We live and work in a world that is more globalized than ever before, which is why being multilingual and open to absorbing cultural idiosyncrasies and adapting to cultural differences are keys to success for professionals in a wide range of industries.
Professionals have to be able to differentiate themselves and become strong, versatile talent that organizations seek to successfully provide a competitive advantage. Especially in these times of crisis and change, you need to be ready to handle any crisis, adapt to rapid change, and shape the course of your career into an upward trajectory.
The ability to speak different languages has made it easier for me to circumnavigate cultural nuances for as long as I can remember. Having encountered overt racism on various occasions has provided valuable life lessons that have been useful when I’ve been challenged with harsh conditions, going as far back as my adolescent years. The concept of lifelong learning has augmented my global perspective and motivates me to keep an agile mind-set and to aspire to continuous development.
CHILDHOOD OF CHANGE
One of the most vivid memories from my childhood is the day I got on a plane and left the Philippines, my country of birth, for good. Describing my reaction to my family’s move to Germany when I was 10 years old as a culture shock would be an understatement. My new environment was a stark contrast in cuisine, climate, geography, lifestyle, beliefs, clothing, schools, language, and culture—basically, everything was different!
As in most cases, total immersion was the best teacher because I was left with no choice but to learn the country’s language quickly and blend in. I arrived in the late summer, and I remember being able to speak German fluently by Christmas. In those four months, I had an additional two to three hours of German lessons every afternoon and took evening courses twice a week.
Fast-forward four years. My family made another relocation, this time from Germany to the United States. Sure, the language was different, but at that age, after having successfully integrated into German life, the American way and the English language were slightly easier for me to adapt to than the previous adjustment.
Fast-forward another four years. I went back to Germany and, this time, it was by choice. I decided to study at an international university in Heidelberg. My cultural horizon was augmented with every connection I made, not only learning in the classroom, but also living in and with different cultures. After nine years in Germany, I moved to Zurich, Switzerland, where I’ve lived for almost a decade.
I’ve been perceived as different wherever I’ve lived: a Filipino in Germany, a German in the U.S., an American in Germany, and now, a German in Switzerland. I’m proud to say that I have some characteristics of every culture that I’ve lived in. Be that as it may, the question of whether I ever fit in a certain culture has been a never-ending one. Immersing myself in different cultures also results in a source of conflict.
Experiencing overt and subtle racism at times, even today as an adult, reminds me that even though society has come far, we still aren’t where we should be in terms of acceptance and equality of opportunities. As negative as the emotions evoked from these experiences of bigotry have been, they’ve helped me to become resilient in facing adversity. The German idiom “Nur die Harten kommen in den Garten” equates to the English expression, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” which has become my mentality.
In my current position at IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), I’m obliged to propagate the value and benefits of continuing professional education, which means it should be a given for me to practice what I preach. Adapting to the dynamic work environment, you need to self-reflect and evaluate whether your skills meet the needs of the future of work. It remains crucial to upskill to stay relevant and to continue to bring a competitive advantage to your organization.
I’m currently in the final stage of my studies at the University of Liverpool; I’m expecting to graduate with a Master of Science degree this summer. Although the last couple of months have been an unprecedented challenge with everything that’s going on, I’m fortunate that this learning experience has afforded me an advantage for my current and future responsibilities and a boost for my career development.
MY REMAINING 30%
Being a full-time employee and a full-time student simultaneously is ambitious, especially in this world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity amidst a global pandemic. Facing this challenge head-on started with being pragmatic. A week consists of 168 hours, of which approximately 70% is already allocated toward work, sleep, and studies. Depending on the week, less time may be allocated to sleep.
Managing internal and external deadlines at IMA (including business travel pre-pandemic) plus meeting all deadlines in an asynchronous learning environment have been demanding, to say the least, which makes me appreciate the rare hours of leisure so much more. The remaining 30% of the week is allocated to being “Super Dad” (at least in my children’s eyes), balancing family time, maintaining the household, and staying physically and mentally active. Luckily, these activities aren’t mutually exclusive and are relatively easy to combine.
I often get asked what I plan to do with the extra time I have after completing my studies. I’ll probably read some of the books I’ve been delaying. After that, I’d like to learn another language and get to a conversational level. At the moment, I’m on the fence between studying French and Mandarin.
One of my early mentors in my career once told me, “It’s only a mistake if it happens twice.” It’s been more than 15 years since I first heard that sentence, and I make sure to pass it on. I wasn’t taught that motto in any course or program—it’s a life lesson. You need to make the best of every opportunity and learn from every obstacle and each step that you make toward success. Remember that every step back isn’t a setback, but rather a chance to improve your skills and knowledge and realign your perspective.
There will always be challenges along the way, and it’s important to view them as a learning opportunity to keep your positivity and growth mind-set. The key to learning is knowing how to effectively use your skills and apply your knowledge. Once you complete a course, pass an exam, earn a credential, attain a degree, or learn a new language, ask yourself how you’re going to make a difference.