How to Overcome Cultural Barriers at Work

Working abroad, and most especially in South East Asia can be a massive culture shock. Every time you step out the front door you are confronted with a plethora of new things that might shock, amaze, excite and terrify you.

Vietnam offers a whole array of these, never ceasing to give you something else to challenge your beliefs and norms. In your down time this can be a lot of fun, but in a professional setting the cultural differences can get in the way of a healthy working relationship. Here are a few tips to help you work through these differences towards an amicable work environment.

Be Patient & Kind

Remember, all new things have an adjustment period. You’re not expected to adapt overnight. Allow yourself time to process all the newness. Cultural differences can wear you down, so make sure you make time to look after yourself. Find comforts that make you feel at home and where you can do things your way. This will help the adjustment period and slowly allow you to acclimatise to the new environment.

The best strategy to accept a new thing is understanding it.


The best strategy to accept a new thing is understanding it. Talk to your colleagues and try to understand how and why things are done a certain way. They know the culture way better than you and could offer some valuable insight that might make your job easier. When we understand people’s justification for things we generally become more sympathetic towards people’s behaviours. Frustration is bred from the unknown and feeling dis-empowered. Equip yourself with knowledge and you might find your frustration subsiding.

Focus On You

As ESL teachers, it’s not very often that we work collaboratively. We are lucky in that many jobs entail you and your students, and maybe a TA. So if you’re finding the adjustment difficult, focus on you and your role and do the best you can. There is a huge scope for creativity and autonomy in the classroom. Focus on what you can control, set priorities and let the rest dissolve into the background.

Embrace It

After all, you didn’t move to a new country to have the same experience you had back home. Most of us moved here to experience something new, learn and get stuck into another way of doing things. So, rather than see it as an insurmountable obstacle, dive on in. Try things their way and you might find you learn a whole bunch. Allowing yourself to go with the flow is one of the most liberating experiences of travel, and it also extends to the work environment.

After all, international work experience is highly valuable on your CV. It shows you are adaptable, diverse in your way of thinking and have learnt new things that can be applied in your next journey.


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