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Being a ‘citizen of the world’ has its advantages, particularly in a multicultural industry like hospitality. But it also has its challenges, like navigating business relationships, finding a sense of identity, and feeling at home. For Master’s student, Erik Vos, it has been his greatest professional, and personal, challenge.

Growing up in an international family, Erik felt the call to travel and see the world, but with change came challenges. “I grew up in France and spent the biggest part of my life there. I decided to do my last year of high school in Qatar, then I did one gap year to discover what I wanted to do in the future, and then did my Bachelor also there in international politics.”

A big move

Moving to Qatar with his father, Erik was immersed in a completely different culture and way of life to France. “I never actually took the time to process what it actually means to pack up my things and leave. Basically, my dad had a project in Qatar so I spontaneously went with him”, he said.

“I threw a little get-away party and then, by the time I landed, I always compared my new life in Qatar to the one I had in France, to the life I knew, and that made me upset.”

Adjusting to Qatar

For Erik, it was the simple freedoms he missed the most. “I did not like the fact that you cannot walk around on the streets, everything is built around the roads and there is no pavement, so you cannot stroll around town”, he said.

“You do not have any public transportation, so you always need to be in the car, so I was either in the taxi or asking my dad to drive me around. I needed to adapt and I was not ready for that. The first two years were difficult, especially as I was comparing everything to France. I actually applied and got accepted to universities back in Europe, but once I took the decision to stay in Qatar for my Bachelor’s, I started to make the best out of the situation.”

One region, many cultures

Erik took a role in a recruitment agency after his studies, and discovered that, rather than sharing one unified culture, the Middle East has many significant nuances.

“It was quite interesting in terms of adapting to the culture, and understanding what the norms are in the business and social customs. Our HQ was in Qatar, in Doha, but we were doing recruitment for Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and some other parts of Saudi Arabia”, he said.

“In Qatar you have the companies owned by Qatari and they have a relationship-building approach in business rather than just a business transaction. The emphasis is on seeing if you are trustworthy, if you have integrity, if you can back up your statements.”

“Then, if you are dealing with a western General Manager, you would think more about the pure facts and figures, market knowledge and the business proposal. So you have these small differences between cultures that are very important and need to be managed.”

How to overcome a cultural challenge

Across continents, and his professional and social life, Erik’s recurring challenge was how to adapt to a culture and be a part of it. Using mindfulness and his multicultural experience, he found a way to overcome it.

“Here is how I got past this challenge:

  1. If you have friends in the country, ask them for help and let them guide you.
  2. Curiosity is a major factor here. Look for more information always and try to learn as much as possible.
  3. On the business side, talk to the people who have been working in the country for a while and are knowledgeable – they will be able to guide you and tell you things.”

“The first three points are just half of the work. It is very important that you find something concrete and measurable. I looked into the cultural behaviour from a more scientific side. It is a bit of a fact-checking, you make an assumption about a situation, then you experiment, and then you reflect on whether it was accurate or not.”

“After all of these experiences, coming to Glion was easy for me, as I knew how to adapt quickly to the multicultural environment. When you don’t belong anywhere, you float and you are a citizen of the world. You pick up the culture very quickly.

Thank you to Erik for taking time out from his Master’s studies to share the cultural challenges he has faced, and how he overcame them.

Discover the previous blogs from the Overcoming Professional Challenges series:

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About the author

Glion Institute of Higher Education
Glion Institute of Higher Education is a private Swiss institution offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality, luxury and event management to an international student body across three campuses in Switzerland and London, UK.
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