(TR) Being part of an open source community and working at SUSE offers a wealth of opportunities for cross-cultural encounters. Collaborating with people from different backgrounds that may be located anywhere in the world is part of our daily activities – as is working in virtual teams that stretch across multiple time zones.

First Cross-cultural Challenge
Many years ago, I established my first contact to the Chinese colleagues in one of the teams that I’m part of via the project’s mailing list. As trivial as this might seem, it held the first (cross-cultural) challenge for me as I was unsure how to correctly address the colleagues. How to tell which part of a Chinese name represents the first name and which part belongs to the family name? Traditionally, the sequence of names in China is family name, followed by the generation name (if any) and the given name(s). But in our company address book, the sequence of the names follows the English tradition: the given name first, followed by the family name.

SUSE Summer Events
One of the possibilities to get to know colleagues from other locations in person in an informal setting are the SUSE Summer Events. They usually take place in the Czech Republic or in Germany and involve a lot of team-building activities, usually  outdoors. This was also how I happened to meet some of the Chinese colleagues that I was already working with – in the woods somewhere in the Czech Republic. 🙂

The R&D Exchange Program
To foster even more cross-team and cross-site networking between multiple SUSE locations, the SUSE Research & Development (R&D) department offers an exchange program: Each quarter several R&D employees can be nominated for the exchange program. Originally, the exchange program was a possibility for the Chinese colleagues to visit and meet their colleagues from other SUSE locations in person. Fortunately, the program has been extended meanwhile. After a specified process, the nominees can visit a SUSE location of their choice for 2-3 weeks. To my surprise, I was among the lucky ones last year. I was really looking forward to visiting the Beijing office and to working from there for two weeks!

The Beijing Office
In late August last year, I left Nuremberg in the afternoon. About 12 hours later I arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport around 11:20 AM local time the next day. From the airport it was only a short trip to the Central Business District (CBD) of Beijing. The office is located next to the East 3rd Ring Road  (one of the seven ring roads in this city that holds a total population of more than 21,700,000 inhabitants). The surroundings where very impressive – as was the view from the office on the 36th floor, next to the CCTV Headquarters (China Central Radio and Television Tower).

view_from_office       cctv_tower

The office in Beijing currently consists of 11 teams, among them Research & Development, Sales, and Customer Care. Some of the Chinese colleagues use English names as first name (in addition to their Chinese given name), which makes it easier for foreign visitors to remember and pronounce the names. Chinese is a tonal language, which means that many words are differentiated solely by tone (pitch). Thus, trying to pronounce Chinese words and names can be a challenge as the difficulty is to use the right tone for each syllable. 😉

With me being a member of the SUSE documentation team, the main topic during my stay in China was to share knowledge about writing skills in general and technical writing in particular. In the first week, I gave a general introduction to the SUSE documentation team during a Lunch and Learn session. During the second week, I gave writing trainings for individual teams, each including a hands-on session with an example text. The task was to analyze the text for typical issues, and to restructure and rewrite it according to the principles covered in the first part of the training. All teams came up with good proposals on how to improve the text.

Major Learnings Along the Way
When I left the office on the first evening, a colleague showed me some restaurants in the vicinity and recommended some local dishes. With her help, I managed to order my first dinner in China – and it was delicious!

By the way, food is an important part of Chinese culture. In China, you traditionally have three warm meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So during the two weeks in Beijing, I had plenty of opportunities to try the local cuisine, which substantially differs from the “Chinese food” you get in Europe. The habit of sharing dishes and the huge variety of flavors that will be selected and combined for each meal is a wonderful experience! One of the highlights was a traditional Hot Pot dinner with hand-crafted rice noodles – similar to what you can observe in this video:

Another thing that never ceased to amaze me was the hospitality and friendliness of the people I encountered (even outside of the “SUSE family”). The colleagues in the office were really kind and helped me with a lot of things, for example, with buying a Beijing Transportation Smart Card, which you can use on the subway and city buses. The subway in Beijing is the fastest means of transportation and a good way to avoid frequent traffic jams. It is also an excellent example of how to organize public transportation in a way which makes it easy to use for foreign visitors who might not be able to read or understand the local language!

On the week-ends, I went to see some major historic sites in and around Beijing like the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Olympic park or the National Museum of China. I also enjoyed going to the parks or to public places where you can listen to music performances, see (or join) people doing Taijiquan (tai chi) or ballroom dancing. As some parts of the Great Wall of China can be reached within a 60-70 minutes drive from Beijing, the colleagues were so kind to also organize a trip to this famous building on the week-end. I could not have imagined how steep some parts of the wall are. Therefore the term “climbing the Great Wall” is more than justified – breathtaking and unforgettable!


Back Again
The two weeks spun way much too fast, but I still treasure my stay in China. It was a fascinating experience in many respects! Even after being back, I kept some habits that I adopted during my time there, like drinking hot water throughout the day. (Hot water supplies are available in many public places in China like the airports or the train stations, for example).

From my point of view, the exchange program is a great opportunity to establish personal relationships and trust, which helps to create mutual understanding and better collaboration. I can only recommend to use the multiple chances to get to know your colleagues from other locations in person – it is always a win-win situation! Probably your experiences will be similar when you visit other SUSE locations via the Exchange Program (or happen to relocate from a different country to Germany to work from the Nuremberg office).

This article was first published on the SUSE Blog in a slightly different version.