Even only about a week into this program, I have learned a lot about cultural differences when it comes to communication and team projects. In one of our first classes, we learned about and discussed The Culture Map, which highlights differences in workplace cultures and aids people in understanding how to effectively manage in cross-cultural scenarios. After hearing this lecture, I began to observe how my team varied when approaching our interactions.
In college, group projects are not seen as bonding experiences to make new friends, at least not in my opinion. The groups that I have been a part of usually only discussed our assignment and did not take time to make small talk. Getting to know each other was not a necessity for us to collaborate and complete our project with a good grade, but usually a good experience when working together resulted in a new acquaintance that I would feel comfortable saying hi to on campus or sitting next to in class. This is an example of task-based trust. The United States is the most task-oriented when it comes to trusting others. I believe this is because if we see someone can follow through on a task and provide good results, which results in us receiving a good grade, positive feedback, or some other reward, that means that we can trust them to stick to their word.
South American countries are on the opposite end of the trust spectrum, because they believe that trust is built as a relationship is built. They want to get to know a person through shared time, stories, and conversation before trusting them. When working on this project, I have noticed that our interactions involve more personal talk than I am used to. We make jokes, discuss our lives, and my group even received a series of adorable cat pictures from one of our group members. I am not used to bonding with groups before and during working with them on a project, because it is not the cultural norm. I will admit that at first, the small talk annoyed me and I just wanted to start working on the project. This was a challenge for me because it was different, and I did not understand the value in it, but hearing that trust is built very differently in other countries helped me open up to try building relationship-based trust and not just focus on the task at hand.
Another large difference between my experience in the United States and the current program is communication styles. The United States has a culture of low-context communication, meaning that everything is explained in detail and there are not many assumptions required. On the other side, South American countries are closer to the high-context end of communication. They rely on context clues and the ability to read between the lines, which can cause challenges for students used to low-context communication. So far it has been a bit more difficult to effectively collaborate and brainstorm in my group than I expected, because not everything is described with many details. When suggesting ideas, I have a habit of overexplaining exactly what I mean in order for people to understand what I am thinking. When listening to my teammates communicate ideas, I feel like it takes my brain more time to get on the same page as everyone else, and sometimes we do not all end up thinking the same thing. A positive that comes out of communicating with people who are used to low-context communication is that when we all interpret ideas differently, it provides a wider range of ideas than we would have had with a very high-context comment.
Communicating effectively depends on the platform used and if group members respond consistently. The first few days, my group had issues with planning due to lack of responses. We decided to use WhatsApp, which I was unfamiliar with, and at first we could not tell if everyone had joined the group. This was a challenge when we needed to meet and design a logo to submit. This challenge was overcome when everyone figured out the app more and was able to respond. From that point on, our group has been able to communicate well through WhatsApp and coordinate schedules to meet and discuss. Though everyone being busy is a challenge, our quick response time as a group has allowed us to schedule efficiently and have short, productive meetings. If we had not fixed this communication issue as quickly as we did, this project would be much more difficult and communication would be limited.
One last challenge that should be very easy to fix is my tendency to forget that we are all in different time zones. The amount of times that I have forgotten to clarify what time zone I am referring to when attempting to plan meetings is excessive, especially since we are over a week into this program. I know that we are all from different countries and are all on different schedules, but my mind is so used to thinking that everyone is in the same time zone for some reason. Even though this issue seems trivial, it has the opportunity to cause problems in the future if I do not fix it quickly.
Over the past week, I have already heard many different perspectives, whether that be from my teammates or in lectures. The Culture Map that I talked about was a large part of this, especially the differences in trust and communication that I used to compare my past experiences to Plus3 Global Projects. The place that I have learned most about other perspectives is in group meetings. Though the Pitt students participating in Plus3 are all around the same age, I have noticed that my group has members aged 18, 21, 25, and 27. This in itself displays a wide array of experience and knowledge, added on to the obvious cultural differences within our group. Every difference between people provides an opportunity to learn something from them, so I feel like any time I go into a meeting there will be moments that make me shift perspective. Even though I have not noticed any distinct differences in overall perspective on global business between group members, I believe that a lot of the time I do not realize when someone changes my perspective to look through their eyes. Any little comment in a meeting, whether it is an idea or a suggestion about presentation format, has the ability to make the other group members think and consider what was said. I usually understand where they were coming from and use that to consider the suggestion. It seems simple enough, but I know that at the end of this program I will continue to look at global business issues from multiple perspectives, based on what I have learned from my teammates.
Overall, I have learned more in the past week about cultural differences and new perspectives than I have in my whole life. This is my first cross-cultural experience and I already feel like it is preparing me for every interaction I have with people that may be very different from me. I came into this experience hoping that it would expand my cultural knowledge and ability to adapt in unfamiliar situations. Based on the knowledge I have gained since this program started, I am excited to see how much more I will learn about cultural differences by the end of this project.