My cultural exchange experience
For the last 5 years, I have been working on international exchange at AIESEC, which gave me the opportunity to visit more than 25 countries and live in 4 of them. All of it taught me a few lessons on how we can grow faster if we have an international experience or even work in an international environment. I always say “we were all born together back in Pangea time”. But that makes no job easier while interacting with different cultures. On the other hand, nothing can make you grow any faster than a cultural exchange experience.
1. Communication is not (only) about the language
“Oh, I am fine, I speak [insert here a second language]”! Well, for sure you are fine and ready for some daily tasks, but cultural exchange in the working environment comes with different challenges. You learn how to work with new body expressions and languages. For example, some countries value a lot using body language, whilst others will find that unnecessary. How do you adapt, decode and learn from all that? By living it every day and getting in touch with the culture.
2. Stereotypes may fool you
When I worked in Impact Hub Belgrade (Serbia), I was confused if people were really supposed to be that warm and friendly towards me, since the impression that I had from Eastern Europe was that they were very distant and cold. Well, we are talking about people and they differ from one another. What I discovered back then is that Serbia is not that much visited. For that reason, young people do value tourism in the country since they can meet new people and interact with new cultures. But, of course, there are distant and closed-minded people as much as in any country. At the end of working with other cultures, you will discover that we are all the same, with goods and bads. So are our countries.
3. You will have down times
The best part of your down times is how you get up. While in Serbia, for example, my down time was lifted by a group of other co-workers. They helped me overcome the Serbian winter. Also, the same happened in Argentina while I was missing home. The cultural exchange experience becomes even more relevant when you really exchange the goods and bads, and real friendships can rise from those moments.
4. You discover more about your home country
The first question that I received when I arrived from Brazil to Belgrade, in Serbia, and to Corrientes, in Argentina, was: “Why?”. While for me it was very clear, for them Brazil was a paradise. It was crazy for them that someone would ever leave it (even more back then with the Brazilian economic rise). This made me learn the good side of where I come from. I also learned the bad side, for example when I need a VISA or when I face my country’s stereotypes (“No, I don’t like soccer, I don’t dance samba and I don’t make caipirinhas”).
5. Growth comes at a faster pace
Overall, the best of working in a cultural exchange environment is how faster you grow. Various studies show it, and I could experience it myself. You feel more mature while living a cultural exchange experience and being able to grow from it. You take the best out of it until you forget about the borders between countries, and remember that we are all the same at the end. And that is the best discovery of all.