Before I started wearing my cross cultural hat, I worked mainly with Organizational Development. An interesting article on organizational change caught my eye with these standard steps for how to go about it:
- "Assess the current state to understand where the organization is starting from as it begins the change process. What are the organization's strengths? What are its barriers to change? Are employees ready and willing to embrace the change and adopt new behaviors?
- Paint a clear, compelling picture of the future state and explain why change is necessary. Employees are more motivated to change if leaders can give them hope and inspiration. Workers need to envision the change and understand how their efforts will contribute to achieving it.
- Create a plan of action to bridge the gap between the current and future state. This plan serves as a road map for the journey and identifies the specific steps required to achieve the desired change."
It reminded me of what are necessary steps for becoming a multicultural citizen.
Understanding where you are coming from is integral to understanding yourself as it is to the organization who needs to change. Are you normally a change-embracing or a change-resisting person? How do you really feel about learning new things? Did you move on your own initiative to fulfill an old dream - or were circumstances or somebody else making the decision for you?
What were your strengths in your old country? Do you feel they also are strengths in this new culture? Could it be that some of your weaknesses - the parts of you that you haven't taken much ownership to in the past - may actually serve you better in these different circumstances?
What does a successful multicultural person look like? We have normally no idea about what we should change into when we start this process. We only look at somebody who moves with ease and social graces and wish we could be like that person (even though the more graceful tend to be local and might be a complete disaster in our homeland.) Do you have people in your network who seem to have made such a transition successfully? Ask their advice, they may be more than willing to share what worked for them, what they found challenging, and how they overcame these challenges.
Thinking about what you want to gain from your expat experience, you may give yourself a road map towards moving in that direction. Your perspective may be different if you are planning to immigrate for good vs being on an assignment that already has a back end.
Which actions could be in your plan?
If you don't have people in your network who can serve in the role mentioned above, get some. You can probably find fellow countrymen who have been longer in the place you live. They will understand "where you are coming from" culturally. Or you may have colleagues who have lived abroad and faced the same challenges you are facing now. How do they define multicultural?
One action might be to explore your communication toolbox. Do you rely too heavily on communication forms that worked well for you in the old country but don't seem to do the job here? Are you too assertive or not assertive enough? Do you often feel that the people around you know what is going on and you don't? Could it be that your communication is mainly verbal but the surroundings rely strongly on nonverbal clues? Are you defining yourself and others strictly by your roles or are you free to form expectations outside of these roles? Are people around you defining you by your role?
You may analyze your time perspective. Are you punctual in a culture with less punctual norms? Or do you live where more punctuality than you grew up with is a norm? How does the difference sit with you? Is it a big relief that people are more structured/flexible about deadlines and meeting hours or does it grind on you? Is there any way you can be comfortable with either norm if you suspend judgment?
It is not easy to change. Perhaps you remember what it was like to become an adult? There was safety and predictability in being dependent on ones parents - suddenly one had to make decisions and be responsible and plan and nobody did the laundry or filled the fridge and so many things had to be learned the hard way. But there was also freedom and pride in own successes - and eventually we did grow up.
Multicultural is aiming high. Start with becoming bicultural. There is more than one way to be a decent person. Being different from you - even very different - needs not mean that one of you have to be wrong. But if different is the local norm, you will be less effectual than you could be if you insist on doing things your old way.