When East meets West: What I have learnt from working in two different worlds

by Thuy Linh Bui |

Since the very first moment I arrived at Heathrow airport to begin my journey in the UK a year ago, my life has been a roller coaster of emotions. My formal education and work experiences have been deeply grounded in eastern values and principles, which makes moving and working in a western, multicultural country not only exciting but also nerve-racking, not to mention pressured and alienating.

Cultural differences…

Obviously language was a barrier for me at first. Having studied in an international environment and achieving a decent IELTS score of 8.0 could not guarantee my effective communication with colleagues. I struggled to understand different English accents, absorb medical terms and transition my ideas into words fluently. Even though I had a few years’ experience working in Public Relations in Vietnam, it felt like starting all over again, especially when I jumped from doing PR for the consumer/tech industry to healthcare, a highly specialist sector in which I had no background.

My colleagues were super friendly and welcoming, but I also found that politeness is the key for business communication here and maintaining pleasantries like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is extremely important, which sometimes gives me a bit of pressure. Vietnamese people do not say ‘thank you’ as much as westerners, and it is totally common if you say ‘thank you’ in Vietnam and do not receive any response.

Another significant difference between two workplace cultures is that: while asking questions is a standard practice in the west, it does not come naturally to a deeply rooted Asian employee like me. When I was in Vietnam, questioning the ideas and viewpoints of senior team members  was often frowned upon and we must be extremely careful and sensitive whenever discussing any issues with seniors. Therefore, it took me a while to gradually embrace the differences, adapt and be more open, honest and no longer hesitate to ask questions whenever needed.

And…. here comes the joy!

Hard work and long hours have always been the standard in our eastern working culture and I used to normalise working overtime and bringing work home. Leaving work at 5.30pm, which was the time that I was supposed to, might even create gossip around the office and my ex-colleagues would think about me as being lazy and not a team player. For that reason, working at Makara Health has been a gamechanger. Everyone in our company constantly strives for work-life balance. My line manager used to call me out for a discussion when I sent an email late at night, just to make sure I wasn’t working overtime unnecessarily. It goes without saying that Makara promotes a holistic understanding of performance, always encouraging healthy working hours and sustainable methods of working.

What is even more exciting is that even before the pandemic, many employees at Makara could already choose whether they would prefer to work full-time remotely, from the office or a combination of the two. The majority of employees at our company, especially the account-handling team, are used to agile working with flexible work hours. Speaking myself, I am a PR and Communications Assistant living in Bournemouth who used to work two days in the office and three days at home, but have recently switched into working remotely full-time.

My stressful commutes have been swapped for morning yoga and instead of having quick sandwiches at my desk, I spend the lunch break in my kitchen away from my closed laptop, giving my brain a chance to recharge and allow me to come back feeling energised to tackle the rest of my day. I believe that where you work is not nearly as important as getting the job done. I’m flattered that Makara understands the effectiveness of remote work and trusts me to deliver from any location. Adding remote work into our company dynamics has successfully created a team of talented people from different locations.

What more could I want? I have a workplace environment that promotes diversity and inclusion, a globally minded leader who supports their diverse employees, and an amazing team who support each other to reach their full potential. No one in my team speaks Vietnamese, but they understand where I am coming from. They never celebrate Lunar New Year, but they shared the joy and excitement with me. I made mistakes, but they are more than happy to a give me great advice and constructive feedback. Our company culture has successfully and undoubtedly drawn colleagues from diverse cultures closer.

All in all, working anywhere in the world comes with its own benefits and downfalls and ultimately it is up to each of us to decide what suits our personality and working style. Although my life in the UK has been a rollercoaster, I have managed to enjoy the ride and happily landed on my feet with unforgettable memories, and supportive, warm-hearted people around.

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