All posts by Jessica Kumar

Global Nomad from birth. Indophile. Cause Marketer. Veg food lover.

Culture Shock: from Giving to Receiving

If you’ve ever lived overseas for an extended period of time you will realize that culture shock is not a ‘slap you in the face’ one day event. It is a creeping process that grasps you like a slow growing ivy. Before you know it, you are overcome.

An American  friend of mine just shared with me that after a year in foreign culture, she is experiencing culture shock.  You will hear young travels who visit a foreign culture for 3 weeks say “It was awesome! I didn’t experience culture shock at all!”

Of course they didn’t. No one experiences TRUE culture shock without authentic friendships with national people.

One of the most powerful realization moments for me was about one year into my time in a mid size Indian city. I was working for a small IT company and had done my best to immerse myself in the culture by learning the language and spending time with Indian nationals as much as I could. My dad had come from America to visit me for a few days and we had a great time as I showed off my newly acquired language skills, how I knew the town like the back of my hand, and how well I had immersed myself into the local culture. After 2 days of impressing my dad, I dropped him off at the train station and waved goodbye until the train was out of sight, taking him to the airport 5 hours away where he would eventually catch his flight back to the US.

I took the clanky auto rickshaw down the main road and eventually back to my apartment, paid the driver 5 rupees and shuffled slowly down the dusty lane to my apartment.  All of my American colleagues were out of town for the weekend and I didn’t have any plans for the evening.

Then it hit me.  I was alone again. In an obscure town in the middle of India.  No one knew my hometown or had even heard of my state. No one knew or cared that I was the class president in high school or that my favorite food was sushi. The connection to my past and my culture was gone. All I had was the present.

I must have looked disturbed as I walked into our modest apartment complex. I tried to turn sharply and walk up the stairs avoiding any contact with my neighbors who were preparing their evening meal. One particular lady who I often spent time with paused from cooking her mattar paneer and peering through the door she inquired:
“Papa Chelegaye??!” (Did your dad leave?)
I stopped halfway up the stairs.

I stood in silence.
Then, I broke.
I burst into tears and rushed into her arms. She stood there holding me until I all of my hot tears had stained her dupatta. Her vegetables were burning on the stove, but neither of us noticed.

I looked up and saw her eyes filled with tears as well. She felt my pain. She saw that I wasn’t a perfect content super American.  I was sad. I was lonely.  I hated India that day and I missed my family. They knew I was real.
That night she fed me and made me sit and watch a movie with their family instead of sitting alone in my apartment studying. It was her chance to give back to me.

That was a major turning point in my relationship with Indian people as a whole.

I had come to India to serve and to help. I thought of myself as the Giver. I had never learned to RELY on the people surrounding me. I had moved to a deeper relationship. Into a vulnerable position.  I was no longer just the GIVER. I was also the RECEIVER.

3 Tips for overcoming culture shock:

  1. Push through that culture shock and BE PRESENT in the middle of it.  You are in the right place by acknowledging that you are experiencing sadness and discomfort.
  2. Be authentic–It is OK to tell your national friends that you are homesick.
  3. Find support–Other foreigners in your position have been through the same thing! They will most likely tell you their horror stories of times when they broke down and bounced back.

Dealing with the slow creeping culture shock is essential to your survival overseas long term. This is what it takes to really experience a culture. To fall in love with a culture, you have to hate it first.

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Musings of Tea

“we await the great Avatar. Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea.”

-The Book of Tea
In my travels I like to observe the differences in the way people approach life and how food and drink habits indicate that.
In the East you will find people stopping mid day- many times to enjoy a cup of tea.
No good party can be had without tea.
You can’t properly entertain guests without tea.
Everyone from rich and poor families will serve the same tea in their homes.
Chai runs thick in Indian’s blood.

