Cultural exchange in a coworking space – Alison Geldart
“Where are you from?” must be one of the most common questions you ask a fellow coworker on first meeting. One of the reasons I love being here so much is the fascinating mix of nationalities. What binds us is that we are all CRECWorkers but there are people from all over the place. There have been times eating lunch when I look down the table and all my companions are from somewhere different. Our coworkers are Catalans, of course, and people from other regions in Spain. And people from Brazil, France, Argentina, Finland, the UK, the USA, Germany, the Dominican Republic, Iceland, Austria, Denmark, Columbia, French Canada, Australia, Sweden, Venezuela, Mexico, Belgium, Italy… If I’ve missed out your country, let me know. Perhaps we haven’t met yet! (And we need some more people from Asia and Africa, no?).
But it’s too easy to fall into lazy national stereotypes: culture is much more than what it says on your passport. The culture we have grown up in – which also varies enormously within a country – influences our values and behaviour. How we approach life. So too the culture we work in, for instance. And the fascinating thing is, most of the time we don’t even notice its power on our thinking. It’s common sense, it’s so completely embedded in our psyche. So when people with different cultural backgrounds come together and have different ways of looking at the world and different ways of doing things, there can be misunderstanding and conflict.
They say culturally diverse teams – people working together towards a common goal – can be the most dynamic and creative. But they can also completely implode due to poor communication. This is one of the issues intercultural training addresses, and this is what I have chosen as my new path. Helping people communicate better has always been my thing, so I’m taking what I’ve learned from psychotherapy training and teaching English, and applying it in a broader context.
“An ability to be cross-culturally agile is becoming more and more important in our well-connected world”
I’ll be giving workshops that will give participants the tools to self-reflect on their own cultural assumptions and communication styles, so they can improve how they interact with people who have a different background to themselves. An ability to be cross-culturally agile, with a well-developed cultural intelligence (CQ), is becoming more and more important in our well-connected world.
Another aspect of the intercultural space is relocation training, which is all about the difficulties faced when moving to a new culture. Many of you reading this will know this well! You know those feelings of finding simple things more difficult when you’re in a new place? Like you’ve totally forgotten everything you’ve ever learned?! Things like posting a letter, getting your hair cut, or arranging a bank transfer. It is cognitively more difficult – you actually have to think more about what you’re doing, use more mental processing. If you’re unprepared and inflexible, the challenges can be overwhelming. So I’m sure a friendly guide wouldn’t hurt. I hope I can use my experience to help others adjust and not feel too adrift in an unfamiliar culture.
“Being part of a coworking community is making it much easier to change my professional direction”
Support to change
Being part of a coworking community is making it much easier to change my professional direction, I must say. The team have already put me in touch with a valuable connection I hope will lead to future collaboration. They’re giving me the opportunity to offer some taster workshops, and I’m writing this blog post to let you all know what I’m doing.
I also feel lucky to be surrounded by inspirational and supportive coworkers, in an encouraging environment that gives me confidence that my projects can succeed. I’m excited by all the possibilities my new career holds! But even though I’m no longer giving English classes, I am still CREC’s resident English language expert. So remember: If in doubt… Ask Alison!