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Cultural Awareness Lessons Learnt Living Abroad


Students and graduates, pack your bags!

Studying or working abroad is not only an experience of a lifetime, the lessons you learn when you spend time in another country might benefit you later in life as well.

Fiona Timba explains why every UK citizen should exchange the British Isles for the European main land once in their lives.

In an article on the website of The Guardian, Fiona Timba talks about her experiences working abroad.

Getting to grips with a new culture can be difficult, she says: when she was longing for some good old UK cookies in the Netherlands, she only encountered Golliwogs and their cookies.

Well, they are not really called Golliwogs of course – they are actually called Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters as below) and are characters in a Dutch/Belgan holiday in December – but for Timba, they might as well have been aliens.  

When she was a trainee for the European Commission in Brussels, Timba got into contact with even more cultures as her co-workers came from all over the world.

This taught her a number of lessons, she says  – she for example found out that people with a UK background should not remain their polite selves when interacting with other Europeans. As people from other countries are usually a little louder, people form the UK will not be able to make themselves heard if they keep mum until a lull occurs in a meeting. Now, she is more comfortable with interrupting people that before she went abroad.

Another thing Timba learned when working abroad is the importance of coffee breaks. In Belgium, she says, people use coffee breaks for more than getting coffee or smoking cigarettes: many new ideas arise when people are away from their regular workplace. Apparently, she says, the informal setting of a coffee break is more inspiring than you would think. Even if you drink tea all day round like her (a true British woman!), joining your colleagues for a coffee break might pay off.

Working abroad also helped Timba lose what she calls her “island mentality” in which the British Isles and Europe are seen as two completely different entities. Her time in Belgium and the Netherlands made her realise what it is like to be a European citizen. Timba says this truly makes people “citizens of the world” as people who worked abroad take everything they learned back home and are more likely to find another job abroad.

These valuable lessons cannot only be learned if you work abroad; according to Timba, people who study in a foreign country acquire the same skills as people who move to another country for a job. Both students and graduates that have lived abroad can think big and know how to handle themselves in all sorts of surroundings. In addition, Timba says these kinds of people are not afraid to take a risk from time to time and are learning new things all the time. All of these assets will probably be highly valued by your future employee!

Timba also explains how she used the lessons she learned to help her get further in life: as she really missed her own British treats when she lived in Brussels, she started up her own business in British snacks when she came home. On her website, called Packed Munches, people from all over the world can order boxes filled with the UK’s finest foods. And who can she thank for this brilliant idea? Those strange, Dutch Golliwogs.

If you're not able to travel but still want to learn all about culture and gain valuable cultural insights, then why not enrol on our fantastically practical online Cultural Competence Training course.  Jam packed with great techniques and strategies for people working in multicultural teams, this course will ensure you navigate cultures with confidence and credibility. 

Photo by Inkredo Designer on Unsplash

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