Adventure Calls: Episode 24
How to Achieve True Success Abroad, with Cultural Mixology Founder Jamie Gelbtuch

There is a Russian saying, “If we pass a stranger on the street who is smiling, we know with certainty that that person is crazy . . . or else American.”

Now, if you’re American, this might not make sense to you. But if you are Russian, or indeed have any European family ties, you probably immediately understand this fully.

Why? What’s wrong with smiling? You ask?

This week’s episode is a bit different. I talk to Cultural Mixology founder Jamie Gelbtuch and we spend a good amount of time talking about cross cultural issues like this one.

Some of what Jamie’s work forces us to do, and we discuss this at length on the show today is something that… if you do it…. Will result in a much deeper, more meaningful and successful experience abroad.

What’s that one thing, you ask? Is it learning the language? No, although that’s incredibly important.

Is it saving enough money, finding a job first, or getting an apartment? Or a visa? Nope, it’s none of those, and I can tell that these are the things that make everyone’s heads SPIN when you start to get real about your move.

In reality, all of those things are important, but none of them help in the same way as what we discuss in this interview.

And look, It’s not that smiling is frowned upon in the rest of the world. It’s just that American culture tends toward a much more positive delivery of everyday interactions, including smiling at strangers as you walk down the street.

Well, what’s wrong with that? You ask again. Well, nothing is wrong with it.

But did you know that? Did you realize that about your own culture? In fact, have you ever given much thought to your own culture?

That’s what today’s show is about. It is all well and good to dream about moving abroad, learning new languages and cultures, but one of the most important ways to prepare for your move abroad is to read a book and do some research about American culture, and how American culture is perceived around the world.

Make it About You

In Erin Meyer’s book, The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, she says, “The way we are conditioned to see the world in our own culture seems so completely obvious and commonplace that it is difficult to imagine that another culture might do things differently. It is only when you start to identify what is typical in your culture but different from others, that you can begin to open a dialogue of sharing, learning, and ultimately understanding.”

Although it is not your intention, when you move abroad, you are exporting your culture to another country, too. You are interacting with a set of cultural norms, values and belief systems that are at times different, or at other times diametrically opposed to the norms, values or belief systems of your target country.

That means that while you approach a problem with a certain type of thinking, a certain appetite for risk, a certain expectation for how the group or people you’re working with will go about finding a solution, this way of thinking might be totally different to what the other people in the group are expecting.

And when you live abroad in another country, it’s you who has to mold yourself more into the direction of their thinking, by the mere fact that you are the guest in their country.

Intercultural or cross-cultural communication is an incredibly dense and varied topic, and we’re only scratching the surface in this conversation with Jamie. But it’s important to pause the inspiring stories of amazing expats to give airtime to what might, in fact, the giving breathe to their success. Their ability to adapt comes, in part, from their ability to adjust their own thinking to fit the place where they live.

When you finish today’s episode, host Jessica Drucker would like to know – what did you find most interesting? Did anything change about the way you might approach your move abroad? What do you KNOW is different about your home culture compared to where you might be moving to next?

You can tweet her @jessicavdrucker, DM her on Instagram @jessicavdrucker, and you can always email her at adventurecallspodcast@gmail.com.