‘I needed to understand myself first’

When Irina Koksharova moved from Amsterdam to Singapore, she got to grips with the local culture with help from a social integration coach. “It calmed me down,” says the Russian native.

Different rules

“I had never lived in Asia before and I didn’t know what to expect,” explains the expat partner. “The culture’s so different from my own and I didn’t want to offend anyone. Therefore, my Global Connection consultant suggested social integration coaching. I decided to give it a try. Even though I was a bit doubtful whether coaching could teach me about Asian culture.

Cultural perspective

It was indeed very different from a regular cultural training course like the one I once did while living in Dubai. The coaching was much more about me and much more of a two-way process. We started with identifying my values, my own cultural compass and how this was formed. Only then did we start focusing on understanding other cultures. It really helped to do it in this order. I realised how much I judge other people’s behaviour from the perspective of my own culture, with mine being right and everyone else’s being wrong.

Nature versus nurture

I learned that people’s behaviour is very much influenced by their background. That was a big eye-opener for me. I always believed that I acted the way I did out of choice. But when we spoke about my cultural compass, it became clear that most of the time I behave like every other Russian. For example, I remember how surprised I was to learn that Singaporeans are very comfortable with risk. I found it hard to understand that they see it as an opportunity, as my culture is very risk avoidant.

Peace of mind

I now know that I shouldn’t judge the behaviour of people from other countries. Rather than getting irritated or nervous by how they act, I need to figure out their intentions. At the same time, I’ve learned that I should never mimic someone else’s culture – that would be unnatural. Whenever I don’t know how to behave, I should just stay as neutral as possible and try to understand rather than respond too emotionally. These insights have given me peace of mind. I feel a lot more comfortable living in Singapore, and in my work for a multinational with colleagues from around the world.”

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