Thursday, January 13, 2011

A unique challenge: how to position yourself as a Young Professional in a different cultural context?

When I left to Latin America, I did not really consider the challenges that I might face by working in another country. Instead, I focused on obtaining new knowledge and skills. Thus, I read books and materials on international lobby & advocacy and talked to experts. However, during the first weeks at my new employment, I found out that not only the content of the work would be challenging: colleagues were postponing deadlines; everyone was supposing to attend all social events after work -even if one was deadly sick - ; relations were more hierarchic.

Challenges as a Young Professional in a different cultural context
In this period the following question was popping up in my mind regularly: how can I as a person, who has been brought up with Latin American and other cultural influences, have problems with this new cultural context? Or even worse: how could I sometimes miss things I was used to in my previous work such as the many meetings I once disliked? At the same time, I was enjoying being surrounded by my colleagues, who are very spontaneous Latina’s and Latino´s. When I was working in the government in The Hague some people would not say good morning in the elevators and just stare at the floor like zombies. Currently, I am welcomed every day, and several times a day, in a friendly way by my colleagues. Also, they have a lot of knowledge on the practice of children´s rights and they can give their opinions beautifully. Nevertheless, I felt sometimes as if I was in a ´clash of cultures ´rollercoaster that was not going to stop any time soon.

Also, I experienced difficulties in positioning myself as a Young Professional by being in a different cultural context: is this young European girl not just going to be one of those volunteers who will show up a few times and then leave to backpack? I therefore had to demonstrate that I had good professional capacities and that I was willing to adapt to the Latin American work culture. It took me a lot of energy, but eventually I felt that I had positioned myself as a member of the team.

Sharing experiences and solutions
Together with colleague Young Professionals working all over the world we shared experiences with each other. When I spoke to other YP´s in the field, I found out we were experiencing similar difficulties in positioning themselves in a different cultural context. Most YP´s experienced that relations between colleagues are even more important, besides they are often based on gaining respect and power. Here some conclusions from YP´s around the world on how to position yourself as a Young Professional in another cultural context:

1. Start implementing from the beginning. Try to gain trust by accomplishing short term results in the beginning. Gradually go towards the role of facilitator, co-operant or advisor (depending on the context).
2. Give yourself the right title in order to prevent confusion with your Partner Organisation. In case you call yourself advisor, it might be misintrepretated and nothing might happen. If you call yourself 'volunteer', people might have different expectations from you. So give yourself the right title when you begin, in order to prevent misinterpretation and to gain respect.
3. Gain respect by accomplishing short term results or by listening or building close relations and trust with your colleagues.
4. Try to get (moral) support from the regional office from ICCO. This also creates status and respect in the Partner Organization. This has been helpful to various Young Professionals.

Be flexible
Luckily, I found out that things become easier when time goes by: just give yourself some time to adjust to it and don´t forget to enjoy all the good things to keep a good balance. However, I do still struggle with some issues: how to position yourself as Young Professional when sometimes you feel you are crossing certain boundaries? Should you completely adapt to the cultural context for you positioning or should you also sometimes set your boundaries as you are living in other circumstances than your colleagues, namely you are on your own? Should you communicate about your positioning and problems related to it in a direct way or rather in an indirect way as they are used to in the new context you are working in? Just to name a few!

To end, I believe when you are able to position yourself as a Junior Professional in a different cultural context you have proven to be very flexible as a person. By achieving this, you will be able to work in any complicated setting in the future. Most definitely something to be proud of.

Alice Kooij Martinez
Junior professional lobby&advocacy at DCI

No comments:

Post a Comment