As those who read my last article knows, I was born in Singapore and worked as a designer in Beijing before ending up here at Rocksauce Studios. If you read that last article, you also know that I’ve already told you what it’s like to work overseas and how to adjust to a very different workplace. Today, I’m going to discuss the mirror of that. What is it like for a foreigner to make the transition to the United States?
One of the most important things is also the most obvious: getting over the language barrier. If a Chinese person comes over to the United States to pursue a career, he may know the language well enough to communicate, but many Americans may find his accent difficult to understand at first. Sometimes, this means that he instinctively starts to work on the receiving end instead of taking initiative, which can be a problem. On the same level, many Americans feel the need to condescend toward foreigners, even if they’re unaware that they’re being condescending!
I know this from my lengthy attempt to acquire a green card. When I sit down with various officials, our conversations begin with them talking very slowly, to help me understand every. Single. Word. But as soon as I engage them and they realize how comfortable I am with the English language, they immediately release the proper documents or push me through the process as fast as possible. It’s a simple truth: the more comfortable you are with the language, the more readily others will interact with you. It will make your life infinitely easier, whether you’re trying to become a citizen or just working in an app development company.
Transitioning to an American workplace can often be a culturally disconcerting experience. There is far more socializing in the American workplace then there is in China. Here, there is an emphasis on building relationships with your co-workers. Not so much in Asia! The best thing to do for a foreigner working in the United States for the first time is to observe your co-workers in action, take mental notes and absorb the differences. Don’t let them overwhelm you! Learn from them and follow suit. Let them know that you know their language and are able to communicate freely. Break the ice!
This cultural gap continues to your actual work. As a designer, my work is treated far differently in Austin than it is in Beijing. Overseas, my job was far less collaborative. I don’t want to say everything I worked on was strictly dictated to my by the higher-ups, but it certainly feels that way compared to my work here, where everyone has a say in the finished product. Here, everyone works together to gather feedback and input…not so much in Asia. “Dictatorship” is harsh way to describe the Chinese process, but it feels that way compared to the American style!
So foreign designers take note: you may answer to your American boss, but there’s a strong chance he wants to hear what you have to say. It may feel odd to see so much collaboration in the workplace, but that’s the standard here. Interestingly, American and European influence is starting to see this style bloom in some Asian countries too!