This morning I made a cup of chai carefully mixed with cardamom and ginger for my Indian father in law. As we enjoyed the fresh morning air we chuckled as he mused at the way Canadians drink their coffee in HUGE mugs and drive off to the next destination plopping it in the cupholder.
“Why so much? and why so quickly?” he asks.
Cup holders and to go mugs are unheard of in the East. No one would ever think of having their tea on the run.
Tea is meant to be drunk sitting down.
It is a time to think, relax, converse, and reflect.
Why would anyone sacrifice that experience for a cupholder?

What does this tell about us in the West?
Have we in the West become a big portable mug culture?
Have we mobilized our relaxation? Have we forgotten how to ponder?

“There is a subtle charm in the taste of tea which makes it irresistible and capable of idealization.Western humorists were not slow to mingle the fragrance of their thought with its aroma. It has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.”

Dos and Dont’s of Working from Home

I’ve found that there are only a few activities I can successfully get done from my home office: answering simple short emails  that take less than 3 minutes, conference calls, and reTweeting others’ material  on Twitter. That’s it. Pretty pathetic, huh?

Why is it that my tea cupboard tempts me, the pile of laundry on my closet floor annoys me and that pile of leaves in the yard beckons me to go out and rake it up?

At home sometimes my creativity is so zapped by distractions, that I can hardly write a Tweet, much less create a semi-intelligent blog post or edit my company’s  sales process outline. Why does this happen to us?

Q: How does working from home zap our creativity?

A: We don’t eliminate the wrong distractions parts of our day by creating boundaries.

Lets examine the big distractions and challenges and how we can overcome them.


The ‘No Nos’ of Working from Home

1) Assume that Work Will Happen on Its Own

You probably don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder, nor do you have a detailed schedule that others are imposing on you. You must schedule times for tasks on your own and stick to it. Working from home requires an immense amount of discipline and one should be prepared to ‘be your own boss’. Schedule times to blog,  make sales calls, catch up on personal emails, etc. Honor your schedule.

2) “I Work Alone” Mentality

You are fiercely  independent, which is maybe why you are working for yourself or from a remote location. however, we don’t operate effectively in a vacuum. Seek an accountability partner who also works from home. Chat once a week to talk about your schedule, how well you are honoring your scheduled tasks and what your goals are for next week.

3) Bringing Work into your Personal Spaces

It sounds like common sense, but I have been guilty of this many times. When a 6am conference call is required to chat with colleagues in a different time zone, sometimes it feels good to snuggle under your bed covers and prop your computer up on a pillow . Don’t do it! Get up, make some tea. Find another warm chair in your house and get comfy there. This is one reason why your office should be comfy-see next point) under “Must Dos”.

Must Dos for Working at Home

1) Make your Workspace Enjoyable

Get a comfortable chair and a desk that you enjoy working at. Decorate your office (or designated work space) with pictures,  a nice color of paint and a nice ambiance. You should look forward to sitting in your office. If your office is uncomfortable and staunch you’ll probably end up sitting on the couch and eating Fritos instead. This hurts your personal productivity. Enjoy your office space.

2) Find Creative ways t0 Multitask

Eating and working at the same time is not the only way to save time (nor is it the cleanest).  Podcasts and audiobooks are my personal favorite to personal productivity! I can listen to business podcasts or audiobooks at any moment and you can do many other things simultaneously.

Here are some of my favorite ways to use audiobooks or podcasts:

  • while loading the dishwasher or cooking lunch
  • while exercising
  • while riding your bike to a meeting (or driving)
  • while getting ready or putting on makeup
  • while doing mundane tasks like data entry
  • while doing yard work

3) See Other People…Daily!

I can’t stress this enough. Schedule time to see people face to face every day! Even if this means going to visit your 90 year old next door neighbor for 20 minutes in the middle of your work day, do it. I find that being alone all day actually hurts my personal productivity. I need of social interaction I spend too much time on social media browsing my friend’s pictures, but the fact of the matter is- we need to talk to people face to face! I learned this the hard way when I looked at how many hours I was spending on different tasks per day. I was taking way too long to get even simple tasks done. I was bored. My advice is to get out! See people. I promise it will help your productivity.

