Rapport de stage à l’étranger?
1. Introduction 4
2. Internship context 4
3. Intercultural analysis 5
3.1. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions 5
3.1.1. Power distance 6
3.1.2. Individualism 6
3.1.3. Masculinity 6
3.1.4. Uncertainty avoidance 6
3.1.5. Long term orientation 7
3.1.6. Indulgence 7
3.2. Stumbling blocks 7
3.2.1. Assumption of similarities 7
3.2.2. Language differences 7
3.2.3. Non-verbal misinterpretations 7
3.2.4. Preconceptions and stereotypes 8
3.2.5. Tendency to evaluate 8
3.2.6. High anxiety 8
3.3. Edward T. Hall’s cultural factors 8
4. Challenges 9
5. Culture 9
5.1. Architecture 9
5.2. Gender equality 10
As part of my engineering training at the Institute Mines-Telecom Lille Douai, I had to do a foreign internship for at least two months. The main objective is to improve our English practice, as we are immersed into a different culture from ours and a language that we don’t necessarily know.
I see this internship as a big opportunity. I have always wanted to do an internship or a semester abroad, but apprenticeship does not allow you to spend a semester in another country, and I didn’t have the opportunity during my DUT to do the same. I used to go to the United Kingdom for one week each year from Year 9 to Year 13, and it stirred my desire to discover the world.
Firstly, the original plan by my apprenticeship master and team manager, Patrick VANDENNIEUWEMBROUCK, and my domain manager, Pierre-Emmanuel CORVI, was to send me to Singapore, to a CIC branch. But some time later, it was no longer possible to send me there and I have been without any internship opportunity for a long time. Patrick used his contacts to get me opportunities in a representative office, but the research was not successful. On my side, I asked my family and some of my mother’s colleagues if they had suitable offers for what I was looking for. I also contacted agencies specialised in stays abroad.
It is finally thanks to the intervention of Bruno DELAPORTE, a Cofidis Organisation Director, that I have been able to find this internship. He offered me the choice to go either to Tournai or Prague, I didn’t take too long to choose. After that, Bruno got me in touch with Tiyo DJANKLA, who is also an Organisation director, but in Prague. Tiyo is an expatriate and speaks French, which made the dialogue with Patrick and me easier. He explained me that his team could welcome me as project manager and that I would be under the responsibility of Michal PERTLICEK, with whom I was also able to discuss and who introduced me to the various subjects on which I could work.
2. Internship context
Cofidis is a company created in 1982, originally to finance the purchases of the 3 Suisses catalogue. The society has since expanded and has been acquired by the Crédit Mutuel. Its business concept is to offer loans to customers by telephone or via the Internet.
Its head office being in Villeneuve d’Ascq (the same campus where I usually work), the company expanded to other European countries – Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Czech Republic, Greece and Hungary.
For this internship in the Czech branch of Cofidis, I joined the Organisation team of Cofidis Prague. The company is located in a campus, the Office Park, and is located on two floors of one of the buildings. My office is on the second floor of building B, with all the other members of my team, Tiyo excluded because he has his own office next to ours.
My team is fully composed of project managers, whose goal is to supervise the evolution of a project, redacting documents related to it and make organisational decisions related to its progress. My mission during this internship is to follow and supervise the integration of Microsoft SharePoint within Cofidis CZ. Microsoft SharePoint is primarily a document management and storage system, but can be configured in different ways to match the specific needs of the targeted company. The main objective is to be able to organize all project documents hierarchically by giving access rights to the latter to the designated persons.
3. Intercultural analysis
To better understand Czech society, I have consulted several tools designed to analyse a society’s behaviour in relation to its culture. During this information gathering, I was able to discuss with my colleague Sandra, who lived several years in France and thus give me her opinion on the data I use, being able to give me her opinion as an expatriate on French behaviour while giving me her opinion on Czech society, being her country of origin.
I therefore discussed the analytical tools that I discovered last year during the intercultural week at the IMT Lille-Douai, namely the Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, the stumbling blocks in intercultural communication and the Edward T Hall’s cultural factors.
I will thus approach the analysis tools dedicated to interculturality, presenting them and also the data on Czech Republic concerning Hofstede and Hall.
3.1. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is a way of describe the effects of a society’s culture on the value of its members, and how these values relate to their behaviour. It divides its analysis in 6 parts, called cultural dimensions. We can see an example of a comparison between the dimensions of the Czech Republic and France hereunder.
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions for Czech Republic (blue) and France (purple)
3.1.1. Power distance
The notion of Power distance deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal. It shows the degree of acceptance that the population has about inequalities and the power that some individuals have.
In Czech Republic, the score is relatively high (57), as people accept that the society is hierarchical. Nevertheless, it remains lower than the score in France, where we have a score of 68, showing that our society more easily accepts these inequalities. In French companies, the superiors have privileges and are often seen as inaccessible.
