Learning from cultural exposition | Undutchables

Learning from cultural exposition

Categorie: Guest article

Living in another country and experience a different culture, puts your own experience in a new perspective. You learn to be more open-minded, it teaches you to be strong and you get to widen your horizons. These are aspects that are very beneficial for a future employer. When recruiting, Undutchables Sweden looks upon what experiences a candidate brings, looking beyond a CV and see the person behind it.

In this blog, Nina Werner has shared her experiences on having lived in various countries, and what she has learned from the different cultures, and how that has shaped her to where she is today.

What I learned about my cultural identity and the unexpected

When people would ask me where I'm from, I'd often say "I'm legally Swedish" because that was the only objective truth. Now that I live in Sweden, I tend to say I'm a "fake" Swede because sooner or later the person I speak with figures out that there's something odd about me, either in my language or in my behavior. So I prefer to give a heads up from the get-go.

"Where do you come from?" is a question I've come to resent as it doesn't make sense to me and whatever the answer I give, it can only represent but a snippet of where I'm from and ultimately, who I am.

Nina Werner picture

So where am I from?

I grew up in France, studied in Switzerland and then moved to Tanzania followed by Kenya before making my way to Sweden in 2020. All of my family is Swedish though my mom was born and raised in Kenya, where my grandparents met in the 1940s. Therefore, a truer answer to my origins is that I identify with French, Swiss, Kenyan and Swedish culture.

It doesn't fit into a neatly squared box but I've learned to appreciate my oddly shaped box.

One of the reasons I didn't want to stay in Switzerland after my graduation is the predictability and stability that the environment offers. I appreciated it in many ways but it also scared me, I was hungry for the unexpected, whatever that may look like. So after a few weeks of holidays visiting my relatives in Kenya I knew in my heart I needed to be in East Africa, and off I went to Tanzania. That chapter of my life ended up lasting ten years.

During those years, I got served a lot of the unexpected. My work revolved around startups and scaling ventures in fast-paced and uncertain environments. I did experience the bankruptcy of my employer, closing down operations of a venture I'd started, being cheated, not getting paid for work delivered and contracts not consistently being honoured.

Was it worth it? Without a doubt.

Because the flip side of these challenging experiences is the blend of skills, perspectives and sheer humanity I got to see unfold. And don't get me wrong, there've been plenty of successes and joy along the ride too!

Here's how I've grown:

thinking on my feet, learning to pick my battles (preferably over things I actually can change), never feeling stuck, believing from the bottom of my heart that nothing is impossible, befriending the chaos because it's there whether I like it or not, discomfort is where I grow, make a plan without being too attached to it because things never go according to plan anyway (sometimes it goes even better!), and overall being more resilient.

I’ve mostly been taught through books at school and that's a big part of the learning experience. However, when it comes to growing and developing as a person, it needs to be complemented by an embodied experience that will anchor your learning at a depth you can't reach through books. I'm therefore tremendously grateful for the magical experiences I've had as well as all the times I got my butt kicked.

How has my journey shaped my perspective once I moved to Sweden?

It started with some confusion (everything looks so orderly on the surface) as well as excitement and curiosity (everything felt new).

The propensity to befriend the unexpected has allowed me to land into a rather hectic subletting market without major anxiety, though in the space of a year I would have lived at three different addresses.

As I chose to start my own coaching and growth consulting services in a market and city I'd never lived in before, I spend a lot of my time and energy networking and building relationships all the while navigating and learning about the cultural nuances I am being exposed to. This doesn't feel demanding or exhausting to me as building relationships is inherent to doing business in the markets I've worked in.

I still got a lot to learn about how relationships are built with Swedes, both in personal and professional contexts. On one hand, it takes (I've been told) several years and numerous encounters to develop a strong bond before you're being "let in". But once you're in, you're in! I see this as the relational nature of relationship-building.

On the other hand, many interactions feel very transactional in nature. You meet someone for a purpose and reach a clear outcome. Is it because time is scarce and we need to optimise, optimise, optimise? Maybe... I do experience a certain discomfort with such conversations, and somehow leave me longing for more, because I genuinely want to build relationships and connect with people. I see this as a challenge to adjust to cultural expectations, as well as an opportunity to differentiate myself by taking the step to be curious about someone when it feels welcomed.

My final thought is about the weather.

I barely talk about it which, it seems, makes me rather un-Swedish. I think this comes down to "picking my battles over things I can actually change" and on a day to day basis, there's really nothing I can do about the weather so I accept it for what it is. However, I do look for the small things that make my day brighter despite or thanks to the weather.

If any of the experiences I've shared resonate with you, you're welcome to reach out so we get to learn from each other.

Nina Werner, Growth Consultant & Entrepreneur Coach

Interested to read more about Align the Dots?

@ nina@alignthedots.com

Thank you for sharing this with us Nina!

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