Friday, August 6, 2010

When the West beckons --- Lessons from my Stockholm trip

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, "The World is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page." Well, if that's true, I have just finished reading a page called Stockholm from that big book called world. I travelled to Stockholm, Sweden for unlearning, learning and project-related work. Although, I was there only for a month, I came across some startling experiences that I thought of sharing.

a. Mind the Time: No surprises here -- 'Time is money' to put it in simple terms. And if I can dare to say, many people are yet to learn the art of respecting their and other's time. I realised that the West considers time as their greatest asset. They respect each other's time, work in time, deliver in time and time is set for everything they do. So our good ol' Indian Stretchable Time (IST) doesn't really fit in when you work in the West. No sir!!!

b. Get to know the rules: Consider a formal meeting with your manager regarding the dress code, the office timings, general work culture and so on. Let's get real --- he is your only hope, well sort of. Although Google has all the stuff that you'd ever need, like do's and don'ts of a particular country, however, nothing works better than asking your own boss. Once you know all the details, follow them religiously.

c. Be friendly, Be yourself: Get to know about the culture of the country to which you are travelling. When I say culture it's not just 'Etiquette Training', but everything from their food, drinks, fav things and so on. Believe me, it will help you a lot to make new friends and acquaintances. Be open, enjoy yourself. Enjoy the weather, the experience of being in a foreign land.

If you can, try out the local cuisine. I firmly believe that you can make more friends then you thought possible if you are able to embrace the food and drink culture of that particular country. Be open to new experiences. You'll realise how much people appreciate this small gesture of yours. Personally, I would be very impressed if a foreign colleague visiting India tries some typical Maharashtrian food like puran-poli or thalipeeth. All the time I was in Stockholm, I mostly had Swedish food. It's the greatest compliment you can give people from any region.

d. Get accepted: A human being's greatest need is to be accepted. However, to be accepted you first need to break down all the barriers that you have in your own mind. I'd like to add a caution: Whatever you read about the country and its people, remember to treat it as guidelines only. Not all people act in the same way. Do not judge people through a pre-conceived notion. You won't get far. If you are in a country whose primary language is not English, then I'd suggest that you learn a few words of the local language. Start with simple words like hello, good morning, thank you, sorry, and good bye. Watch the glow, the surprise of the local people when you speak their language. It's a part of being accepted. Respect boundaries of the people you work with. Avoid abusing or cursing the weather, the food of the country, or the people. To put it mildly, you are digging your own grave.

e. Show enthusiasm, be enthusiastic: Exuberate energy, stay positive. Remind yourself that you are here to work, and learn. Be flexible. People are willing to reach out to you, so you should be able to reach out to them as well. They are spending their precious time for you -- appreciate the fact. Although your management might have a packed schedule for you, things will work out but only if you believe.

Last but not the least: Learn to appreciate. Remember this is a foreign country; all the things that you have experienced in your life back in India are different. Consider all that you see, do, sense as a new experience. It's NOT going to be the same as your experience back home, and that's why it's called a "foreign" land!

Hope you enjoy your stay.