Published on June 5, 2015
Here are our top tips on how to survive an internship in today's globalized business world:
1. Arrive to meetings on time
In the UK, being punctual or a few minutes early is very important. Meanwhile, Colombia is a bit more relaxed when it comes to punctuality, however most foreigners are still expected to arrive at the time scheduled.
2. Learn key phrases in the local language
In whatever country you’re in, it’s a good idea to speak some of the local language. Knowing and using just a few key phrases will show your associates respect.
3. Know what constitutes appropriate conversation
Every country has its own customs on what you can and can’t talk about during a business lunch or dinner. In general it’s a good idea to avoid topics like religion and politics, especially controversial political topics relating to the region. In the UK especially avoid conversation topics that are overly personal or prying.
4. Dress like everyone else
Save your neon blouses for the weekend. Many countries avoid using bright colors in their business clothing, so take color into consideration when you pack your bags for a business trip. If you’re spending a significant amount of time in a foreign country, it may not be a bad idea to see what your business associates are wearing and try to dress similarly.
5. Keep your volume down
Be very aware of how loud you’re speaking compared to everyone else in the room. Even if your voice level seems normal to you, if it’s louder than everyone else, it’s probably a good idea to tone things down to avoid being uncouth.
6. Know what to do with your business cards
In Spanish-speaking countries like Colombia and Spain it’s a good idea to have business cards printed in English on one side and in Spanish on the other. Hand the card to the Spanish-speaker with the Spanish side up.
7. Learn local hand gestures (do's and don'ts)
In the UK, tapping your nose means a subject should remain private. In Brazil, making the OK sign with your hands is considered obscene. Learn before you enter a business meeting which gestures to definitely avoid.
8. Bring the right kind of gift
Gift giving is an especially precarious procedure abroad as every culture has their own ideas about how it should be done. Gifts with logos are frowned upon in many cultures, especially in Greece, Spain or Portugal. In China, expect for the gift to be refused three times before ultimately accepted.
9. Know whether or not to order an alcoholic beverage
In general, it’s good to follow the lead of the locals when you’re not sure whether or not to order an alcoholic beverage because customs differ widely depending on the culture and company. In Australia, for instance, luncheons are most often alcohol-free.
10. Learn the standard greetings
Business greetings are part of that vital first impression and vary slightly in every country so it’s a good thing to research your country before heading abroad. In Colombia, for example, handshakes are part of the business greeting process, though the whole greeting takes a longer time than most countries so it’s important not to rush the moment.