All of us have experienced the first day at a new job: making awkward introductions, trying to remember all of those new names, and often feeling somewhat like a fish out of water. Now imagine that exact scenario, and add a language barrier, a completely different culture, and possible jet-lag from having recently arrived in a new country…..
Your first few days at a new job and new hospital in another part of the world is most definitely an interesting experience! I remember my first days, and weeks, as being somewhat surreal, and I’d like to share a few tips to help you adjust.
Top 5 Tips for Adapting to a Foreign Workplace
1. When in Rome….
Immersing yourself in the culture goes beyond the new language, food, and friends; culture is also an intrinsic part of the workplace. Preparing yourself by doing research on your country, and by specifically speaking to others and can alert you to key differences you should be aware of and can make your transition a lot easier. For example, certain cultures may be more flexible in terms of work hours and shift requests than others. A lot of these finer nuances may not be found in guidebooks and articles but can be shared by other foreigners with hands-on experience.
Your transition becomes easier with time, if you are observant and flexible in your approach. Whilst cultural exchange is always a good thing, and it may be a very enriching experiences for all parties if you share a bit about the work culture you are used to, I don’t recommend only doing things your way with little regard for cultural norms. This won’t make a good impression on your colleagues and could really strain your entire experience.
Always ask your colleagues for advice, be observant, and do your research! Being able to move across cultures with ease is a skill worth learning, and it will be of great benefit to you even in your own country in the long run.
2. Research the basics for proper introductions
If there is a significant language barrier, it always makes a good impression to be able to introduce yourself, or at least greet people, in their native language. Practice this well, as it won’t come naturally when you are flustered. Also research whether there are any traditions you should be aware of. In some countries it is customary to bring a small gift for your superiors. Don’t be surprised by questions that seem personal, as this may be completely normal in another country. I found it weird when colleagues from China were delving straight into my age and relationship status right after the first greetings, but soon found out that this was commonplace, and became comfortable with it.
3. Business casual may not be what you are used to
This is a particularly important point for women. Of course, both men and women should be sure to ask their new employers about the dress code, but dress standards for men are more universal. Apart from differences in fashion and appropriate work wear, standards of modesty also differ between countries. If you based within the clinical setting, most likely you’ll be expected to wear a uniform. However as a manager, find out what would be considered as appropriate dress. In Saudi Arabia, I was surprised by the fact that the slightest hint of bear legs (wearing shorts) was inappropriate, whilst wearing Speedo’s was acceptable at the beaches. It is important to familiarise yourself with these subtle differences, to avoid potential embarrassment and uneasiness.
4. Understand the chain of cultural hierarchy
Hierarchy plays an important role in certain cultures, and this may be very apparent in the workplace. As an example, in certain countries it may be inappropriate for you to make a request for annual leave or anything else directly to a superior who is a couple of levels above you. In such cases you may have to speak to your immediate line manager who sends your request up the chain of command. Therefore, casually making a request at the water fountain may be a faux pas. Don’t be afraid to ask your immediate line manager and other foreigners how hierarchy fits into the workplace.
5. Make friends quickly
If you have the opportunity, link in with existing colleagues from your home country who have already made the move ad experienced the transition. If you struggling to find anyone, ask your future employer if they can make some introductions. Most employers will be pleased about your initiatives and aware that if you have a good experience, your most likely to stay.
Many employers have set up Group Chats through Facebook, Whatsapp and other mediums, these can be great networks to learn and make friends before you travel. It is also a good idea to make arrangements to meet your new contacts on the same day as your arrival. This will allow you to gain intelligence about the cultural differences in the workplace, the do’s and don’ts and who to stay away from.
Do you have any tips or suggestions? Leave a comment…