Working from home can be one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavors. Be sure to set yourself up with the right circumstances to be productive.

Timeless Nomadic Business Principles

I was raised in a globally nomadic business home.

I witnessed the global nomadism movement taking place as an 8 year old eating Cheerios at the kitchen table. I watched my dad packed his suitcase and fly to places like Japan, Korea, Slovenia, France, Brazil, China. He would come back with gifts from the exotic bazaars of the Far East, sweet chocolates from Germany and postcards from Washington, DC. Even as a child I instinctively felt the beginning of globalization when my Dad would bring me Little Mermaid embroidered jackets or Simpsons sweatshirts from Korea. I was never raised wondering “how do they know about Disney in Korea.” Somehow I put the pieces together realizing that there were intelligent, English speaking professionals, highly aware of American culture all over the world.

My dad would get calls at 3am from his colleague Mr. Lee in Korea, thus exposing me to the concept of time zones. Us kids would watch Sesame Street while my dad be busy on our old computer (whose monitor seemed to fill up a whole desk) writing reports, saving files on floppy disks and playing Mai Jong. This was before the days of laptops, ipods, wifi, cds, Kindles, Bluetooth, and Blackberries (although we did have a Zach Morris looking ‘car phone’).

And somehow it all got done.

My generation (23-31) has been raised in an interesting time where the generation gap has been vast. We grew up canning vegetables with our grandparents in the morning, and listening to “Gloria Estefan” on our Sony Walkmans in the afternoon. We’re blessed to understand ‘both sides of the fence’. What it is like without technology, and what it is like with technology.

The generation younger to us (16-22) can note imagine what it would be like without a cell phone, texting and facebook. Their iPhones are like a 3rd arm… always attached.

With all these changes and differences in generations, I believe there are some principles of business that are timeless.

What did I learn from this beginning age of globalism?

  • Boundaries between work life and home life are essential
  • Not all the fancy latest tools are necessary as long as you know how to use the ones you’ve got
  • Business only becomes more efficient if you know how to use your ‘slow times’
  • You’re only effective at work when your personal life is in balance.

Lets not forget these and feel like we need the fanciest tools, the newest gizmos, the hottest new training to be successful.

There are some things that don’t change even in a global economy.

A Cold Inspirational Start

Last winter I was sitting in my Chicago bungalow, under a blanket with a space heater next to me and a typing on my computer with gloves. It was the biggest storm of the season and I hadn’t left the house for days. But hey…I was still working!

I needed advice. My frozen fingers typed into google ‘work from home’, ‘working from home advice’, ‘Chicago work from home groups’…nothing but a few measly sites that gave me 10 tips which I already discovered myself long before.

Was there anyone else out there who wanted to know hot to be more productive by working from home? Anyone else who was going crazy sitting in their house all day?

One November afternoon during my work day, I contemplated what I’m uniquely good at. As I sat under a tree reading Selling the Invisible in my front yard taking my routine afternoon break from emails, it hit me like an apple allegedly hit Newton on the head- I am an expert on working from home.

I was inspired to start this blog from Andreas Kluth’s Global Nomad article on the Economist which I originally heard about from a favorite podcast of mine Indicast. The article’s point is that “Global Nomadism’ is changing the way we interact with each other. It is changing the way we work. It is changing our productivity. It changes our boundaries between work and personal.

As a lone US based ranger of a company based overseas, I wondered if anyone else was out there who felt like they were at work all the time. I’ve started this blog to create a Global Nomad community and place where other nomads can read funny stories and share thoughts about the advantages and frustrations of working from remote locations

Here are some of the topics I plan on covering:

  • Maximizing your time at work
  • Creative ways to multitask
  • Staying disciplined
  • Keeping productivity up
  • Social Interaction
  • Separating ‘work and personal’
  • Saving money for yourself and your company
  • Connecting with other ‘nomads’
  • Fun travel stories and tips
  • Managing your schedule

Three cheers for a nomadic lifestyle!

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