One year ago, Williams accepted a job as the head of HR for a hospital in the Middle East. Coming from South Africa with his wife and two kids, this was a big move. However, they were excited about the opportunity to be a light in a region of the world where Jesus is less known.
Learning to work in another culture, however, presented new challenges.
Williams quickly realized that he brought with him a set of cultural expectations that may not seamlessly transfer to his new work environment. This is what he learned:
“Those first 10 months, I was just exhausted. It’s accents, different accents. You’re straining to understand what people are saying and (what) decisions are being made.”
Don’t be surprised if you’re no longer able to accomplish as much in those first few months as you would back in your home culture. Remember that everything is new and from the moment you step outside your door, you’re taking in new information. So, give yourself time to recharge and keep your expectations in check.
In South Africa, the first 90 days at a new job are high impact. A job title or position in a company automatically comes with a level of authority. So, Williams arrived at his new job with that same set of expectations. What would he implement and bring to the hospital in those first three months?
Instead, Williams discovered those early days would be more of a probationary period with no access to data or internal systems. Even the temporary red ID badge made it abundantly clear that this new hire was not yet permanent.
“(Here) we first want to trust you, then you get your authority,” he came to realize.
In the West, professional environments more often than not lean towards informal, relaxed workplaces. “I would go to work in jeans … (but) in this culture, jeans is completely casual,” he explains.
This lack of formality even influenced the greetings and introductions of work colleagues and superiors back home. So, it made Williams uncomfortable when he was suddenly greeted by his team as Mr. Williams. To call him by his first name just didn’t happen.
“In their minds, it’s disrespectful,” he says.
However, learning to adapt and sacrifice certain cultural preferences to integrate into the new workplace culture is important.
“When you move from one setting that you’re familiar with to another, it feels weird. It feels strange and it’s tiring sometimes,” Williams shares. Often, our tendency is to hold onto what is familiar – what we perceive as the ‘better way.’
“But the truth is that you’re coming into a culture (and) you’re not here to change everything about (it). There are a few things you can redeem, but sometimes a lot of what we try to redeem aren’t the major things,” he says.
Be flexible, humble, and prepared to adapt first. This will go a long way in earning influence.
“I think one of the biggest things here is prayer,” Williams says. “Sometimes those things sound so cliché, but be aware that spiritual things (are) happening all around you, all the time.”
Don’t allow yourself to get so caught up in the busyness of the daily grind that you forget why you chose to work in this region. “Stay focused,” he says.
Thanks to Williams' willingness to learn and embrace these four critical mindsets, today, he’s thriving in his role.
“I really feel like this is where the Lord wants me,” he says confidently. “And even though it didn’t necessarily look like I thought it would, in the end, God’s purpose is prevailing.”
Curious about what it could look like to take your job global? Connect with a coach on a 10-minute Discovery Call to learn more.
Read more of Williams and Jenny’s story as they unpack their journey to working and building a life in the Middle East:
Written by Kristin Boyd
Tagged as: Professional Development Working Abroad