Expats from Eastern Cultures Adapt Well to Silicon Valley’s Work Culture

How does understanding Western and Eastern cultures work in the corporate setting and global mobility? In an interview with HumanResources, Sara Cheng, CEO of Fuji Xerox Singapore, delved deeper by comparing the differences between the two cultures: “Asian culture is more command and control, top-down driven; in the US and Europe, people are vocal and usually have a point of view.” She brings with her 25 years of experience in general management, business development and consulting with top companies such as IBM and Procter & Gamble across the United States, Europe and Asia Pacific.

Cultural fit or differences are hot-button issues today because of the constant movement of people around the world. No one in Silicon Valley seems to care if it’s fondly called Chinese and Indian Valley (although more of the latter), as there are a noticeable number of Asians in northern California’s tech companies. There are more Vietnamese in northern California than anywhere else, with many Filipinos also calling it home for several generations.

Indeed, nowhere else in the US are there more concentrated Asians in two areas than in Silicon Valley and San Francisco followed by Los Angeles, New York and Hawaii. Where a clash in cultures may occur, there appears to be none that’s too deep. People here are more open-minded about different cultures. It’s here where a Caucasian female could be the minority without being conscious of it. She gets along fine with everybody else. 

Everyone seems to get along just fine, even if it’s a place with more transplants outside of New York, as California Corporate Housing has observed from its roster of guests from many different parts of the world. Because of California’s openness, the leading corporate housing provider in San Jose notices how those even with old-fashioned mindsets are only too willing to make adjustments. If no one has noticed, Americans are more open to expressing their feelings which are almost taboo with Asians who may be more tactful and mannered. 

For glaring differences in work culture, Asians can be non-committal when it comes to making decisions on their own, because they are used to respecting seniority and authority, while a person from the US can be more flexible and free to make decisions, or even challenge the boss, if they think they know better.

Beyond work culture of course, there’s a gulf of differences in history, religion, political system, education, behavior, attitude and many more. India still has arranged marriages, but this doesn’t bother Americans. Did you know that they pay respects to elders or parents by touching their feet? East Asians bow as a gesture of welcoming guests or expressing gratitude. 

No custom or tradition is questioned, and differences are simply accepted. This is because the tolerance for differences is high and people are generally well-educated, having attended the best universities such as Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.

Still, some differences are noticeable but not a game changer.

  • A Western education system encourages ideas and creativity, while an Eastern education put academics and math and logic as priorities. 
  • Western education promotes critical thinking and participation such learning how to engage the instructors in lively discussions.
  • In Western cultures, it’s okay not to get too personal with colleagues while in Eastern cultures, bonding is heavily favored. 
  • Pointing out people’s mistakes is part of making work efficient in Western cultures. In some countries like China, criticizing a colleague in front of other staff is a no-no. 
  • In Western offices, it’s okay to ask questions. In Asian offices, employees are fearful when it comes to asking questions, as they may be putting their superiors in a precarious situation. 
  • Western superiors don’t place high regard for hierarchies, while Asian bosses rely on them; seniority is a big deal.

It’s good to know all these differences but here’s what no one actually even discusses at length. Those coming the East are only too willing to embrace Western culture. As the dictum goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”