Amy, what kind of associations does the expression “culture experience” bring to your mind?
I was born in Hong Kong but at an early age I was sent to school in the UK. It was paid for by the government. I was 13 years old at that time and that was a culture shock for me. I experienced the shock on many different levels. The most shocking was losing the freedom that I had at home. This was a boarding school so there were a lot of rules which we had to obey there and the whole discipline was very rigid. For example we had different shoes outdoors and indoors, we had to change our jackets each time when we were leaving to outside, in the dining room we were not allowed to speak and sit down until a specific moment. There were many routines there and rules. Everything was governed by the sound of bells. I spent five years there.
Did you travel from time to time to your home in Hong Kong during these school years?
Yes, always for Christmas and summer holiday but not on Easter.
How much did you miss your family when you were at the school?
I missed them a lot! Everything was so harsh, so different, so strange. It was a whole new environment, a lot of new people, I didn’t know a lot of things and didn’t have a clue as to how to behave in the new surroundings.
And what do you think about this culture differences experience now from the long time perspective? To what extend was it good and to what extend it was bad?
It’s a very good question. I think it enabled me to learn cultural habits and rules very quickly. You know, because it was not about adaptation but it was about survival. So I think now when I enter an organization I quickly catch the most important ingredients of its culture, I can easily sense them and understand. This is the benefit. But on the other hand all the restrictions that I had to accept there finally forced me to let go off my nature a lot. And I was such a wild and rebellious creature at that time… that was partially the reason why my parents decided to send me there. But with all the restrictions and the punishment not only from the heads of the school but also from other girls, I had to give up my one-person revolution in order to survive.
I could have an impression that this harsh experience finally made you stronger and more self-aware…
It’s interesting. I think in a way yes and in a way no. I think I got to know the rules so well that I became very good at this. I became almost the head of the school… I was head of house and a school prefect. Learning how to get things done and how to do them well drove me down a corporate career. And it took me a lot of time then to realize that I was sacrificing my real nature in conforming- it was a very high price to pay. So over time, I became aware of the need to reconnect with myself and my true nature…
So what happened in your life next after you finished the school?
I went to university in the UK and after that I entered the corporate world. Meanwhile my parents moved to Canada. My mother came from mainland China and she emigrated to Hong Kong so when Hong Kong was returned to China my parents felt they needed to escape from the communists once again- they didn’t trust them and they respected their freedom. So suddenly Canada became my home country. I started to travel back and forth between Toronto and the UK, another culture experience… And in my corporate life I was involved in some projects which also gave me opportunity to work with people from different countries. Probably the most interesting one was setting up a factory in Sri Lanka.
You are a great example of a person whose culture identity is difficult to define…
Yes, I was immersed in the western culture so early, when I was so young– for instance I didn’t have any Chinese friends! Most of my friends are English or American or others but not Chinese. My only link with China now is through my family. When I meet with people from different countries like Sri Lanka or Poland I immediately relate to them through familiar values – like family, respecting older people, education as the number one priority for our children – these are things which were also very figural in my upbringing.
What about Poland? How do you feel with our values?
Your culture has two particular values which I understand very well – your family orientation and your willingness to make your children’s lives better than their parents.
So have you ever experienced any special situations which we call AHA-moments which are so strange but so interesting at the same time that finally make us realize something new? I mean AHA-moments on culture background?
Hmm… I must say that it is so difficult for me to answer this question because I fall in with cultures very easily. For example when I meet a foreigner I soon feel that this person has the same values as I have there is an immediate mutual understanding between us.
Amy, is there any country in the world which you would say is your favorite one to live?
It’s a difficult question. I would rather say that my favorite place to live can be anywhere where you are surrounded by nature.
Isn’t it that you are this kind of person who has the whole world inside oneself? And because of that it doesn’t matter where you are and what is around you because this what you really need you have in you and you bring it everywhere where you go…
Interesting. I have to think about it. My immediate reaction is that I would rather say the opposite – that I am completely open to the environment and everything which it offers me… Can you explain more what you mean about that…
For example in my case, I love to travel and I love to get to the real life in a foreign country as close as possible…but I somehow enjoy it also because I know that soon I will be back home… which means here abroad this is not my home… And for me you are a perfect traveler – I heard this expression somewhere – because you are able to create your home wherever you go…
This is true. Yes, that’s true. Interesting.
And what about the gender issues versus culture issues? Can we talk a little bit about that? Have you noticed anything special in any country, which would relate to this?
Yes, this is very interesting topic and I would say with these situations there have been some AHA-moments connected in my life. What I have observed, in UK when you attend a networking meeting and the room is full of men you may talk only about such boring things like golf or football. When you attend a women networking meeting it’s another extreme – the women are hyper-active, hyper-busy, trying to sell themselves too much. In Poland I find it really nurturing to be in company of women. You may talk to them about everything – family, life, work, children, politics, everything. In the UK most of my friends or business contacts are men but in Poland these are definitely mostly women.
Do you have any thoughts which you would like to share with women in this country, some ideas which could be inspiring for them?
Yes. Jump in! And get together! Get together with like-minded people. I think women somehow have become competitive with each other. We should be more supportive of each other.
Is this specific for Poland or this happens everywhere in the world?
Rather everywhere. I think great women are everywhere too but they are not united. There is no one organization which could connect great women to each other. There is no one collective women ‘s voice which is used to address more substantial things, really important things. What I see in Poland- and it may be because I have not spent long enough in Poland- is that women tend to be associated with messages, holistic therapies, creative stuff and training. This is all well and good and it is not enough. I think women are ready to get together and with their naturally holistic orientation, they are in a perfect position to take on really serious issues and start to shape a society and a future that is worthy of the sacrifices past generations have made. What is our ‘take’ on some of hottest issues right now? I would love to be part of such a group of women and I would love it even more if such a group started in Poland.
Amy Barnes: MBA (Distinction), Chartered MCIPD
She is a highly valued and deeply trusted consultant, executive coach and change facilitator. She was nominated by the British Home Office for an Award in Excellence for her leadership development work. A trained dancer and pianist, to her clients she brings creativity, structure and depth of skill, greatly enhanced by four years of intensive psychotherapy training and clinical work. She recently moved to Krakow to join forces with John Scherer to co-create Scherer Leadership International (https://scherercenter.com), and continues to work in the UK with key clients. In her spare time, she enjoys painting, art, music, dancing and cooking.