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Alumni Travel Tips - When in Rome….The Multi-Cultural Work Environment

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

Credit: Getty Images

Written by Stephanie Freid  (Communication BA ’89)

“No, no, no!” Daoud admonished from the backseat. “You can’t do that in public. It’s unacceptable.”

I was applying lipstick in plain view with all the car windows rolled down.

In Libya, I was told, a woman publicly rouging her lips is immodest, insulting and generally associated with the sex trade.

Blushing furiously, I hastily capped the tube and tucked it deep inside a backpack inner pocket.

As a conflict correspondent for China’s international television network (CGTN), I’m on the road an average 2 weeks per month when work is peaking. Encountering unfamiliar cultures and out-of-the-comfort-zone situations is standard as is persisent re-adjustment and re-acclimatization to shifting cultural canvasses.

Work in countries like Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria & Qatar literally and figuratively takes me thousands of miles away from the backdrop of a Cincinnati upbringing. The learning curve is sometimes tremendous & I’ve made – and continue to make – many mistakes. But the positive aspects of perception challenges & shifts dominate.

A few Basic Safety Rules I follow to minimize misunderstandings:

● Read … up on local customs and holidays, dress tips and critical laws

● Ask … colleagues, local merchants, local contacts, drivers etc. for guidance

● Listen & Observe … Taking the time to watch and listen can be a great learning experience

A few years ago an acquaintance was detained and questioned for an hour at Kuwait’s international airport for arriving with a bottle of tequila in his carry-on. As police released him they warned: Kuwait is a dry country. Don’t do it again.

A diplomatic scandal will not likely erupt over a fifth of Cabeza but, politics-depending, it’s not out of the realm of possible. Coming up to speed on a destination country’s politics pre-travel can be highly informative.

Beyond pragmatic travel considerations, one of the biggest travel perks is getting invites to local venues, home-cooked meals and holiday celebrations. Some work-travelers prefer alone time at day’s end. Fair enough.

Sharing the fast-breaking, Iftar meal with Iraqi colleagues, dancing alongside Ukrainian fire jugglers or partaking in a traditional Scandinavian Jülefrokost are memory makers….And motivate me to return the favor when colleagues – whose family and friends are often far away – travel through my home base.

Stephanie Freid


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