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Going Global: Training Internationally By Donald Ford, PhD

06/03/2012 11:32 AM | Deleted user

Going Global: Training Internationally

“Travel imparts new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca

Like many learning and performance consultants, I find myself travelling abroad increasingly.  Since the Great Recession, demand for training has gone up overseas while declining in the U.S.  I enjoy travelling and seeing the world, especially on someone else’s dime, so I take assignments in many parts of the globe, including East and Southeast Asia, Middle East, North and South Africa and Latin America. 
I am also always a little paranoid about international travel and for good reason. 

When training abroad, many things can go wrong.  As Murphy’s Law instructs, it eventually will.  So I’ll share some tips that I learned the hard way which I find work for me when training internationally.

Do Your Homework
Learn as much as you can about the client and the country before even accepting an offer.  Make sure you can trust the client who hired you, because if they don’t pay, there’s a long line at the International Court of the Hague.  Read up on the country and the city where you will be staying.  A good tourist guide is a starting point. 

Learn a few phrases in the native language.  The people you interact with in the foreign land will appreciate your effort.

Anticipate Everything
Prepare a checklist for your trip of all the materials, technology, clothing and personal items you will need.  Make travel arrangements about 3 weeks in advance for the best deals.  Clarify all local travel arrangements with the client prior to departure.  I once had an assignment in the Middle East and I thought the client had booked my hotel.  When I arrived, I discovered they were sold out and I didn’t have a reservation.  Turns out the client thought he was merely recommending a hotel, not booking it. 

Pack extras of all essential training materials and carry them with you, in case your luggage is delayed. Ship as much ahead as possible or use digital files.  Designate someone back home who can send you things in an emergency.

Despite your best laid plans, things happen.  Personal flexibility is a great asset when traveling, as is an open mind.

Build Relationships
After arrival, meet the client post haste.  Continue building the relationship you began virtually, because this person(s) is the key to a successful engagement.  The person will troubleshoot problems, make arrangements, and hopefully recommend things to do.

Once in the class, I make every effort to meet participants individually and get to know them on a personal level.  The business card exchange ritual is a good time to do this.  Find out something interesting about each person and remember it.  Most countries have a much higher relationship culture than the U.S.  The relationships you create will buy you goodwill and enrich your experience.

Adjust Your Delivery
Find out about the English language skills of the audience and be prepared to speak more slowly and distinctly to be understood.  Avoid American slang and clichés and speak standard English.   Bring a good ear too, since understanding foreign accented-English can be a challenge.   Use many visuals and summarize key points in your slides; most foreign speakers of English can read better or at least as well as they can interpret the spoken word.

Be sure to explain any references to U.S. culture, customs, or laws, since these may not be known.  Relate content to the local context and check with participants frequently for relevance to their environment.  Be sensitive to the local customs.  You may have to adjust the schedule to accommodate prayer, banquets, ceremonies, afternoon tea, rush hour, blackouts, or the occasional coup d’état.

I have found that humans everywhere enjoy being engaged in their learning.  Keep lectures to a minimum and emphasize discussion and activity. Small group work is a hit in cultures with high relationship behavior.  They can also converse in their native language and often process the learning better this way.  Avoid calling on individual participants who might feel put on the spot.  I prefer to ask for volunteers or use open-ended overhead questions to stimulate a discussion. Inject fun and humor into the course and people can’t help but feel good about the program and about you.  I bring chocolates to hand out at afternoon break and as prizes.  They are invariably a hit.

Immerse Yourself in the Culture
If you want to join the ranks of the ex-pats and pros in our profession, immerse yourself in the culture. Get out of your five star hotel and into the streets.  Walk the malls and observe the people.  Go into the shopping and nightlife areas and experience the culture first-hand.  Read the local newspaper and watch the local news.  I have found the best approach is to be a cultural chameleon - be part of the culture while you are in it.  The old cliché still rings true – when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

If you find some way to connect yourself to the local scene for however brief time you are there, you will come home with a broadened outlook on the world that no amount of reading and studying can ever replace.  You may also find, as I have, that some of your very best friends live in those faraway places that training summoned you to visit.

Donald J. Ford, Ph.D., C.P.T.
President, Training Education Management LLC and
Adjunct Professor of Management, Antioch University Los Angeles

ATD-Los Angeles Chapter
9852 W. Katella Ave. #187
Anaheim, CA 92804
Chapter Code: CH8028

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