The number of foreign professionals working in Turkey continues to increase. There are many opportunities for work, especially on limited-length assignments. Unless an expat marries a Turk the turnover is high. This is partly because foreigners are not finding Turkey as cheap as it used to be.
In two recent pieces, “Expats' decisions and the turning point” (June 1 and June 2, 2012), I have been exploring the world of expat educational matters, particularly in Turkey, and looking at approaches in acquiring cross-cultural skills. My hope is to offer insight to help expats through an experience that often involves profound personal change. In the second piece, Ann Wilson, who is currently working as head of English at a large elite Turkish private school, offered some valuable advice. We'll continue with some more of Ann's insights as well as read some comments from Dr. Yann Lussiez, the primary school principal at MEF International School in İstanbul.
Here is what Wilson suggested when asked what suggestions she would give to someone to help them communicate and live with people from other cultures, adjust to a new culture and make the best use of their time abroad: “Learn as much as you can about the country, the food and the language. Turks truly appreciate it when foreigners embrace their culture. Travel as much as you can. Turkish people are very hospitable, welcoming and caring in general, and they love to share the wonderful things they possess. It is not hard to adjust to the culture here as everyone is so happy to support you. An open mind, tolerance and a positive attitude are necessary.”
Wilson believes that most foreigners find getting things done in Turkey challenging. Getting business done here usually means one has to go to a variety of offices, and this can be hard and time consuming. Wilson adds: “Organizational and planning issues can be challenging, especially if the foreigner is very well organized and used to sticking to a program: Time management can be challenging as many things change easily and can be last minute.”
When I asked about working on an international team, she offered this suggestion: “Working on an international team is a very exciting and rewarding experience. I think that mutual respect and tolerance are very important, and flexibility also. One can learn so much from colleagues that come from different cultures. It is a privilege to be able to work in such a multicultural environment. A calm and positive attitude is also a great help.”
Dr. Lussiez's insights reflect his years of experience living in different cultures. After all, Dr. Lussiez was born in France and raised in the US, so from an early age he was introduced to different cultures, languages and perspectives. Dr. Lussiez says that he has always enjoyed the experience of living in foreign countries and that Istanbul offered an opportunity for his family to live and work in an international, historical and exciting city and country.
Dr. Lussiez suggests the following to help new expats communicate and live with people from other cultures, adjust to a new culture and make the best use of their time abroad: “I find it helpful to read up on the history, fiction and current political situation to gain deeper insight into the culture. I always keep an open mind and try to suspend my own cultural biases and perspectives, and not judge by reminding myself that people from all walks of life hold the same fundamental values and beliefs. Learning some of the language is always a benefit.” Dr. Lussiez admits he has struggled with doing this here in Turkey.
Dr. Lussiez adds that to make the most of working in an international setting he has found that he has had to shift one of his typical tendencies, which is the common American focus on “getting the job done.” He finds that he now tackles a problem by buffering his direct approach with relationship-building techniques and formal protocol. He explains that when working in an international environment, this is essential for effective communication. We need to begin by understanding that those we are communicating with, either through email, phone or person-to-person, are from different cultures and backgrounds. This brings with it uncertainty and complexity, and so we must take more time to make sure our message is being understood.
When I asked Dr. Lussiez to share one of his favorite quotes, he offered this one:
“The way to learn is by leading. The way to lead is by learning” -Anonymous