Published on June 5, 2015

10 international business tips for surviving in a globalized world

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.


how to survive an internship


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.


how to survive an internship


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.


how to survive an internship


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.




Photo 1. based on Kristovskis-meeting-89.jpg, by Baltic Development Forum, CC-by-2.0

Photo 2. based on business woman, by Steve wilson, CC-by-2.0

Photo 3. based on Killer Zombie smiles!, by Steve Baker, CC-by-2.0

The author
Elizabeth Trovall
After short stints in Argentina and Belize, Elizabeth is finishing up her third year in Santiago, Chile. Elizabeth writes about international internships, life abroad and professional development for The Intern Group. She also reports on politics, business and culture in Latin America for public radio and print media. An Austin, Texas native, Elizabeth first left home to earn her journalism degree from the Reynolds Institute of Journalism at the University of Missouri. Besides her friends and family, she misses live music and Mexican food the most.

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