This summer, Sprinklr provided me with a great opportunity to spend two weeks in Amsterdam helping out our EMEA sales team. In a nutshell, the experience was memorable. I learned a tremendous amount of lessons along the way. Here are a few of those lessons for anyone interested in working abroad:
Overcoming Cultural Differences
Sprinklr is a global software company. We have 24 offices in 15 countries around the world and and are headquartered in New York City. I’ve visited our HQ a few times, as well as offices in San Francisco and satellite office spaces in Toronto, Minneapolis, Chicago; however, I hadn’t worked with any teams outside North America. When I arrived at Sprinklr’s Amsterdam office I was greeted with nothing but smiles and appreciation for my willingness to come help on short notice. This reinforced my feelings that no matter what office you work in, at Sprinklr we treat everyone like family and follow The Sprinklr Way – our values for working, living and being.
I stepped right into some opportunities and projects the teams were already working on. Despite growing up in different countries, speaking different native languages and having many cultural differences, we all spoke the same language when it came to business. I found it incredibly easy to jump right in and work with a team of colleagues who I had never met.
Lesson Learned: When people share a common interest, or are knowledgeable on the same topic, or even just work in the same industry, it’s surprisingly easy to overcome language or cultural barriers and communicate. At Sprinklr, we treat every employee like family no matter where they work or what country they live in.
Discovering a Positive Lifestyle
Simply put, the Dutch are very friendly. I’ve visited a number of cities and countries around the world and each city tends to have a slightly different feel in the air. When you walk around Amsterdam, you’ll notice one thing (besides the unthinkable amount of bikes). You’ll notice that everyone seems to be in a rather good mood, despite some gloomy rainy days. Maybe it’s partially because of all the exercise everyone gets from biking everywhere, but I really believe it’s more than that. I think the Dutch generally have a very positive and grateful culture.
Lesson Learned: Be grateful for every day. Find a reason to smile and be positive every day. If that means going for a walk or spending more time with the people you care about, do it. Life is too short to not be happy as often as possible. I’m lucky that Sprinklr also believes this – our mission is to enable every organization on the planet to make their customers happier.
Learning the Language
Although Amsterdam’s first official language is Dutch and almost everything is written in Dutch, every single person I met spoke English. I was very impressed by the amount of people who spoke English but also by the quality of their English – they had better grammar than many Americans.
However, when I travel to other countries I absolutely do not expect locals to speak English. In fact, I usually try to learn at least a few conversational phrases in the native language. But, I noticed that the Dutch were quick to speak English first. This made me feel guilty – I was the American who only speaks one language fluently. Although I took a few years of French and Latin in school growing up, I wish there were a greater emphasis (or even mandate) when I was growing up to be bilingual or trilingual.
Lesson Learned: Take advantage of the location where you work or live – learn about the language, its history, the politics and more. Always make an attempt to learn something from the locals. Whether it’s a nice history lesson, a local slogan or saying, go out of your way to learn more about the people you are visiting.
Expanding Beyond Tourist Attractions
Cheese, Cannabis, Red Light District?
That’s not Amsterdam’s culture summed up in three words. Those three things are predominantly tourist attractions. What I DID notice as an everyday enjoyment was Bitterballen. Most local haunts tended to have bitterballen on the menu as a snack or appetizer, typically enjoyed with a cold Heineken. Bitterballen are basically fried balls filled with a meaty/stew-like filling. The filling almost reminded me of hot beef and celery stew with a crunchy outside. It was not at all what I expected, but it was delicious. Definitely one of the more unique things I’ve tried and happy to say, I really enjoyed them.
I also ventured to a restaurant called Moeder’s (Mother’s in English) and when I walked in there were literally thousands of photos on the walls, all of prior customers’ Mothers. The waitress, who may have also been the owner, immediately greeted me, presented me with a menu and asked what I’d like to order. Before I could respond, she suggested I order the stampot. I said “Okay, perfect!”
When the stampot was served, it was essentially three different types of meat (one big meatball, one bratwurst, and something similar to bacon) and in the middle of the plate was big mound of a sauerkraut and mashed potatoes mixture, with a gravy volcano in the middle. It was the perfect meal for a gloomy rainy day.
Lesson Learned: In North America, we’re all very familiar with Italian Food, Mexican Food, Chinese Food, Thai Food, and maybe a few others. I’m willing to bet less people in North America are familiar with Dutch Cuisine. Prior to my time in Amsterdam I had never heard of or tried bitterballen or stampot, and I actually really liked both of them. So the lesson is always be open minded to new foods and expand beyond typical tourist attractions, you just might be pleasantly surprised.
Maintaining Healthy Habits
Often times when I travel for vacation, I prefer Airbnb over hotels for a number of reasons. Amsterdam has no shortage of Airbnbs, but since this trip was for work and not vacation, I opted for a hotel. Airbnb’s are great but they also tend to lack amenities you might not care about on vacation. For example, a gym or fitness center, plenty of coffee and breakfast or extra toiletries.
I found a hotel walking distance from the Sprinklr Amsterdam office that even had a kitchen plus a nice restaurant close by and a local market. The hotel also was incredibly quiet and had blackout curtains, which are especially important during the summer in Amsterdam, since the sun doesn’t set until after 10:30pm!
Lesson Learned: Living in a hotel is not easy. When traveling for longer work trips, find a place to stay where you can keep a routine and will have the everyday conveniences to help keep you on track. Also, sleep is incredibly important especially when traveling. It’s important to stay somewhere that fits your sleeping habits, for me that was somewhere extremely quiet and dark. Although I did dine out a lot, it was nice having a kitchen to cook a handful of times, as well as coffee and free breakfast just one floor below.
The Final Thoughts
Overall, going to another country for two weeks for work was such an incredible experience and one I will never forget. I’m lucky Sprinklr provided me with this opportunity to grow as a person, and I’m looking forward to traveling to many different countries in the future.
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