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Intercultural Challenges
Universidad de Deusto
43.271245, -2.938558
Topic Cross-cultural communication challenges

After the first month in Spain, I found myself in an interesting situation. Everyone was starting to make travel plans for the Easter Break, as it is always better to book trips early to get good prices. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I thought it would be more interesting to travel with someone, so I asked some new friends about their plans. With some it was clear straight away that our ideas did not match, and we continued with our own plans.

The first person I talked and made some plans with was my roommate, a girl from Vietnam. We were thinking about going to Portugal together, but it was open whether it would be during the first or the second week of the break. I also ended up asking a guy from Argentina whether he had any plans. We had good chemistry at first and started talking about lots of trips together, as we both wanted to see a lot of places. Not long after, a girl from Ukraine asked me if I would be interested in going to Portugal with her.

I also had an idea with my roommate to do a round trip in Southern Europe in June, and we figured it would be more fun if we had a small group of people. I mentioned about it to a Spanish girl, a friend of mine for almost six years now that I recently reconnected with, and the guy from Argentina. Both were on board and very excited.

With the Spanish girl, I had also talked about going to Bordeaux during her visit to Bilbao, and we asked the Argentinian guy to join us.

In all cases and with all people involved, both face-to-face communication and online tools such as WhatsApp and Messenger were used.

First, the problems started with the trip to Bordeaux. My Spanish friend felt like it was going to be too expensive for her, which is obviously an acceptable reason. However, I was stuck as the communicator between in the group, and couldn’t get answers from one or another at times. In this case, the communication happened mainly on WhatsApp, so it was nearly impossible to know how the others reacted to the changes, and in the end, cancellation of the trip. In the end, everyone understood that it just wasn’t the right moment to go. 

While planning for the Easter break, the Argentinian guy found a cheap-ish trip to Morocco, something like what I had thought of. He suggested that we could have gone on one weekend in March, and he started talking about it a week before we would have gone. That felt too quick to me, but even better reason not to go then was the price of the flights, which was obviously much higher than normal because it was so close to the trip. We talked about doing it another time, and continued thinking about the Easter break and some other ideas.

 However, it started to feel like we were talking about so many things and we got nothing done. I suggested we should make a clear plan, maybe meet up for it, but didn’t get a proper response. The communication was mostly on WhatsApp, as in school we talked about other things and maybe mentioned the trips quickly. I made a draft of what I had in mind with calculations of the price and shared it with him. But with a couple of weeks already passed with no progress, finally I told him that I needed a clear answer, whether he wants to go with me or not. He said he didn’t want to make me wait because of him, as he still wanted to find out what his roommate had planned, and he thought I should just do it as I want. That would have been a case solved, but a couple of days later he wanted to talk to me face-to-face. Again, he started talking about the travel plans that he had closed not much earlier, saying that it doesn’t work over messages (which I already had said to him earlier) and that he is not getting anything done that way. At that point I was tired of going back and forth and told him that if he wants to travel with me, we need to get together and decide together, to which he agreed. Later that evening I asked him about it, again not getting a reply. The next day we saw each other on free time, but didn’t talk about travel and had communication issues with other things as he said one thing and did another. Around this time, I decided that it would be better not to continue with him.

 Some days after the episode with the Argentinian guy, my roommate remembered that to travel abroad, she would need her residence permit which may or may not arrive on time for the Easter break, and she had to cancel her plans. I also talked with the Ukrainian girl, who had already booked her trips, but we had agreed before that we make our own plans and if a part of them match, we can explore some places together. Luckily so, we will be in Lisbon at the same time.

 My roommate also told me that she did not want to take part in the round trip anymore, as it would be too expensive for her. Again, a good reason not to go. The only problem was that in the same sentence, she said that she will go to Germany and travel with some other during the summer. I continued planning that trip with my Spanish friend, who was visiting me in Bilbao and when we were face-to-face, we made a draft in about an hour.

 In conclusion, the main problem in each case was the lack of proper communication. Indecisiveness also played a big part, with people constantly changing their minds and not getting any progress.

 The resolution to the Easter break case was that I will travel alone. Both the Vietnamese girl and the Argentinian guy said at one point or another that they don’t want to keep me waiting for their decisions, so I would assume that everyone understands the outcome. I had heard some stereotypes about Latinos before, that they are a bit lazy and it takes time to get things done. With this guy, it turned out to be at least partly true. I learned that very often, he does not mean what he is saying. Being Finnish, this kind of behavior feels very strange because I’m used to that when people say they will do something, it is more of a promise and they will go through with it.

As I talked about the situation with another exchange student, she told me that it is a very typical behavior in South America. Also, in the south of Brazil and in Argentina, people will often invite you to participate in things out of politeness, but they are hoping that you will decline the invitation. She had travelled with an Argentinian girl before and told me that they planned the trip only a couple of days before going, which also seems to be normal in their culture compared to the Finnish way of making plans early on.

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