After studying and working in the UK, New Zealand and Germany for nearly 10 years, I decided to make the trans-global return to the country of my childhood--the "Land of Opportunities". American friendliness has been most refreshing, while creativity and appreciation for novel ideas has proven to be a gold-mine on multiple levels! Californian soil, however as fruitful as it is, presented somewhat of a culture-shock to my Europeanised system...
The British: from Oxford to Fish n' Chips
Acculturating initially to the British study and work environment, with its multiple unspoken and strictly subtle codes of conduct, formalities, and well-defined class structure was a slow, frustrating process (laden with extensive faux pas to the comic amusement of many colleageus). Luckily though the British have a fantastic sense of humour, highly-developed smalltalk and wit that flows as freely as the beer...eh..rain does. The most impressive aspect of working in the UK was the international atmosphere where talented people from around the world were largely appreciated for their cultural diversity by the host culture--imagine a vibrant cohesive team comprised of a Jamaican, South African, 3 Britons, a Dane, an Aussie, and an American.
Those years in England did produce skills that are proving to be useful, if not advantageous in American professional society--most notably maintaining an air of refinement while being modern and flexible. The cultivated English accent unfailingly charms people, and throwing in that English dry wit succeeds in cutting through all the class and cultural barriers, unifying everyone in a state of mutual laughter.
Understanding Germanic Precision
The engineering world of Germany could not have been more starkly different to the British--where being precise, exhaustively exact, and disciplined is highly valued, while smalltalk is virtually non-existent. Social interaction is either ornately formal or directly straightforward. This had a very distancing effect socially and attempts at British wit were taken utterly literal. To their praise, however, the Germans were awe-inspiring in their depth of knowledge and efficiency--from immaculate and highly organised laboratories, offices, to hospitals.
Getting into the mind of this machine-like system was insightful, where ironically a greater focus was placed on the process than the result--"engineering is simply memorising and repeating cooking recipes" to quote a professor of mine. However, as a foreigner, you are always aware that you have to work much harder to reach the same standard of success. Although this system was too stiffling for my creative experimenting style, the benefit of a rigorous engineering "boot camp" was developing a highly-structured, methodical, and systematic approach to solving complex problems--a skill that has caught the attention and respect of my American colleagues.
The Californians: CEOs in T-shirts!
It amazes me how professionals can be highly productive, creative, flexible, successful, friendly and chilled out simultaneously. The most mind-boggling and exciting for me is to see a system that gives the individual the space to develop an idea into a working business unhindered by a rigid ideological system. While the San Francisco Bay Area maintains much of that European charm, namely cultural diversity, beautiful architecture and colorful history, it is a uniquely innovative atmosphere. The open and embracing attitude toward creative ideas gives a lightness and spontaneity that is very refreshing! The best fruits of one's efforts emerge in such an environment.
In closing, being shaped by multiple cultural influences over the last decade, I return to America as a semi-foreigner--like other immigrants learning about the financial, tax, educational, and healthcare systems, as well as the general American etiquette. The first year in a new country is certainly the steepest learning curve. I must say, however, it is a fantastic position to be in: understanding the struggle of having been a 2nd class citizen many years and how hard one must work to succeed, and now having full rights in this country. America allows an individual to take ownership of his/her enterprise and makes services very accessible. So as I attempt to contribute to the American melting pot of cultures, ideas, and skills, I recognise that this is not only the "Land of Opportunities" but the Land of Creativity.