Working as a Foreign Service Officer in an embassy in India can be a daunting task. On one hand, you are surrounded by fellow expatriates and your home culture which has been transplanted abroad. On the other hand, much of your daily interactions are with local staff that do not change their way of thinking and working simply by walking in the door. In fact, the very purpose of the embassy, consulate, or diplomatic mission is cross-cultural in nature and requires you to adapt to the local culture while representing the interests of your nation.
One of the biggest mistakes that embassy workers can make when taking on a new assignment in India is to assume that the approach and strategies that worked in their previous assignment will work in their new post. India consistently ranks as one of the most challenging assignments for expats due to the pervasiveness of strongly held cultural values and the subtlety by which they are expressed.
How can we begin to develop the cross-cultural competencies required to work effectively as embassy workers in India? David Livermore suggests that there are four key components in increasing our cultural intelligence: drive (or motivation), knowledge, strategy, & action.
A good place to start is to increase your cultural knowledge by attending a cultural orientation workshop facilitated by expatriates who have extensive experience living in India. Intercultural workshops which go beyond simple lists of “dos” and “don’ts” can help new assignees begin to uncover some of the deeper layers of cultural values and worldview. This process of discovery can significantly reduce the often steep learning curve a new assignees to an embassy in India.