This dimension is about the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It deals with the size of the “group” that a person must look after. In Individual societies, people tend to look after themselves and their direct family. In Collectivist societies, people belong to “groups” where they take care of them in exchange of a certain loyalty.
With 58 and 71, Czech Republic and France are both quite Individualist societies. But France has a higher score, as parents make their children emotionally independent with regard to groups in which they belong.
The masculinity of a society defines the values that are shared by the population regarding their motivation in life. A Masculine society is led by competition, achievement and success. The thing that matters in life is to be the winner. In a Feminine society, it is the quality of life that designed success. The thing that matters in life is to participate in something that pleases you.
The Czech Republic score 57 on this dimension and defines it as a Masculine society. People work 40 hours a week, try to eat as fast as they can to go back to work as soon as possible and work is seen as a big part of life. On the other hand, with a score of 43, France is more of a Feminine culture. We can see it with our welfare system, the 35-hour working week and the five weeks of holidays per year. It also happens frequently that people completely change their professional environment, as they were not satisfied by their occupation.
3.1.4. Uncertainty avoidance
The future is unpredictable and so, brings anxiety and fear with it, as humans always feel threatened by the ambiguity of the unknown. It is why modern society can tries to control the future and with this aspect, avoid any problems. This is what the Uncertainty Avoidance dimension is. Should we try to control the future or just let it happen ?
The Czech Republic scores 74 and thus has a high preference for avoiding uncertainty, which still is inferior to France, as it scores 86. There is a good consequence thanks to this dimension, as every project needs to be discussed and planned, which gives a certain security and assurance.
3.1.5. Long term orientation
This dimension describes the attachment of the population to the traditions of the country. A culture with a low score will be more attached to their traditions and norms, viewing change as something suspicious. On the other hand, cultures which scores high will have a more pragmatic point of view on things, as for them, the population needs to adapt itself to be prepared for the future.
With a score of 70 and 63, Czech Republic and France are quite pragmatic societies, seeing that adapting to the situation is what matters the most. These societies often question themselves to know if the solutions currently used are the most appropriate.
The Indulgence dimension shows the extent to which people try to control and restrict their desires and impulses, in particular due to their education. A society than does not restrict its desires is called “Indulgent” and one where there is a strong control is called “Restraint”.
The Czech Republic scores with 29, which indicates that the society is rather “Restraint”. Those societies have a tendency to cynicism and pessimism, and do not put much emphasis on leisure time, as they feel restrained by social norms. France scores with 48, which is quite in the middle, as French people are less happy and relaxed than is commonly assumed.
3.2. Stumbling blocks
3.2.1. Assumption of similarities
Too many people naively assume that there are sufficient similarities among peoples of the world to make communication easy. People think that, as humans, our requirements of food, comfort, security and others makes us all similar. But they forget that the culture of one person can see those needs quite differently from another. As well, people tend to think that things and actions that does not belong to their culture can be wrong, as it would be different from what they are used to see.
3.2.2. Language differences
The language of a different culture can be constructed in a completely different way from the one we normally use. People will also tend to only hear one meaning of a word or a sentence as the one they already use. For example, we can take the sentence “Won’t you have some tea?” which in United-Kingdom will be answered by “No” if you want some. On the other hand, if you answer “No” in U.S., the double negation will be ignored and you won’t be served.
3.2.3. Non-verbal misinterpretations
People from different cultures see, feel, smell and hear things differently. From one culture to another, the same sign can have an important meaning as well as none at all. In everyday life, in some cultures, the distance between two people discussing perhaps close enough or then far enough, depending on manners.
3.2.4. Preconceptions and stereotypes
Stereotypes are notions that are potentially deeply rooted in one’s culture. The vision that a country in general may have about a culture influences the mindset of its inhabitants. For example, a culture where its people are quickly aroused to strong emotion can tend the others to keep their distance with them, or even call the police when a meeting gets too much animated. These stereotypes are not easy to overcome as our national culture can sustain them and people can turn stereotypes into reality by acting involuntarily in ways that do not help a stranger to think otherwise.
3.2.5. Tendency to evaluate
Something quite common in interculturality is not understanding a person’s actions by thinking ours are the most natural and logical. There is a confusion when someone acts differently than you, thinking he is either weird or rude. Like when a French person wants to say hello to someone in a private domain, they will kiss them by putting their cheek to theirs. This gesture can be seen as very intrusive and rude by some cultures who see this only possible between family members.
3.2.6. High anxiety
Stress is an important factor in communication, especially when the two interlocutors are not from the same culture and/or do not speak the same language. Indeed, this stumbling block often underlies the others, as a defence mechanism. During a conversation between a host and a foreigner, both will be subject to this. The host will be uncomfortable as he, per example, can’t talk the way he usually would. The foreigner would feel vulnerable, as he feels he is like an intruder, having different manners and ways of speaking compared to the population.
