Crossing the cultural divide

I’m biting into my fresh chicken-and-cucumber Pret sandwich when my co-worker asks me if I can imagine myself going back to school in the States after having worked in the UK. For one thing, I know that I can never go back to having lunch at non-environmentally-friendly cafes and restaurants. However, my co-worker’s question raises a more interesting issue for me: the difference between American and British culture, especially in the corporate world.

I can already see myself trying to remember whether the word ‘realizing’ is written with an ‘s’ or a ‘z’. I know that I am going to miss the incredible variety of local coffee shops I passed on my way to work when I’m having a dull Starbucks at home. And, believe it or not, I will most definitely miss the tube and the double-decker buses when I am driving down the endless concrete highways in Texas.

However, there are also bigger, yet less obvious, cultural differences that I will notice when I’m back in the US. First and foremost, pub culture! The English tradition of enjoying a pint after work reflects a culture that successfully manages to balance work and personal life. Sadly, the United States struggles with this juggling act. In the States, the idea is that, if you are determined and willing to work hard enough, you can achieve the “American Dream”– even if you’re not American, like me. This has bred a dangerous “all-work, no-play” mentality that is underpinned by a sense that you are not working enough, and probably never will.

According to Gallup, Americans work an average of 47 hours per week, which equates to six days a week (CNN Money). American workers receive about 15 days off, whereas British workers usually get a well-deserved 25. Ironically, Americans find it taboo to take all of their holidays and will often work through them.

Another big difference I’ve seen in the UK is the acceptance of an alternative route towards employment; one that does not involve having a master’s degree, or in some cases even a bachelor’s degree.  It can make it tougher to find a job, but people recognise that having work experience and transferable skills is just as important as having a high-quality education.

There’s no denying that I will personally change my work habits after my internship in the UK. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, and I know that I will struggle when surrounded by people who live by Rihanna’s “work, work, work, work, work, work” motto.

Do you believe a healthy work-life balance truly exists? – Fer

This guest post was written by Fer Reyna, who is currently studying at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.  Fer completed an internship with Hertalis earlier this year as part of the EUSA academic internship programme.

Photo by Tim Trad from Unsplash @timtrad

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