Working and Learning from an Exotic Corner of Southeast Asia

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Have you ever wondered how it feels like to work in one of the most exotic region in Southeast Asia? Dio Anamia here will share with fellow Indonesia Mengglobal readers on how to navigate The Philippines, the less-explored region of Southeast Asia, and… shhh… the key success factor here is all about people and adaptability.

A humble lady with a million dreams and an everlasting desire to make a change to the world – I think that would summarize what my journey has been. My name is Dio, and I was born and raised in Malang, East Java. Growing up, I knew that I would travel the world to meet new people and learn new things to enrich my life experience. With plenty of work and luck, the moon and the stars were aligned to grant me what I had wished for. Upon graduation, I decided to apply for a job in a multinational company and long story short, that journey with the company brought me to where they decided to assign me to work outside Indonesia.

Presenting Inclusion Strategies to the Team Presenting Inclusion Strategies to the Team

I was happy yet nervous at the same time. I’ve travelled abroad before, but never for work. However, I was excited to see and explore what would the next chapter of my life will offer. Despite the amalgamation of hesitation and excitement, there is one crucial question that I have yet to answer at that point in time. “Where will I be working boss?”, a question that I posed as I recalled my supervisor where I will be placed.

“Manila, The Philippines”

 Philippines and the cultural lessons learned from living in a unique part of Southeast Asia.

I am currently assigned to work in the Philippines, a country in South-East Asia, and only 4-hours-flight from Jakarta. “Why did I have to make a fuss in my head? I travelled  to many countries, it will be an easy one. It’s not a big deal then!”, I said to myself back then, that I ended up regretting.

I admit that I was very nervous because I know I’ll be working with people from different cultures, which means that I will be the ‘minority’ and I need to understand their values, norms, and their communication style, which I was certain that I am not good at. I’ve always imagined the worst-case scenarios and I almost dropped this opportunity because I was worried if I’d be assigned to a country that I’m not familiar with.

Adhoc task - creating conversation space with university students about growth mindset and go out from comfort zone Adhoc task – creating conversation space with university students about growth mindset and go out from comfort zone

I was right… but I was wrong at the same time. The Philippines is very unique and it offers a certain experience with a specific nuance that might not have been experienced by Indonesians and aspiring Indonesian diasporas. So, here’s my 20 cents on living aboard/ planning to live abroad, especially for those who are considering to work and live in the Philippines:

Firstly, never assume familiarity in a new environment, even amongst ASEAN countries

We all know through textbooks or the internet that ASEAN countries have the same culture when it comes to the people’s kindness and togetherness. I thought that I won’t face major culture shock. I felt that I was, and I am far from being correct. Living here now, for almost 8 months already, makes me realize that surprises (bad or good) will be there for you every day. So, set an expectation with yourself that you need to prepare: reading from internet about the society in general, working-style, country’s law, how the people see some ‘controversial’ topics, etc. You can also ask your friends/study consoler/employer about the country destination and make sure to take notes. It doesn’t hurt to prepare in advance.

Secondly, understand your communication style and have the willingness to adapt

Do analyze your communication style. You can do some research on your home country’s general communication style and check whether you are also having that kind of style. For example, Indonesia is a country with high-context communication, which trusts and being collective are important, the people focus on interpersonal relationships. On the flipside, try to find out whether you are a direct or indirect communicator because it will affect how you’ll deliver your message to others.

I once had a Russian co-worker who couldn’t get along with other Filipino co-workers, just because his communication style is direct and low-context, while we all are indirect and high-context. The way he delivered the message is “direct and mean” because he didn’t try to build trust and friendship among us. Did it affect our work? Yes. All of us became uncomfortable because of the conflicts caused. After you understand your communication style, have a willingness to adapt to whatever the other people’s communication style is. Believe me, having the bigger heart to adapt will benefit you because at least, you are aware of the situation and you can prevent unnecessary conflict.

Next, understand that how people communicate is not only circled in language barrier, but also pace, style, and non-verbal cues

I remember a few experiences when I felt so frustrated in one meeting with a co-worker. We both spoke in English, but we could tell that both of us formed a judgment on how we communicate the topics. I questioned a lot why this and that happened, why she didn’t get my point/why she looked offended by the way I delivered my message. Turned out, my non-verbal cues, such as gestures and eye contact made her uncomfortable, she found it intimidating and disrespectful. Again, try to seek information about this topic, because it’s not only about you understand your communication style, but also about how the messages are received by others.

Lastly, mutual acceptance is a must

Open-mindedness, understanding, and acceptance are imperative. We can adapt, but it would be better if we also communicate mutual expectations to the other people. It is all about the standards of respectable behaviors, attitudes, mutual values, and norms. I believe we all don’t want to get into conflict, so communicating expectations and reaching mutual acceptance are needed in cross-cultural communication.

Above all, being able to work cross-cultures is necessary to everyone.

 Delivering Career-Planning Seminar to Company's College Partner (1)

Delivering Career-Planning Seminar to Company’s College Partner

When I was in university, I took communication and media studies major. One of the classes I attended is communication across cultures. I thought it’d be easy to do that because I studied it, but I was wrong. I joined a global youth organization and my daily task was to bridge the conversation between my local committee and students abroad. I made a lot of mistakes, from small to big ones, and resulting small inconveniences to partnership termination. All because: my cross-culture communication skill was low.

What is cross-cultural communication? Cited from study.com (2017), cross-cultural communication deals with understanding different business customs, beliefs and communication strategies. Language differences, high-context vs. low-context cultures, nonverbal differences, and power distance are major factors that can affect cross-cultural communication.

In this era, we can’t avoid having a connection and interaction with people all around the world. Most of the time, we don’t need a passport to interact with people from a different country. Whether you’re a student or already working, I believe you have at least one friend who’s from a different country.

We should accept that we may face culture shock when we’re interacting with them. We should also accept the fact that, even the casual conversation often leads to misunderstanding, then conflicts. Now, imagine if we have to interact with co-workers or business partners. Isn’t it scary? Yes.

Things you need to do is not only about absorbing information, but also observing behaviors, ask questions, ask for feedback, and keep practicing.

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Officially an associate in Tata Consultancy Services for Leadership Development, Diversity, and Inclusion for the Asia-Pacific region. But more importantly, a self-driven individual who produces, values, and supports ideas of youth empowerment and unlimited potential. Born and raised in Malang, East Java and currently living in Manila, Philippines. Travel the world to meet new people and learn new things to enrich life experience. Feel free to find him at LinkedIn at the description below or drop an email to dioranamia@gmail.com