Business ventures in foreign countries provide important benefits both for the companies as for their transferred employees, who are known as expatriates. For companies, the entire process of internationalisation means a great opportunity to expand their market quota, to grow and to increase their profitability. For their part, employees gain in experience and knowledge, as well as improving financially.
Nevertheless, the expatriation process is no bed of roses, particularly when it takes place between countries with very different customs, ways of life and cultural factors. Culture shock is inevitable, but if it is managed correctly, it does not have to be a negative experience, but rather one that is enriching, constructive and profitable.
Concepts of culture, pluriculturalism and cross-culturalism
In order to successfully tackle the process of expatriation for one or more employees in a foreign country as a result of an international venture, the first thing we have to do is properly understand the concepts of culture, pluriculturalism and multiculturalism, in an adequate way, that is to say, using open and integrational perspective.
Traditionally, culture has been understood and studied as a uniquely national question, giving rise to a series of clichés, stereotypes and generalisations, such as "Germans are rigid, inflexible and dogmatic" or "Spaniards are unpunctual and disorganised".
This exclusively "national" focus on culture is a distorted, inadequate, static and binary concept, as it is based on the idea that "we are a certain way according to our origins and we cannot change that."
However, culture in its most general and global sense, and ultimately the fairest and most comprehensive, is the combination of characteristics that distinguish members of one group from another and between different people at an individual level.
These features are not only linked to the country where one has been born or brought up, but they are configured owing to a series of very varied factors. These range from aspects of their own personality to family, religion, friends, education, profession, and many others.
Furthermore, we should distinguish between pluriculturality and interculturality. Pluriculturality is a concept that is useful to analyse and characterise a situation of coexistence between different cultures, without entering into distinctions and differences. On the other hand, interculturality concerns how different cultures relate to one another, appreciating their differences and seeking fluid and communication without imposition.
An example of pluriculturalism would be the Olympic Games, where many different nationalities compete, but without any kind of distinction being made beyond the competition itself. While European Union institutions, located in Brussels, constitute a wonderful display of multiculturalism, as officials from countless nationalities unite aptitudes and work together for a common goal.
Cross-culturalism is a concept that refers to a panoramic and global vision of culture, detecting and assuming differences between nationalities and groups, but always with an integrational vocation. It seeks harmony in inter- and trans-cultural relationships, exploring ways to take advantage of different cultural traits to join forces with the objective of achieving concrete goals.
Many international or expatriation ventures fail, or do not reach their full potential, precisely because they do not consider cross-culturalism. Over the next few sections, we will immerse ourselves in the keys for: defining strategies for cultural adaptation, facing up to the problems derived from culture shock, learning how to bring together talents between people from very different origins. In short, how to manage and handle ourselves with ease in an environment increasingly marked by diversity and interculturality.