Cross Cultural Experience

Back in 2010 when I was still a student at Singapore Polytechnic, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to serve my internship at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). I must emphasize, that the 6 months spent was one of the most memorable life experience I have had. Personally it opened my eyes to what I’ll call the ‘real’ working environment, as the previous jobs I held were mainly serving as an assistant in retail (part-time). I termed it ‘real’ working experience because the internship also offers me the chance to work in Hong Kong.At the age of 18, the opportunities given were more than I could ask for and certainly the experience and lessons learnt had an impact on me until today. The internship provided me the opportunity to work under two different supervisors. I can remember them vividly as they are both different in terms of their leadership and yes, culture-wise as well. The first supervisor was Mr Christopher Kim, head of Middle Office for Asia Pacific region. Mr Christopher comes from Korea, and in my opinion is someone who speaks his mind and puts his ideas across well.To put it bluntly, he expects subordinates to comply with his instructions unless there is a better alternate solution. He sets high expectations, even on work placement students like myself. One of the cultural etiquette that I noticed about Mr Christopher is that he was always punctual. In fact, never once have I seen him report late for work. I came to understand from colleagues that he would be in office earlier by an hour every work day. One of the first few ground rules set for me as an intern is to be punctual, unless for valid reasons of course.As a head of department, Mr Christopher certainly proved himself to be a good role model for others to look up to. In my opinion, he had on him the ‘strict and stern’ appearance, which inevitably makes me feel afraid to talk to him. A month into the internship, I got a surprise when I received an email from him complimenting me for job well done on one of the task he had assigned. This humble demonstration of appreciation led me to see the good side of Asian culture – treating people with sincerity.Looking back, culturally Mr Christopher like most East Asian nations practices hierarchy within an organisation where someone in a higher rank or post usually commands greater authority amongst his lower peers. Respect is something that is valued highly and this can be seen evidently in Mr Christopher. As a leader of the department, he would organise group meeting fortnightly to check on the status of each individual in a bid to ensure everyone keeps up with the pace and to feel integrated within the team. Work aside, he encourages team bonding through simple dinner and drinks every once in a while. months into the internship, I was transferred to a project team as additional manpower was needed meet deadlines. My new supervisor is an Australian by the name of Miss Su-Ling Rugless, who takes on the role of Senior Business Analyst in the bank. As a Singaporean brought up in a Chinese family, I was taught since young to respect elders and to obey instructions without questioning. Working under Miss Su-Ling helped me to comprehend the meaning of cultural differences, as she had a very different approach compared to Mr Christopher.The difference in approach probably stems from her cultural upbringing, which encourages free thought and self-involvement at work; to be more independent in learning. Miss Su-Ling with her consultative style of management gives me the impression of being approachable and easy to talk to. Unlike most Asians who adopt hierarchical structure, she brought about a direct style of communication which encourages an open debate of ideas. Anyone, no matter his/her position is encouraged to contribute during discussions and Miss Su-Ling is receptive to all of them.Her good man-management skills rubbed off the whole team and even as an intern I can see and feel the strong team spirit fostered. For instance, most members have no qualms working additional hours on some days if deadlines are needs to be met urgently. As opposed to Asians, she encourages ‘freedom of speech’ where challenging of ideas in meetings are not seen as disrespectful as long as it leads to getting the job done efficiently and effectively. More importantly, she does not see herself in any way superior to her subordinates.I got the biggest surprise 4 months into the internship when I was informed I have the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong for work. The time spent in Hong Kong enabled me to grow as an individual, since it was the first time I travelled alone. I used to think that Singaporeans are always indulged in work; they hardly have time for themselves. However, Hong Kong changed my perspective. Very much like Singapore, Hong Kong is a hustle and bustle city where everyone can hardly stop their pace for a moment. In the morning while going to the train station for work, I was amazed that the walking pace of the eople in Hong Kong is even faster than in Singapore. I had an experience once whereby on a rainy day, a woman carrying an umbrella on the opposite direction almost walked her umbrella ‘through’ my face because she was apparently shorter and only focus on the road ahead! Otherwise, culturally people have Confucianism roots where decisions made by management are seldom contested as they are seen as rude and disrespectful. 1. 2. NATIONAL SERVICE In a multi-cultural Singapore, National Service is a period of unique experience for all Singaporeans, as it bonds all of us together as one.I was enlisted to the Home Team Academy, Singapore Police Force. During this period of my life, I learnt to appreciate and respect the culture norms of the different races. NS not only opened my eyes to the different culture among races, it also taught me the culture of an order and regimental lifestyle, where teamwork is often highlighted as they key to solving problems. The 9 months of training taught me to adapt to changes and live together harmoniously. Often, people are not receptive to change and are usually bonded by friends of similar culture, and NS is there to help rectify the problem of social integration.Besides the Chinese, the Malay Muslims form the majority of the cohort in my training batch. Of course the minority – the Indians and Eurasians are part of it as well. Living together for about 9 months taught me quite a fair bit on Malay culture I would never have come to know if not for NS. For instance, the Malay Muslims have to pray 5 times a day, and that they have to go through a month of fasting before their new year. In adapting to one another, the rest would ensure there is quiet when they are conducting their prayers and the rest would also practice sensitivity during fasting month, such as not consuming food in their presence.I have also come to understand the Malay language, although I am not able to speak it fluently. 1. 3. JOB AT AIRPORT Currently, in order to gain some experience while studying, I applied to become a brand ambassador at the Duty-Free Shop in the airport selling tobacco and alcohol. This job provides me with the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. Each work day opens my eyes to different culture as customers from different backgrounds will walk into the shop and purchase duty free items. One of the most frequent visitors we have inSingapore is the Chinese (PRCs). My time in DFS enabled me to see that the Chinese has very big spending power and their purchase is often linked to ‘face’. They often snap up the exclusive items that are not available in their domestic market as having them signifies their wealth and status. This is an opinion agreed upon by the Chinese colleagues as well! 2. 0. CONCLUSION From the humble experiences I have in life, I feel it is essential to appreciate other culture of the different people we meet along the way.We should all respect and embrace the culture norms of each individual as this will not only enable us to grow as a person, but also allows us to understand that the way one behave or act could actually stem from an upbringing that are different from us. Amidst the online saga where people are posting rude/inflammatory remarks about other cultures, I feel that this is all a result of cultural misunderstanding. We should all take a step back and reflect upon ourselves, and seek first to understand the situation before pointing the finger at others. Only then can we achieve peace and live together harmoniously as one!

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