I was born and raised in Russia, where my father was an owner of a consulting business. Growing up, I knew he wanted me to follow in his footsteps, but I’ve had a passion for marketing since I was young. In fact, my first job at age 19 was as a marketing manager for a college in Russia. My passion followed me through adulthood, and when I came to America at age 23, I hoped to find a job in the marketing field as well.
A lot of people might think that the language barrier is a big deal when coming to America. But there are more important barriers to overcome than just language. Here are my tips for professionals looking to work in business in America.
People in America smile a lot compared with people in other countries. For instance, in America, you may smile and say “hello” to a coworker you pass in the hallway or smile and nod in agreement during a meeting. But in other countries, that custom isn’t practiced. In Europe, people don’t pretend to know you or talk to you if they don’t genuinely care about you. It was weird for me to forcibly make myself smile to learn this custom. My face muscles hurt for a while, but as time goes on, it becomes more natural to you.
SPEAK THE LANGUAGE
Knowing a second language is always good for business professionals, but immersing yourself in the slang, idioms, and dialects of the area in which you’ll be working is most beneficial. You can tell a lot about someone by the way they speak and how they speak. The way I was taught English was rigid: my grammar was perfect, but my words were too “sterile.” So when I came to America, I started learning the local dialects—what I call “real English”—to be more authentic in day-to-day conversations with my coworkers and managers. And I’m still learning new words and expressions to this day.
Language doesn’t only take the form of spoken words either; make sure to do research on body language. For example, in Russia, an acceptable handshake may be longer than a few seconds, and it’s common to start a conversation while still in handshake posture. But in America, if you shake someone’s hand for more than a few seconds and start talking while holding hands, you might make him or her feel uncomfortable. And that isn’t the way to start off a new business relationship.
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS AT WORK
When you’re a new immigrant in America, it can be overwhelming to find a place to live, look for a job, and start a new life in an unfamiliar place. But once you get settled and start learning the customs, you can make friends and build meaningful relationships with your coworkers. You’ll become part of the culture before you know it.
Though I experienced a few cultural blunders after coming to America, I quickly learned how to be a business professional here. I hope my tips will help you, too!
How do you deal with cultural changes from place to place? Do you do research before visiting a new place?