I’ve always had a deep-rooted interest in understanding other cultures that goes beyond simply seeing their differences. I really try to get into their minds, to see things as they do and understand the deeper “why.” This has me to live and work abroad for most of my life.
This is my personal blog where I write about the soft people skills that are essential to understand other cultures better, make more international sales and improve your international business. I also share observations filtered through the cross-cultural lens I’ve acquired over 30 years of living in other cultures.
Please note: this personal blog is where I spend my free time; if you would like to connect with me about anything related to my work at Social Media Examiner, reach out to me there. Of course, the opinions here are my own.
A Passion for Developing International Business
Most of my work while living abroad has been in international business development, giving me numerous opportunities to develop my international skills.
Here are some pivotal experiences that forged who I am:
- My first time living abroad, I almost lost myself in the new culture and had to pull back. This gave me insights into my personal boundaries.
- I’ve picked up languages in nontraditional ways, including a working understanding of Italian by sharing an office with an Italian colleague who phoned her sisters every day.
- I’ve been the sole minority working in an all-Muslim environment, an all-Catholic environment and an all-Jewish environment.
- I’ve worked as an executive for Fortune 100 companies and startups.
- I always seem to work where there’s lots of change: new technologies, new laws and new markets.
- I’ve negotiated deals that brought in $10 million a year in sales for two different companies.
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My International Story
Here’s more about my own story.
#1: The Bahamas: Home
I grew up in the Bahamas, an archipelago of 700 islands between Florida and Cuba. What’s cool is that the islands are on an underwater plateau, so the shallow water in between creates wonderful turquoise waters, my favorite color.
I was born in the capital Nassau, grew up in Freeport and have family in Long Island. My mother comes from an old Bahamian family, one of the first to settle on the islands – there’s even a story of a pirate in the family history. My father was Canadian; his ancestors were among the first English-speaking people to settle there. Travel is in my blood.
Back then the island was only just beginning to develop. There were only two grocery shops, a couple of clothing stores and one movie theater that only seemed to change films twice a year.
It’s different living in a place where there isn’t much, but where things are constantly growing and expanding.
The Bahamas was still a British colony then, so I was educated through the British system. Even though we lived so close to the U.S., the first American book I read was after I left the island at 18. But I grew up with American television and radio stations.
When I was in primary school I had a girlfriend, Silvia, whose family had an amazing story, having escaped from East Germany. When Silvia’s father died in an accident, her mother didn’t speak enough English to get by and they returned to Germany. Their story and this friendship was what motivated me to want to understand German.
#2: First Job: International Golf Tournament, the Hoerman Caribbean Cup
My first job after high school was working for an international golf tournament for Caribbean counties. I got to ride around in a golf cart and meet interesting people. That year I also worked selling jewelry and as a front desk clerk in a hotel.
From knowing my childhood friend Silvia, I had always wanted to learn languages, German in particular. The hotel I worked at was owned by a Swiss man, so when an opportunity came up to go Switzerland, I took it.
#3: Berne, Switzerland: A Deep Dive into Different Cultures
I went to live in Berne, and I remember the first culture shock very well. A few hours after landing, I was sitting in a restaurant eating croissants. I had been brought up never let crumbs land on the table, but you can’t eat Swiss croissants without having crumbs fall. It felt excruciatingly awkward.
Living in Berne was also the first time I saw snow, or even needed a jacket.
The first 6 months I worked as an au pair and studied German every minute I could and practiced speaking at every opportunity. Then I got a job at the Malaysian Embassy in Berne.
The next four years I studied German at night at the University of Berne and after class went out with friends from all parts of Switzerland. I only spoke High German, but my friends spoke different Swiss dialects, and I learned to stretch my ear.
Learning German in Switzerland is a bit nontraditional, but I appreciated how things worked out. Not only did I learn to understand Swiss dialects, but I also learned to decipher other similar languages. When I spent a weekend in Luxembourg I understood the gist of the street signs. When I later worked for a Dutchman I knew what he was talking about even if I didn’t pick up all of the nuances.
#4: Malaysian Embassy in Berne: Adapting to Different Cultures
I enjoyed working at the Malaysian Embassy. There were often PR events with the embassies from the other ASEAN countries and the diplomatic community in Switzerland. Only two of us in my office were not Malaysian and not Muslim.
My other non-Malaysian colleague would call her three sisters every morning and speak to them in Italian. After a few years I began to understand it. This was my first experience of picking up a language through “osmosis.” It was cool.
I was also studying Spanish at the time. It was common for the people around me to speak four languages or more. My German skills were getting very strong, and I began dreaming in German and counted naturally in German, something people say you only do in your native language.
Living in a foreign country was intense and immersion was total. I learned to adapt. The most important lesson I learned was to keep one part of my life my own so as not to lose my identity in the new culture.
During my last year in Berne I had four weeks vacation and a limited budget. I decided to go to Paris to study French in the mornings, spend time sightseeing in the afternoons and live with a French family. It was the only vacation I could afford. And that’s how I decided to move to Paris.
