. I am now more comfortable in expressing my viewpoints as it is appreciated in these cultures.


8. SCHEDULING

I must admit, this is one aspect that is still  a ‘work in progress’ while I live in the UK. Time keeping is quite rigid among the British – and a few minutes of tardiness can be considered impolite and be seen as having bad manners.

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