Charlotte Wittenkamp is an organizational psychologist who since 2006 has counseled international transfers, immigrants, and foreign students in overcoming culture shock. Originating from Denmark, Charlotte has lived in California since 1998. Her own experiences relocating lead down a path of researc...
Have you ever been in the company of people from another country and wondered “Why to they do that?” – “that” being anything from the way they greet each other to public policies we find highly exotic?
“Building Bridges across Cultural Differences” looks at foundations for these differences because in all human relationships, if we can find a satisfying answer to these “Whys”, we are much more likely to connect with people who at first glance seemed somewhat unpredictable.
Exploring values, history, and the ways societies are organized, the book touches on themes where people from very different backgrounds often disconnect. To make it easier to gain trust in people who don’t behave the way we are used to, the book goes deeper into differences in communication patterns. Even when you speak the same language it doesn’t mean that you hear the same things or that you focus on the same issues.
After having worked in Denmark with organizational development in the financial industry and with companies such as IBM and Motorola, my family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1998 with a small startup. Several startups later, we still live here.
Without a work permit the first years of our life in the US, I went back to school to study psychology with a focus on cultural differences. I have since assisted numerous transfers, students, and au pairs with their transition in and out of the area and with their practical and emotional adjustment to the changed surroundings and expectations.
Did I experience culture shock? Yes indeed. The egalitarian Scandinavian mindset is very different from highly competitive USA.
Did I get back to my old self after recovery? No, I got back to my new self. Where my old self was focused on processes and data analysis, my new self is more focused on the person in front of me. (I still like to know what the data says. In some contexts, to me numbers speak louder than words.)
To all who have helped me in that transition, my heartfelt thanks. That is, by the way, part of the Silicon Valley culture: Pay it forward. So let me pass my experience on to you.