STUDENTS@EVONIK BLOG: MIRIAM IN THE U.S.
#2 - About peaches, air conditioning and other typical American things
Did you know that pedestrian lights in the U.S. turn white instead of green? Or did you know that Georgia is also referred to as the “Peach State”, which is the reason why many things ranging from clubs to restaurants there have names related to the word peach? These are just small examples that contribute to a greater picture: Culture. In this blog article, I’d like to tell you more about the cultural differences I observed while working in Georgia.
Whenever I travel abroad, I create a list of cultural characteristics that are new to me and update that list whenever I find the time to do so. I continued this practice during my stay in Kennesaw and as for the U.S., there were by far more things to put on my list than I had expected before!
One of the first things I realized was that people in Georgia love their peaches. For instance, I joined a running club called “Big Peach Running”, whose logo is - what else could it be - a giant peach wearing running shoes. Also, numerous streets have names related to the fruit making it sometimes very complicated to find the right place when it comes to distinguish between names like Peach Road, Peachtree Road, Peachtree Boulevard, and so on. At the same time, you can basically find images of peaches everywhere in Georgia, even on your car’s license plate!
Another rather obvious aspect is the Americans’ extensive use of air conditioning: At the beginning of my stay, it was normal for me to put on my jacket once I entered a building and to take it off when I got outside again. It took me some weeks to get used to the temperature differences between the inside and outside, but even so, I ended up missing the American air conditioning upon my return to a very hot and non-air-conditioned Germany!
A major difference between Europe and the U.S. is people’s relation to distances. Where I come from, I could never imagine driving almost an hour for sports classes or to meet a friend for coffee during the week. Neither did I expect to drive 5 hours one way for a trip to the coast on a regular weekend - but in the U.S. it just seems like the normal thing to do. So I joined a group of volleyball players about an hour from where I lived and went on a weekend trip to Savannah, one of America’s so-called haunted cities offering a beautiful old town and a lot of ghost stories around its ancient buildings. And even if the 5-hour drive to get there seemed quite long for such a short stay - I am glad I went anyways.
However, I also got to know the American culture from a more personal perspective. What I appreciated the most about it is their open way to communicate. Especially while working at Evonik, I enjoyed the direct and rather casual way colleagues talked to each other without being less respectful, since it created a more comfortable work surrounding. My contribution to meetings and discussions was always appreciated, which gave me the feeling of being able to provide support despite the fact that I was new to many topics. Another aspect I liked is the American’s so-called “Casual Friday”: Every Friday, the whole department would dress up less formally to remind each other that the weekend is coming soon. All of these small things made working in Kennesaw even more interesting for me - in a positive way!
Cultural differences can affect private as well as professional environments at many stages and sometimes, misunderstandings or even conflicts might arise during an international encounter. To me, cultural competence is not the attempt to avoid these, but rather the capability of handling them right. I am thankful for having been given the chance to learn this skill during my stay in the U.S.!
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