The desire to travel, see the world, and experience new cultures is a very common dream and aspiration among people throughout the globe. Instead of feeling content with staying in one place, there is a yearning for more. I would know, because I am one of these people that have this extreme wanderlust. A dream I have had since I was young was to visit a foreign country and experience the different lifestyles of people unlike me. Once I found out I had the chance to visit Italy for a short trip during the summer, I knew I had to jump on it. Through the Fisher Global Immersion Program, I will be visiting Italy for 8 days in May. During these 8 days, our group will be visiting multiple large companies throughout Italy to learn about their inner workings. While my excitement is running rampant, I, of course, also have a healthy amount of nervousness. How do I adjust to the new culture? What are the differences in etiquette between Italian companies versus American ones? Will there be a language barrier? And overall, how do I develop a global mindset?
Before going to Italy, I have to answer the question of how to adjust to the new culture gracefully. Since our group will be representing Ohio State as we visit these companies, I knew I should have a better understanding of a global mindset. To gain more knowledge on the subject, I reached out to Beth Blue, the founder of UBWA and a 2003 alumni of OSU. Beth has an extensive and impressive career in business, and more specifically, finance. Beth began her career at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, where she spent 8 years in 5 different positions. Two of those years were spent in Minneapolis, where she explains that she was “first bitten by the relocation bug”. After leaving Procter & Gamble, Beth next worked for Cardinal Health in 6 different roles in 9 years. For 3 of those years, Beth worked as an expat in Zurich, Switzerland. She is now the Finance Director of Global Consumer Payments at Amazon as of 2021 and is currently living in Seattle, Washington.
The decision to work abroad is significant and is often met with apprehension. When I asked Beth if she had planned to become an expat or whether it was spontaneous, she answered that it was a mix of both. Being so spontaneous can be intimidating, but Beth explained that “...the most exciting opportunities in life are unexpected, so while I generally know what I want (goals, values, etc.) I don’t plan every step”.
Another aspect to consider is the culture shock of living and working in an entirely new place; it can be difficult to adjust. Beth explained that one way she was able to adjust was to live in an area that was made up of around 25% of other expats. This helped her surround herself with people who she could relate to. Beth added, “We also took a culture class, which was very helpful. A teacher came to our apartment and helped us understand Swiss culture (and those rules) and how it differs from American culture”. One of Beth’s last suggestions was to read books about how different cultures work professionally. One that she suggested was “The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures”.
Aside from the general differences in cultures between countries, there are also differences in company cultures. Although Beth was still working for an American company while she was in Switzerland, there were differences that she noted. She stated that, “one general difference between working in Europe and the US is that time was taken at the beginning of each meeting to formally greet one another, shake hands, kiss cheeks, and celebrate that we were together before getting to the formal agenda”. This is an example of being able to adjust from the “get-to-the-point” American way of business compared to the way many other countries first build relationships. In addition to the differences in professionalism, one also must adjust to working in such a diverse team. Beth suggested “We need to respect the individuality that each and every person brings to a team, as a diverse team simply delivers better results”.
My last question for Beth, and one of the most important, was what her main piece of advice for developing a global mindset was. The overarching theme that Beth encouraged was simply to embrace each experience and to learn from it. Beth stated “With every role you take, you will learn a new aspect of business, and with every team you are a part of, you will need to flex to a new organizational culture”. Beth recommends accommodating international colleagues, such as thinking about the time differences and remembering non-American holidays. Welcome diversity and new experiences.
Beth left me with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that I would like to share:
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”