Enriching the Workplace with Cultural Exchange
There are many benefits of incorporating cultural exchange in the workplace. It not only helps to bring an international presence to your workforce, but also provides an opportunity to create an environment where employees can embrace learning about a new cultures and give back by sharing about their personal heritage, customs, and culture. Many host companies tend to see that employees involved with cultural exchange programs improve customer support skills–developing patience, refining communication, and providing excellent service. This Department of State designated program was designed to assist with diplomatic efforts.
Dealing with Culture Shock
Some international participants may experience culture shock at some point during their program. Culture shock is initial discomfort and disorientation when exposed to a new culture or lifestyle. Culture shock usually begins 1-4 weeks after the participant arrives and can last 1-4 weeks or longer. Common symptoms of culture shock may include: homesickness, feeling isolated and lonely, not wanting to speak English, not wanting to adjust to the new schedule, foods, lifestyles, dress, melancholy, lack of motivation and energy, depression, crying and sleeping excessively. Culture shock is temporary and will generally pass. The more involved the participant is in American life, the more quickly they will adapt and get through this stage.
As a host company, there are several strategies which can help your
program participants adjust to a new place and routine far from home:
- Involve them as much as possible in company activities and encourage attendance at social activities, clubs, etc.
- Suggest that they find a comforting reminder of home: a restaurant serving foods from home, books in their native language, etc.
- Be supportive and listen if they feels lonely or depressed.
- For those who seem more challenged with English skills, be patient, speak slowly, and confirm your conversation in writing.
- Match any participant having a difficult time to an American co-worker who is interested in helping the participant acclimate to the company and community culture.
If you find that your participant(s) still seem to be suffering under these symptoms after the initial period of adjustment, please don’t hesitate to contact your Alliance Abroad Group Account Manager or assigned Outreach Coordinator for further assistance.
Hosting Cultural Activities
AAG encourages all host companies to provide as many opportunities as possible for participants to interact with Americans on a social level and not just at work. For our part, Alliance Abroad Group sends email reminders of significant U.S. and international holidays to our host companies to remind them of special events around the world. As a host company, we ask you to promote cultural exchange in the workplace.
Here are some popular cultural exchange activities that many host companies choose to organize for their employees:
- Welcome Party: This gives participants a nice, warm welcome to their new home and introduces them to the rest of your staff.
- Bike Party: Not only is it a great way to get around, it provides an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the host city. AAG provides proper bike safety with orientation.
- American Cookout: Celebrate birthdays, Labor Day, or Fourth of July with a little back yard BBQ.
- Hiking, Camping or Park Outing: Explore the surrounding area with an outdoor adventure.
- Kickball Tournament: There’s nothing better than a little friendly competition among participants.
- Live Music or Concert: Give participants a taste of American culture and music through a concert, play or event.
- Movie Party: Host a movie-watching party or take participants to the cinema, U.S. style!
- Sporting Events: They’ll get a kick out of it and become fans of baseball, basketball and American football.
- Local Festival: Share the local cultural with a festival, farmer’s market, or parade.
- Bon Voyage Party: Send your participants off with a “going away” party near the end of their program. Celebrate accomplishments, relive the memories and cherish friendships made throughout their time in the U.S.
Sharing International Holidays
There are various holidays and events around the world that you can celebrate to promote cultural exchange in the workplace. You will not only get to learn about other cultures, but will make participants feel at home. Encourage your international participants, trainees and interns to share their customs and traditions with you and other fellow Americans. And be sure to take advantage of celebrating U.S. holidays too!