Cultural Conflict – what we can learn from communal living

Most of us interns normally live in small families, with their boy- or girlfriends or completely on their own, so it can be a drastic change when we are suddenly constantly surrounded by people, especially when they have diverse cultural backgrounds. However, every new and challenging situation can teach us something about ourselves or other cultures.

Recharge your batteries
Some cultures emphasise collectivity and community more than others. In these cultures it is normal to share and spend time together, while in others respect for the private sphere and property is more important. If you belong to the first group, life in community will probably be easier and less exhausting for you, because you get your energy from interactions with other people. Members of individualist cultures – even though they generally enjoy the presence of other people – may need time alone in order to recharge their batteries. However, it is essential not to isolate yourself. You do not have to take part in every activity or join every party, but at least prepare a meal and eat with the others or suggest watching a movie together instead of watching it alone in your room. If you share a room, you will have to find alternatives to spend time alone. For example, by going jogging on your own you kill two birds with one stone: spending some time alone and at the same time doing something beneficial for your health.

Learn to compromise
The more people involved in a decision-making process, the more difficult it becomes to find a consensus that is acceptable for everyone. These decisions can be trivial, such as what to cook for lunch or what to do at the weekend. While it is next to impossible to find the perfect solution, we can always aim to find one that is acceptable for everyone involved in the process. The key is to be willing to compromise and not be stubborn – but do not be apathetic either. Communicate your opinion clearly instead of simply not caring about the outcome. Finding a compromise when there are contrasting opinions is challenging, but finding a solution without a clear point of view to begin with is impossible.

Think outside the box
Your culture is like a pair of glasses that determines how you perceive the world and other people’s words and actions. It is impossible to imagine how other people perceive their surroundings. Two people might call a colour by the same name, but we cannot be sure that both see the colour in the same way. Likewise, we might use the same words in a situation but have different mental concepts, which are culturally shaped, attached to them. Even though we cannot change our perception of the world, we can become aware of the fact that our way of seeing things is neither the only nor the best one. In an unclear situation it is better to ask the other person for an explanation. In this way, you can avoid a misunderstanding and a possibly resulting conflict. The other person will be happy to share something about his or her culture and you will have the chance to learn something new and broaden your horizons.

Life in community bears considerable potential for conflict, but if you are willing to compromise and are aware of the fact that your way of thinking is neither right nor wrong, but simply different, it is a chance to learn a great deal about others. You will become more tolerant and open-minded in dealing with members from other cultures, which is beneficial for your career prospects. Being a global player, someone who knows how to mediate between different cultures, is a skill that recruiters look for in applicants nowadays.

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