Cultural Tutor The Buzz


In North America, doing business is fairly basic -- even for a beginner. You wear a suit, arrive early, and present your ideas. Both of you agree on the specifics by 5 p.m.

You and your client may grab a bite to eat while talking about the deal. Usually, you finish in time to catch your favorite TV show.

But if you do business the same way overseas, you could offend your hosts. Corporations know that good communication requires planning and understanding. They look for problems caused by cultural differences.

Global companies used to rely on an intermediary to help staff with their foreign clients. Today, corporations are turning to cultural tutors. These tutors train staff on how to do business overseas.

Diana Rowland, president of Rowland and Associates, Inc., says this type of service is overdue. "I spent 10 years traveling and living overseas. After I returned, I worked for a Japanese trading company. It was clear to me that many North Americans trying to do business with this firm were have a difficult time because of the differences in styles," she says.

"I kept wishing that I could recommend a book on doing business with the Japanese, but there was nothing on the market at the time."

Rowland went on to write a best-seller in the early '80s -- Japanese Business Etiquette: A Practical Guide to Success With the Japanese. It led her to start her own business.

"I started my company in 1985, and it has continued to grow both in clients and services. We now provide training on doing business with countries all over the world," she says.

Many cultural tutors start as foreign exchange students. They spend a lot of time in the country they specialize in. When they come home, their skills are in demand by corporations with large foreign markets.

Some tutors begin by working as freelancers. Getting started was fairly simple for Hans Fisher, president of Fisher International Services. "The cost of setting up a home business was minimal -- primarily computer equipment," he says.

If you want to be a tutor, you can take a foreign language and culture program at a community college or university.

Cultural tutors need certain skills before they enter this profession:

  • A knowledge of the theory of cross-cultural communication
  • Experience working and living in at least one foreign country
  • Fluency in a foreign language

"As for substantial growth potential for our industry, it's a matter of keeping ahead of the game," says Marti Teems, general manager for Japan Services, Inc.

"More and more clients are requesting web-related work, so we're constantly striving to master and offer new web-related services. If you can't offer all of the services your competitors are offering, you're out of the game."

You can't master all the programs you may need before working in a foreign country. That's why most tutors specialize.

You can specialize in several areas, including:

  • Country-specific labor laws
  • Interpretation services -- helping people understand what others are saying
  • Translating services -- taking the written word from one language to another
  • Cultural training for those working or traveling in the tutor's home country
  • Negotiating across cultures
  • Marketing products abroad
  • Conducting programs for travelers and tourists

Dong Fang Yuan, a Chinese interpreter and translator, charges $0.20 per word for translating a document. For interpreting services, he bills an average of $30 per hour, including travel expenses.

McKellar Newsome owns the home-based Carolina Educational Services. She made $30,000 a year as a part-time cultural tutor. She increased that to $130,000 by running the business full time.

Once a company goes international, it usually creates programs to understand its diverse customer base. Cross-cultural training not only improves business -- it better prepares employees for what they may encounter when working in a foreign land.

A study in Fortune Magazine shows that the big problem with globalization is adapting to local cultures. For example, one U.S. company sent some professionals and their families to Mexico. Over 50 percent of them returned to the U.S. within one year.

The Business Council for International Understanding estimates that 33 to 66 percent of people who do business abroad without cultural training fail. Less than two percent of those who did have the training failed.

"I think the steepest growth curve is already behind us," says Rowland. "But the field is still growing as companies continue to become international, multinational, and global."

Links

LearnPlus Languages Courses
Interactive online language courses, broken down into modules

Japanese Online
A gathering place for anyone who has interest in Japanese language and culture

Associates in Cultural Exchange
A private, nonprofit international education training organization