Student Life Tips, Skills & Resources

3 Tips to Adapt to a New Culture

Tourists couple travel in Havana, Cuba having fun. Young multiracial happy couple on backpacking vaction standing on Plaza de la Catedral, Old Havana.

A career in hospitality really can take you anywhere. Alumni blogger Christina Seow has just left the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort to join the Anantara Siam Bangkok, Thailand.

After 6 months at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, Abu Dhabi, I have now moved to Anantara Siam Bangkok, Thailand to conclude the remaining 12 months of the Ascent Graduate Management Training Program.

What a change of environment – from the quiet desert to a bustling city! There’s also a change of pace in business as I transit from a resort property to a city property.

Everyday is like a mad house as we welcome and bid farewell to the many tourists as well as business guests who regularly return for meetings. It is a test of speed and accuracy yet maintaining the warm and friendly service without treating the guests like one of the masses who are just looking for a bed.

What I enjoy about the experience is the opportunity to build a long term relationship with guests who return regularly, either for business or leisure. We take pride when guests recognize this property as their second home!

Moving from one property to another, there is little change to what I do as a professional hotelier – at the end of the day, my purpose is to serve the guests and ensure that they are happy during their stay with us. However, there are many cultural notions which influence how I do what I do.

In the Middle East where 100% of the workforce is expatriate, the work environment is multicultural and the common language is English. Everyone left their families to work there, and as such, there is a special empathy and camaraderie amongst us.

In Thailand, 95% of the workforce is local, and the language and the culture shape the daily communication and work ethics.

“All of a sudden, I found myself being a stranger in the environment as I could not understand most of the conversation around me and had to rely on body language and observation to get a gist of what was being communicated. Also, as much as I strive to serve my guests in the most efficient way possible, I have been reproached for not being as gentle as the Thai people.”

In addition, the property has also been recently rebranded. While everyone is in the process of relearning brand values and philosophies, the organizational culture remains strongly tied its predecessor. Thus, I am learning how to merge the culture that I knew to the existing culture in order to not be put in a ‘me vs. them’ situation.

A few things I learned, in order to be accepted as part of the team and to be liked very quickly (as sociability makes it easier to get things done) are:

  1. Speak their language– during lunch sessions, I have been asking colleagues to teach me a few phrases in Thai to demonstrate my willingness to adapt to them. Three months into the new city, I am able to speak basic greetings and numbers, which are generally useful at work and in living in the city.
  1. Be courteous, always. Smiling is an international language– I always greet everyone with ‘sawasdee-kha’ and a smile regardless of whether I know them or not – they usually reply back, and address me by name as they know me as the foreigner with the easiest name to remember. In addition, Thais have very specific ways of addressing seniors and juniors and strangers. I usually err on the side of caution by greeting almost everyone in their full name (also because Thais usually have their official name and nickname and I usually go by the one on their name tag as it is the one easiest to remember).
  1. Observe and demonstrate willingness to try, but don’t ask too many questions– As a naturally curious person, unfortunately, the usual trick of being inquisitive to demonstrate enthusiasm does not work in the Thai culture as they see it as challenging authority. Instead, they appreciate it if I try something out myself and then show them my work to verify its accuracy before guiding me through the right way.

Transitioning from one workplace to another has not been easy and there are times where I miss the tranquility of the desert and the friendships that I made with the colleagues from all over the region in Abu Dhabi. However, I recognize that it is such a privilege to be in a profession which allows me to travel and understand what it is like to be immersed in a foreign culture – both from a country and organizational perspective. Regardless of the challenges, I still love my job and enjoying the opportunity to grow my network of friends in a new country.

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About the Author

Les Roches International School

Les Roches International School of Hotel Management is a top-ranking school of hospitality business education located in Switzerland (Bluche), with branch campuses in China (Shanghai) and Spain (Marbella). At Les Roches, students experience the “Les Roches way of life” connecting with classmates of 90+ different nationalities, an international faculty, and visiting industry leaders. Les Roches delivers undergraduate and graduate programs that combine practice and theory with international business management courses. This curriculum attracts hospitality industry recruiters who seek-out Les Roches interns and graduates for fast-track careers in leading companies around the world.