#5: Paris: Creating My Future
The first couple of years in Paris I lived the life of a student and got a trilingual translation diploma from the Alliance Française and the French Chamber of Commerce. I also did some fun stints of simultaneous translation and translated the magazine for Jacques Cousteau’s World Underwater Organization.
After moving to Paris I learned that I have a different personality when I speak German, when I speak French and when I speak English with native English speakers.
At this time in my life, I spoke fluent German and French and had basic knowledge of Spanish. I could follow Italian and Malay and could read signs in other Germanic languages. Life was multi-lingual.
I took to French life and culture very easily, and in Paris I learned to cook and appreciate French wines. This was also where my international skills grew stronger.
#6: Gold Record: An Exceptional Business Environment
My first job in Paris was as an international consultant specializing in smart card technology. This was the first of many times working with new technologies.
Shortly afterwards I joined the European headquarters of CBS Records in Paris.
One of the fun things I remember here is the market research to find the manufacturing plant to produce CDs, which were just beginning to hit the market.
The management there was exceptional; it was stimulating to work in that environment.
Shortly after I joined CBS in Paris our office moved to London. Of about fifty people, only three of us decided to take the relocation package to move to London.
All of the staff in our Paris office got a gold record when the office closed. It was a great team and I’m grateful for knowing the people there.
#7: London: A Time of Productivity and Growth
The first time I took the public transport after moving to London I was surprised to hear English spoken around me. That’s when I realized I hadn’t been in an English-speaking country for eight years.
I moved from the records side of the company to the television side, and took night courses at the London Business School. I’d been taking night classes ever since leaving the Bahamas to get as much as I could out of my experiences in different countries.
I spent 3 years in London, which was where I honed my negotiation skills. This was the first time I negotiated over $10 million annually in sales.
I enjoyed my time there, but when an opportunity came to move back to France I took it.
#8: Long Summer Vacations: Reconnecting With My Life Path
At the time I moved back to France, living in a town outside of Paris, I was a single mom with two daughters. I had very long days commuting to work, but luckily I was able to take my daughters on a few long summer holidays.
One summer I spent in Canada working within a Catholic organization as the only non-Catholic. While I worked, my daughters did fun activities with their uncle.
About five years later we spent over three months in the Bahamas visiting family. It was a real adventure with trips in airplanes of all sizes, boats and even an overnight trip on the local mail boat—one lifetime memory after another.
These were all fabulous vacations. But I learned to appreciate them even more for another reason. This total break from everyday life means that you come back to your life with fresh eyes.
It makes it easy to reassess what you’re doing and how you are doing it, to make adjustments towards creating the life you want. I’ve learned it’s worth investing in a long vacation every few years.
#9: Fontainebleau Castle: Where My Daughters Grew Up
During this time, I was a sales and marketing executive. To keep balance, I chose to live in a small village outside of Fontainebleau. We lived near the Fontainebleau forest, at the outskirts of the Parisian suburbs and the beginning of the French countryside. It was great for country walks, walks in the forest and even rock climbing.
My daughters went to school near the famous Fontainebleau castle and would meet up with friends in the castle gardens there.
#10: International Business Development With Ease
There were several common denominators in my professional experience:
- I seemed to alternate working at a Fortune 100 company and then working for a startup
- I always worked in either a sales or marketing in an international company
- I worked in communication industries: smart cards, records, television, telecommunication and publishing
- I always seemed to be right where emerging technology was affecting business
My position almost always involved international business development; what I liked most was developing business in new markets abroad. The cross-cultural communication skills I developed over the years made this both fun and easy.
People reached out to me for help when they had problems dealing with clients from other cultures. I enjoyed opening up communication and helping to sort things out.
#11: Social Media: An International Adventure
Where I was living south of Paris I’d often meet business owners who would say, “I’d like to go international, but…” It surprised me that such successful people would get stuck on something I considered simple.
This is how I decided to start my French company. I wanted to help others get beyond their initial hurdles in developing their markets abroad.
But I also wanted international clients of my own. When social media was just taking off, I started a personal blog, CindyKing.biz and a business blog, GetInternationalClients.com. I blogged daily on both of these sites for two years.
I focused on the soft people-skills needed for cross-cultural communication. No one else appeared to be doing this at the time and this was my strength. I also employed a very strategic social media strategy to reach potential clients.
I was surprised by how well social media worked for my business. I later realized that the same people skills I had for developing new international markets helped me figure out how to use social media for my new business.
These skills eventually lead me to join Social Media Examiner. I’m proud of contributing to the success of this company in my role as Director of Editorial.
#12: Miami Beach: Across From Home
Life evolves. My daughters grew up and began their lives at universities in Canada and France.
I’m now in Miami, a short distance away from the island where I grew up. This is yet another international experience for me, as it is my first time living in the U.S.
I continue to work for Social Media Examiner as well as inspire other professionals to develop their international skills.
Do you have an international story to share? I’d love to hear about it! Email me at email@example.com.
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