3.3. Edward T. Hall’s cultural factors
Edward T. Hall was an American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher born in 1914. He served in the U.S. Army in Europe and the Philippines during World War II. It is during this period that the foundation of his theories were thought, as he observed a lot of difficulties between the soldiers due to lack of intercultural communication. Hall then began to believe that the basic differences of the members that come from different cultures perceived reality were responsible for problems like miscommunication or organisational issues.
He then thought that those differences in the perception of reality come from 2 points: the notions of context and time:
– There are high-context and low-context cultures in the world. The people in high-context ones tend to be very implicit and use a lot of metaphors. They use much nonverbal communication as well as being reserved and have a strong sense of family. They also think that the process is more important than the product. On the other hand, low-context culture tend to be as explicit as possible, focus more on the verbal communication than body language, have a little sense of loyalty depending the situation and think that production is more important than process.
– The concept of time is also determining of the perception of things of a person. People with monochronous cultures are focused on doing one thing at the time. They are carefully planning their tasks and schedule a lot of things. They have difficulty starting a new task when they have not yet completed another activity. Low-context cultures tend to be monochronous. In polychronous cultures, human interactions are more important than time and material things. They are easily distracted and punctuality is not really important at work and in the daily life. High-context cultures tend to be polychronous.
When I arrived in Prague, the first challenge and certainly the most complicated was the language barrier. Czech is not an easy language for a native French speaker, as many words do not resemble their French translation. Fortunately, I did not encounter this problem when I arrived at the airport. After leaving the airport by taxi and arriving at the hotel, I needed something to eat. Luckily, my hotel for the night was close to my place of work, which itself is next to a shopping mall. It was when I was in front of a restaurant menu that I realized that eating out was going to be a difficult stage. As I was tired by the flight and the heat that day, I decided not to aim for something complicated, and so, went to a famous American fast food brand. Being able to order at a terminal, I had the experience of ordering food while leaving the language on Czech, giving me an image in addition to the name of the meal. Many dishes had an English name, but the few with Czech names made me realize that I had to learn the basics of cooking vocabulary to survive, as it is not common to find a certain resemblance with French words in the majority of cases. To overcome this problem, in the beginning, my colleagues were my guides in my journey in the Czech language.
Speaking of language, my level of English is my main survival tool in this country. I try to speak as slowly as possible when I am with shopkeepers or passers-by to try to make myself perfectly understood. But sometimes, the other person doesn’t have a good level of English, and at that moment, I have to improvise an ultra-simplified English by using my hands as much as possible to picture my words. In those moments, you feel a bit weak, like a child who doesn’t know how to get out of a complicated situation. And in those moments, there are not many things you can do, except try to simplify more and more what you say.
Another point is the time organisation of a working day. In both cases, in my host company and with my employer, schedules are flexible as long as the time quota is filled, but I align myself to the rest of my team to not work alone in the dark for many hours. I’m used to start my work at 7:30 and go eating at 11:30, which is quiet early, but allows me to leave earlier at 15:00 – 15:30. The difference in Prague is that my working day starts usually at 9:00 and we go eat at 11:00, which leaves a big afternoon where you have the impression that it is particularly long and that time passes slowly. This point is not really an intercultural challenge, but gave me a time organisation different from the one in France to which I had to adapt.
Before coming to Prague, I did not know a lot of things about the country and its population. I also had some stereotypes in mind, due to the “wonderful” image the internet gives of each country of the world. Of course, I kept in mind that the vast majority of them must be false.
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5.2. Gender equality
Another stereotype I had was about the position of the woman in the country. Prague is known for its reputation as a nightlife city, with its load of strip clubs and others. It was a surprise to arrive one evening in a bar with friends, where we were asked to go down to the basement to have a drink, basement that turned out to be the “nightclub” part of the bar and where a woman was in little outfit dancing on the bar while everyone was peacefully chatting at their table as if it was something usual.
I could thus notice that this culture is more usual in this country than in France. I remember an advertising in a shopping mall for a makeup shop, where we can see a woman with an imposing bosom, saying “I’m serious, they are real!” to actually talk about her eyelashes with her mascara. I wasn’t really shocked by this ad, but I know that in France, a lot of people would have liked to see it removed.
When I talked about this impression to my Czech female colleagues, a certain uneasiness appeared, thinking that I saw Czech society as something disrespectful to women. But actually, it was not my intention at all. On the contrary, I have sought to know where this impression could come from, looking for a more precise reason.
When I looked at several articles, I noticed several times the same thing that was coming back: there are still significant inequalities between men and women, particularly in terms of salary.