Immigration and Professional Transitions: Cultural Communication Styles

2014-2015 Issue 1

Transitioning to life in Montreal requires the ability to adapt – a new city, a new country, not to mention the winter weather! It also requires transitioning into new social situations that may be different from the ones left behind, particularly at the office. The work environment is full of unwritten rules that vary among different cultures:

– Are my actions perceived as too laid back, or too persistent?

– What do employers mean by a ‘good fit?’

– How do I know when to listen, and when to talk?

– How should I deal with conflict?

“It’s inevitable that different cultures have different communication styles,” says Maia Korotkina, Career and Transition Advisor at the McGill School of Continuing Studies. She runs a workshop on navigating Canadian work culture, which helped Roberto Andrade get his bearings when he arrived from Peru. “The sessions put me in a better position in relation to what to expect and be aware of regarding cultural differences between my country and Canada and Quebec,” says Andrade. “It helped me dispel the fog in my head.”


Korotkina assures newcomers that succeeding in a new culture “requires efforts from both newcomers and locals, but Quebecers overall are a warm and welcoming people. All it takes is a combination of self-awareness and good intentions.” She has a few tips to keep in mind:

Step 1: Listen and Learn
“Be a sponge,” instructs Korotkina. Pay attention to people’s behavior and reactions, and compare them to your own. This includes personal space, body language, facial expressions, and vocabulary.

Step 2: Practice
Interacting among Canadians is the best way to prepare for the workplace. Whether it’s in a volunteer position, a classroom or simply among friends, socializing in a low-stress environment is a fun way to exercise what you’ve learned.

Step 3: Stay positive
Ideally, the learning process should be a pleasant one. “Don’t take it personally if people misunderstand or misinterpret your intentions. Our values are the same. We just express them differently.”

Remember these steps, and they can help make your professional transition a smooth one.

McGill University School of Continuing Studies’ Career Advising & Transition Services offers a two-part series, Canadian and Quebec Culture at Work, as well as a Job Search Series, meet-up events and individual advising services. Please visit for upcoming sessions.

This article is available in Spanish on Noticias Montreal: Inmigración y transición profesional: La cultura y los estilos de comunicación

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