The time I spent abroad taught me to recognize and adopt intercultural differences. I took a lot from the countries where I lived.
In Prague, I experienced how a political system can influence people. I will never forget our neighbour, who had up to then been silent, almost dismissive, greeted us with an accent-free ‘Guten Tag’ on the day of the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and from that day on supplied us with fresh fruit from his garden.
New Delhi gave me my first opportunity to see the world from a non-Eurocentric perspective. I realized how small and insignificant Europe was in relation to the rest of the world but that it was my cultural home.
In Brussels, I entered the French-speaking world for the first time. I developed solid language skills which paved the way for new perspectives in my professional life.
In Helsinki, I experienced a massive culture shock which subsequently had a positive effect on my future. It was there that I started to explore intercultural issues, a foundation for my current profession.
My most recent stays in China (Shanghai, Hangzhou, Beijing) made me aware of how it is to be surrounded by a culture which I can neither read nor write. Communication does not require speech and it is fascinating to realize how well our perceptive and non-verbal communication skills can work.
In South Africa I experienced myself as a white person – an experience I had never had before. I learned a lot about the impact of apartheid, which strengthened my conviction that my work of mediating between cultures is essential to increase mutual understanding.
My visits to Oman and the United Arab Emirates gave me an important intercultural insight. I experienced the meaning of waiting. My own tolerance of ambiguity was put to the test when plans were constantly turned upside down and great flexibility was required. I learned a lot and became aware of the fact that intercultural competence is a lifelong journey.
I experienced Japan as a very specific culture. I was deeply impressed by the high degree of politeness and kindness when I interacted with people. I became aware how many non-verbal signals I am not even able to perceive when communicating with Japanese people. An important insight that I definitely want to share in my training courses.
Vietnam is my new focus and clearly shows me how differently people think in Europe and Asia and that cultural synergy is the only option of building bridges.