Challenging yet rewarding multiculturalism
Culture is everywhere and in everything we do, us acknowledging it or not. It can be defined in many ways. According to The Cambridge English Dictionary culture is ‘the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time’. This is more or less how I used to see it. After reading Networking Cultural Knowledge (WSOY 2007) by Kevin Gore I realized how much more there is to it. Culture can be studied by putting it into smaller pieces and categorized really specifically and theoretically. The book is really informative, I picked up few main points closest to my own experience.
The author brings up different points and explains reasons for certain actions. It made me understand better the Finnish culture. It came once again clear to me; I’m not a typical Finn. However, sometimes norms are deeply rooted in culture and I caught myself several times laughing and thinking ‘oh that’s so me’. The book tells how culture has to do with time and place and how big role language plays on it. In certain situations, I have noticed I change my way of communication depending where I am and with whom. People behave differently when talking in another language. Being fluent in three languages, I have noticed I pick up habits of the culture to my way of communicating. In Finnish I can explain myself most fluently and use more official language (however I’m losing it after studying in English). When speaking Spanish, I’m more chill and laid pack; really picking up the Latin culture. In English my behavior is mix of everything. According to the book when understanding culture, you can understand language. I see it the other way around, when you understand the language first you can understand the culture on a deeper level. When I don’t know the language I have noticed my ‘Finnishness starts to show’. I get more shy and quiet since I don’t know what to do or say, but only for a while until I catch up what is happening and how to interact.
Culture permeates all aspects of human life, business not being an exception. Businesses are getting more multicultural and immigration and migration are increasing. It is almost impossible to avoid interacting with people from different cultures, unless you are a Finn living in a forest. ‘Companies are organizations of people that we can consider as culture in miniature’, it is important to understand these various cultures. Culture is structured of three things: words, material and behavior, this can be reflected to communication and business as well. The book points out the importance of investing in people, in a multicultural company intercultural communication is becoming a less of a choice and more of a necessity. Wellbeing of the people prospers the business. In my current job we have few employees from different cultural backgrounds. The company is well organized and employees are well taken care of and there has not been conflicts with communication. When the atmosphere is like that it reflects to how we do our job; we want to give back to the business by putting the extra effort.
The book gives an example I can relate to, the difference in Finnish business schools among only Finnish students and international students. It is noticeable in the way they greet each other and communicate. It is so accurate and made me realize why I am studying in a multicultural class; I see it more beneficial and fulfilling. In the past school year or even in the past six months at Proakatemia I have been working with people from so many different cultural backgrounds. It has not always been easy but I believe I have learned valuable skills I otherwise would not have, for example my communication skills and conflict management skills have gotten better. It is true multicultural teams create different challenges and conflicts but when those obstacles are faced I believe multicultural teams can achieve remarkable things. Being part of multicultural team is not always easy but it is a lot fulfilling and a greater learning experience and I would not change it for anything.
How to really learn another culture is to surround yourself with the people from it and teach one another. I think the statement just mentioned is very true. I could read books about different cultures but to really understand it one must interact with people from those cultures, hear their stories and understand their behavior. One ‘tool’ I really learned during my time in Proakatemia was dialog. I could not have imagined a better way to learn from one another than our dialog sessions, not so much about the topics but our cultures and our different ways to express ourselves and communicate.
Gore gives a good example of working in a multicultural teams and how it can cause conflicts. I believe in Jumble we could have avoided some conflicts if we would have talked more openly about our different ways. If in the beginning, we would have went through everyone’s expectations and communicated more openly maybe the outcome would have been different. I have learned Finns do not always say everything out load, we just assume stuff, we’re independent and have high expectations. Others are used to different type of ways of communication. They might feel if nothing is said it means nothing is wrong. In the beginning in our dialog sessions we had some small conflicts with communication, people were used to communicating according to their own culture and not always understanding how others might see it. It was great to notice the big difference with our first and last dialog sessions. I truly believe we learned to communicate better and respect one another.
I never payed attention how big part time plays in culture, according to Gore the better the economy is the faster is the tempo and the more developed country the less free time there is per day. The hotter the place the slower it is. Individualistic cultures move faster than those that emphasize collectivism. Lived in a third world country I could not agree more. This is something to keep in mind when doing business with such countries. Things don not usually happen when said. This was something we noticed also in Jumble in such things as meeting deadlines or with what speed our projects were moving forward.
Culture is something within us that gives us a sense of identity and guides our thinking. It is important to understand the culture before making any conclusions. I don’t like stereotyping but it is a way to understand the majority. Also culture displays itself in material forms. In order to ‘use’ culture as an asset, we have to understand how identity, thinking and objects can differ around the world. After acknowledging the differences, we can start to understand how they can enrich and be applied to our experience of personal life and businesswise.
The goal of the book is to give ‘tools’ to make every encounter more personally enriching and mutually satisfying. When interacting with other cultures it is important to be open minded and to have knowledge of the habits and learn how to avoid conflicts and stereotyping. I think it is never easy no matter how much we study different cultures and behaviors. The book gives good lessons for personal literacy such as rediscover humanity, know your true self and don not fear criticism. Been grown up in Finland we learn to fear failure, that’s a reason why some see us shy in certain situations. It is not always change those cultural habits. Personally my life got easier when I realized failure is not a bad thing and we learn more from it. If we always stay in our comfort zone and do not step out it we cannot really achieve big things. Learning intercultural communication starts with oneself – nothing changes unless one is willing to work on himself.