It’s Monday. I’m in Kosovo—a tiny country in Southeastern Europe in an area known as the Balkans.
Here’s a text I received:
Hi dawn. Too far out for weekend plans. Don’t stress…text me and we can see what works.
Too far out for weekend plans?
Does she know it’s MONDAY already? The weekend is right around the corner!
Here’s the thing: this text shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. I’ve spent my entire adult life traveling to cultures different than my own. I know the drill. Many cultures value time in ways other than my own American culture.
But apparently since I was only a few weeks into my 5-month stay, I needed a reminder:
In this culture, like so many others around the world, lives don’t revolve around DayPlanners or iPhone and Google calendars. And they certainly aren’t needed to plan a coffee a month in advance.
Shocking, I know.
In Kosovo, an invitation to coffee often goes something like this:
Hey, are you free for a coffee?
Sure, OK. I’ll be right there.
It’s so different. So refreshing.
Yet so discombobulating. Especially for a planner like me.
The funny thing is that while it was a bit annoying (and quite stressful) adapting to a new view on time orientation when it came to planning, I actually adjusted pretty quickly.
I learned to go with the flow. I started to enjoy each day as it unfolded and marveled how it sometimes ended with nice surprises.
And the other thing I noticed as I began to adapt week after week?
My stress level actually went down. I began focusing on people and less on me (or my schedule that seemed so important back in the States). I learned more about what it meant to be – instead of do. In experiencing all of this, I began to value my friends and my new culture in a much richer way. And I look back and cherish the insight I gleaned from these differences.
Now, fast-forward 5 months.
I’m back in America.
It’s March 15, and I receive this text:
Welcome back! What does the second week of April look like for you?
My first thought: Are you kidding me? That’s 3 weeks away!
I was annoyed. Just like when I first arrived in Kosovo.
So once again, I’m reminding myself that time and even relationships are viewed differently in my own American culture.
It feels like a bit of whiplash, to be honest. And I’m tempted to rant about how one might be better than the other.
But the fact is, cultures are different. And although I might have natural preferences for one over another or “resonate” more strongly with how time (or family or leadership) is viewed in one culture as opposed to another, I have to remind myself that I can learn a lot from both – if I just take the time to observe and experience the differences. If I work on expanding my own cultural intelligence by reflecting on how culture shapes my thinking and behavior as well as others.
So I’m back home now. And I have a lot to process that goes well beyond whether or not I schedule coffee 3 weeks out (without rolling my eyes).
It includes reflecting on what I learned during my time overseas and considering whether there are some things I’d like to keep – and incorporate into my life here at home.
It also means evaluating the parts of my home culture that I love and reminding myself how thankful I am for them.
Reflecting on experiences like this when visiting another culture or even when working within an unfamiliar context allows us to deepen our understanding of how culture shapes all of our lives—including things like our communication. Hopefully taking the time to reflect a bit can lead us all to richer insight when it comes to interacting with those around us.
I’d love to know: Am I the only one…
- Is there anything you experienced coming home that annoys you?
- What have you learned about yourself in the process – and is it challenging your own “status quo?”