A new job is always difficult to adapt to, especially if you’re not expecting as much culture shock as you run into. Each company can be like its own country in a way, so I’ve found that a lot of same the skills and lessons that help someone thrive after moving to a foreign country lead to happiness and success at a new job, too.

Eight months ago, I started my second Seattle-based full-time job in my desired career, and skills I learned out of necessity while living in China for two years that have helped me change jobs include: Learning new vocabulary, acknowledging and overcoming culture shock, and creativity and patience with communication and process.

Learning new vocabulary

Every job has jargon, acronyms and proper nouns, specific to industry or the employer itself. If you aren’t accustomed to living in an environment where you don’t know the vocabulary, your initial lack of comprehension of meetings, emails and documents can be overwhelming.

In my job, I have essentially three sets of jargon, acronyms and proper nouns to learn: Microsoft/information technology, Waggener Edstrom, and public relations agency (see the Jargon Jar at 99 Problems But a Pitch Aint One.) Learning Chinese vocabulary made me comfortable not understanding everything I hear or read in meetings, emails and client marketing materials, and teaching myself the vocabulary by looking up definitions to reference on an ongoing basis.

Acknowledging and overcoming culture shock

Most people think that culture shock is an initial big shock that wears off. However, culture shock is more of a slow roller coaster along these lines:

1.       You think everything about the new place is perfect.

2.       You feel homesick in increasing amounts, discovering things you never realized you would miss about home and things about the new place you don’t like.

  • This is often the most intense about three months in and then reappears in subsequent months. If someone doesn’t know this is culture shock, they blame their emotions on external factors, such as: “My boss/roommate/the traffic in this city is crazy.”

3.       You either figure out how to overcome the homesickness, grow a lot as a person, and become super attached to the new place or you don’t overcome it and you leave. A pretty effective coping mechanism can be taking occasional out-of-country vacations.

I’m so proud that I got through every wave of culture shock I experienced in Beijing. Over time, I had to become okay with disliking certain things about the country (for example, its pop music) and not letting those bother me, instead focusing on what I loved about the place (contemporary art and independent music). It was also key that I tried to surround myself with a combination of internationally minded Chinese people and China-minded Westerners. There are a lot of non-Chinese people in China who constantly complain about living there, and I recognized that spending lots of time around them would not help my experience.

Culture shock is present in both countries and employers, especially large employers. Eight months into this job I’m still discovering elements of our culture that I had no idea to even look for when I started.

Creativity and patience with communication and process

Psychologists have said that living abroad makes people more creative. This makes sense to me given that in China I would encounter ways of doing things that I had never even considered or have to get really creative to effectively communicate across the language barrier.

For example, one day at my first job in China, my boss asked me to train a Chinese co-worker with almost no English ability to perform administrative tasks in Microsoft Outlook. When I wasn’t sure how to say something in Chinese or she wasn’t sure how to say something in English, we entered it into Google Translate and communicated to each other that way. This was a creative way to overcome a communication barrier to complete a task.

I also experienced an example of how living in a foreign country can enhance your creativity and patience with processes by challenging your basic assumptions. I didn’t fully grasp the concept that China doesn’t have a culture of financial credit until one day when I told my roommate our power had went out that morning, she looked at our electrical meter and said in Chinese, “We’re out of electricity.” I thought, “How can we be out of electricity?” Turns out, we paid for our electricity by pre-loading a card at an ATM at the nearest bank and then inserting it into our electric meter, instead of paying an electric bill monthly, so we had run out of the dollar amount pre-loaded into the meter.

Have you lived abroad? What skills would you add to the list?

99 Problems But A Pitch Ain't One When your coworker keeps saying the same obscure word over and over again


Photo is a screen grab from a 99 Problems But a Pitch Aint One post.