To Be International, Learn to “Unlearn” and Share

Tuesday, June 24, 2014, by Eliane Karsaklian

At birth, we already start learning the ‘right way’ to behave in a society. Parents, relatives, teachers, bosses ­– everyone tells us what we are, and what we are not, supposed to do. This is how we socialize and this is why culture is not innate. We learn to live in a specific culture, and thus in a specific way in order to become a member of that society. Most of us make the effort to be accepted and to belong to the society in which we were born.

Learning-By-UnlearningThen we go abroad and believe we should change our habits, because we need to be accepted in a society that is not our own. We need to acculturate.

While it is not easy to add new habits to old ones, it is even tougher to replace old habits with new ones. It shakes our habits and beliefs.

As adults, we need to unlearn what we knew in order to learn about new ways of doing things, of addressing people, of behaving.

It might take a while, it might feel very weird, and it might even feel like a violation of our personality. That is why it is more difficult for some people to adjust to another culture. The ones who are able to unlearn part of what they have learned before in order to make room for other habits possesses more flexibility and therefore better adaptability.

But learning is about sharing. Someone who lives and works internationally should be able to share. Sharing is about teaching and learning. You tell people about your culture and you learn about their culture. You experience differences – languages, flavors, rituals, and habits in general – that you share with other people.

If you are not willing to share, to learn and to teach, you will have a hard time working with other cultures. It is imperative that you open up and understand that sharing is critical to working internationally because it has to do with human interaction in diverse cultural contexts. This is what international business is all about.

  • I believe learning is something we all continue to do. That happens when others are willing to share what they know with others. That is how we really learn. As we meet people from all walks of life we learn from them. I have traveled the world during my 25 year military career and have really enjoyed learning so much from the varied cultures and people I have come in contact with. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thanks for the great tips about the different cultures it is always important to know when you travel.

  • Such a great point! Even if you never live in another country, this is still true. When we lived in Dallas, TX, the southern culture is very different from the northern. It took years to get used to it and acclimate. But we never fully felt like we fit in. We moved back to PA and love it. So, with that I understand on a micro scale what you mean.

  • Allison

    Love how you mention that it’s sharing. So true, great post 🙂

  • With changing times, it is good to have flexibility in our ideas and approach to life. Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts.

  • I wholeheartedly agree that if you’re not willing to share it’ll become an obstacle from you working with others!

  • You will also have a hard time in our culture which is changing dramatically with every decade.