Belgium — Philippines — India

What I learnt about cultural sensitivities and how it is rewiring me as a person

Part 1: The Intro

In the last 5 years, my work has taken me across 13 countries, working with youth leadership development. This gave me an exposure to cross cultural understanding in the formative years of my adulthood. I had the opportunity to work with people from all across the globe in the world’s largest youth led NGO — AIESEC.

Okay, let’s dive into this!

Part 2: The Meat

One the coolest tools I have bumped into (courtesy of a dear friend — Gaurav Sathe) called the Hofstede Model. This is perhaps one of the most comprehensive studies of how workplace values and behaviors are affected by one’s culture. And when such heavy statements are made, it needs backing up with massive research and evidence (which you can find more info here).

6 cultural dimensions as told by Hofstede Model. Pragmatic (Long term) vs Normative (Short Term)
Belgium-Philippines-India scoring on these 6 dimensions as per Hofstede scale

Disclaimer!

Read this — https://geert-hofstede.com/national-culture.html before moving ahead to better understand what the dimensions mean in a stand alone context (esp “About The Research”). The data for this was collected between 1967 and 1973.

  • Different is just different. Not bad or good. That is up to one’s interpretation and opinion.
  • All of what is posted below is from personal experiences.
  • We all can learn something (if not a lot) from other cultures.

So, let’s begin!

#1. Power Distance:

1a. India (77/100) on Power Distance

It is customary to be questioned by your boss/superior on your weekly activities and progress of your projects. On the other hand, it is unacceptably audacious or even arrogant (depending on perspective) if I were to question my boss/superior on his activities and progress of his projects especially in front of your peers.

1b. Philippines (94/100)

The offices of some of the biggest companies in Philippines that I have visited, the senior executives (VPs, President, CEO, division heads) have their personal offices in the more top floors of the building/office.

1c. Belgium (65/100)

Relatively lower on the scale. It is okay to question your superiors/managers at work. It is fair that authority or power is given — at the expense of the responsibility that comes with the ranks which can be, and in fact is held accountable.
I have seen and myself experienced leaders/power being openly questioned (and it is accepted). This act of questioning comes from the core motive of being accountable to one’s responsibility.

#2. Individualism vs Collectivism:

2a. India (48/100)

Sort of mid range when compared to Belgium or Philippines. When I was growing up, I was taught the importance of societal & family living. Family comes first — I have heard this ever so often when in the early years of my life, that it is the norm.

2b. Philippines (32/100)

Super family driven culture. Filipino culture is one of the most hospitable, inclusive family culture I have experienced.

A brief example of the festivities. An experience I will cherish for life.

2c. Belgium (75/100)

Individual opinion matters, and better be heard. My guess is that it is connected to the power distance as there is not much of a hierarchical separation between the layers.

#3. Masculinity vs Femininity:

Before going all sexist about this, let’s see the definition:

3a. India (56/100)

Age old traditions, Indian epics and historic tales are embedded with masculine displays of success, power and heroism.

Taken from the Bhagavad Gita — part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata

3b. Philippines (64/100)

A very work driven society.

3c. Belgium (54/100)

“Society at large is more consensus oriented”
Here, arguments are more non Win-Lose style, which means that achieving common ground through discussion and compromise is more prevalent.
This results in decisions taking longer than usual since each point of a discussion is carefully examined and debated upon.

#4. Uncertainty Avoidance:

4a. India (40/100)

Woah. Where do I begin?

All these are examples of Jugaad. Observe a pattern?
Jugaad — It’s becoming a thing!
One of the coolest explanations I have seen

4b. Philippines (44/100)

Closely following India, it was not as much of a culture shock for me getting set to this environment in Manila. It is okay to have changes along the way as there is a quick coping mechanism that helps them adapt.

4c. Belgium (94/100)

94 Looks like a test score I used to dream of in my engineering days.
Oh boy. For an Indian (who thrived in the “last minute” & “jugaad” environment) to move to such a country was an interesting experience.

#5. Long Term Orientation:

5a. India (51/100)

Being in the mid-range, we again are a duality (love this word!). Although we have a very strong set of core beliefs, it is okay to bend around these in an agreeable frame to adjust to the reality and the future.

5b. Philippines (27/100)

This is one score that I am not as opinionated on, since either I did not observe enough to see a pattern or I did not interact with enough people to understand this behavior better.

5c. Belgium(82/100)

From my observations, some behaviors I have seen with the people around me which back this high score are: good future planning, long term financial saving where students begin saving up from their very first salaries, being very careful with their “big” spending, etc.
It is also backed up by the immense history that Belgium has, as a nation in this region which was also rebuilt after massive aftermath of the World Wars.

#6. Indulgent vs Restraint:

India (26/100)

Being so low in this scale, now looking back in the last 20 years of my life, I can totally connect with this.

My reaction when I realized the dimensions are interlinked

Part 3: In The End, It All Adds Up

Now why did I choose to throw all this info out in a long post (at least one of the longest I have written) like this?

  • Personal task I gave myself to read, observe and learn more about culture after having worked more than 5 years in an organization whose very foundation was built on cross cultural learning experiences.
    Thought it was the least I could do in my capacity
  • To help some people (like me) to realize something new about cross cultural understanding.

Part 4: The Quote

Basic respect and acceptance of another culture, without judgement, can come only through understanding and empathy.

So I wanted to take an active step to not fall into this human judgement trap that our beloved social media is leading us to these days.

Create to learn. Create to assimilate. Screw small talk. Thoughts afloat, learnings and stories documented. More on Instagram / Twitter @thekattingedge