Working in The USA

Coming to America is a wild dream for many young Africans, dare I say for anyone across the world. When I got the news that I've been selected to work in the USA after the six week study period, I was over the moon. Finally, I actually got to work 9 to 5! I could finally sing along to all the songs about working 9 to 5 and actually mean it. Working nine to five, what a way to make a living🎤 Anyways...

Corporate South Africa is very advanced and widely professionalized. We strive to be globally competitive in everything we do. However, in this post, I'll focus on some of the culture shocks I experienced in my first week working in America.

During orientation, IREX and the US Embassy gave a number of tips on how to thrive in the US workplace, etiquette and all. Look... It's one thing being told what to expect, but experiencing it first hand is a WHOLE different ball game.

So there I was on Monday ready to conquer the concrete jungle of Washington, DC.

Suit, check!

Tie, check!

Shiny brown shoes, check!

Attitude, check!

Big smile, check!

Called Uber cause it's my first day and I'm not trying to get lost in America, nah nah! Being the overachiever I am, I get to the office around 8 am. Everyone arrives to work, and they wearing jeans, sneakers, pretty casual. I'm like hold on... What day is it today? Is it a public holiday or something? (I quietly Google, it's Monday 5 August 2019, no its not a holiday.). Okay but aren't we in Washington DC? The capital of the USA? This isn't the America they sold to me, give me back my change.

So here we are at LDI Africa, a social enterprise offering an international pro-bono consulting program for emerging business leaders in Africa. CEO tells me I'm the Chief of Staff, I'm responsible for a lot of things. It's. My. First. Day!

Also what is "Chief of Staff?"  Quick, Google! It's bad enough I have to convert every dollar price to South African Rands (which by the way, you should never do. Unless you wanna die young), but now I had to convert job titles? Nelson, what have you done?

I lead a successful consulting firm back in South Africa and my team knows we wear fresh suits and a tie. We keep it neat and professional,

  • We speak professional English,
  • Come on time,
  • Finish on time,
  • Go spend time with our families.

America!!! The office is pretty casual, in fact, I hear people over at Google go to work in their PJs & flip flops! It's about the deliverables, deliver good quality work on time.

After writing my first email, the CEO comes to me and politely says "Okay let's go over the language." I'm there thinking "But I know how to speak and write English just fine." You see,

  1. There's a difference between British and American English. a "Bursary Scheme" is acceptable in South Africa, they will call the cops on you the minute they see "scheme."
  2. American work email culture is too informal. Hi, Hey, Hello. Simple. In America, you don't have to consult the dictionary when writing emails.
  3. Be direct in your communication. No stories! Get to the point, they will hang up on you. Trust me! 😂 (I am okay now, thank you).

What stood out for me is just how the Mandela Washington Fellowship managed to place me in an organization that fits 101% perfectly with my work back in South Africa. Working with LDI Africa has opened so many doors and I think I literally stepped into a time machine to a future self. 

Getting a global perspective of professional development initiatives is important in reaching the goals I've set. This includes networking with young professionals in international development, local entrepreneurs and the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Forums. Meeting like-minded professionals and entrepreneurs have added value to the business models I  build and add value to clients and stakeholders back home.

Overall I appreciate that South Africa is on the right track to achieving sustainable economic growth, reducing unemployment and poverty. Cooperation between the private sector, government, and civic organizations are key to unlocking the maximum value of the opportunities for growth. Deliberate, effective actions need to be taken to address challenges of small and medium enterprises which will, in turn, reduce our unacceptably high unemployment rates. 

Oh, by the end of the week I have settled in -  jeans, t-shirt and nobody dropping the phone on me. 

I am ready for the next three weeks.