This is an article of Alette Vonk for connect2us in the Xpat Journal: “Natália is at a loss.”
Just a few months ago, Natália moved to the Netherlands with her mom, dad and two brothers. She’s an intelligent girl and her Dutch is progressing enormously, due to the fact that she goes to a Dutch school and has been given extra language lessons……

Natália is at a loss

When people settle into a new country they will most certainly experience cultural differences between their home land and the new country. Sometimes these cultural differences are interesting or funny. At others moments they don’t seem to be all that important. But at times they suddenly create confusion, uncomfortable situations or even anxiety.

This is what adults experience and it is certainly also true for children. Let me tell you a story about Natália from Brazil. In the story, she’s 11 years old and just a few months ago Natália moved with her mom, dad and two brothers to the Netherlands. She’s an intelligent girl and her Dutch is progressing enormously, due to the fact that she goes to a Dutch school and has been given extra language lessons.

Clear instructions

One day the teacher asks the children to make a presentation about an animal. The teacher creates a few working groups so the pupils will learn how to collaborate together. Once the group of Natália sits together, the children start to talk amongst themselves. One girl wants to make a presentation about her cat. A boy cuts her short and talks about his dog, while yet another girl enthusiastically starts telling the group about her beautiful pony. Natália doesn’t know what to do next. She looks at the teacher: why doesn’t she tell them what to do? Why doesn’t she give them clear instructions? But the teacher seems busy and Natália doesn’t want to disturb her.

Natália feels a bit lost and she withdraws herself from the conversation, quietly thinking back to her two sweet rabbits, which had to be left behind in Brazil. In the meantime the teacher is going over the next lesson, with one ear still listening to the conversations of the working groups. She’s willing to answer questions, but she’s pleased to ascertain that all groups have gone to work. She’s also very happy with the progress Natália has made in the past months and although she notices that the girl is a bit quiet at this moment, she assumes that they might not have any pets in Brazil.

Cultural explanation

So what is actually happening here? In order to fully understand situations like these, the Ngo Connect2Us is able to help out. On their site you’ll find a similar and other stories, together with their cultural explanation and suggestions on how to act in case of cultural confusion:  The Ngo has been initiated by four intercultural consultants, certified by Hofstede Insights, and I’m pleased to say that I’m one of these founding members. With Connect2Us we’re able to support both adults and children in case of migration or intercultural working conditions. We give training, develop school programs and integration training, as well as the execution of professional projects on intercultural management for companies and organizations.

King of the hill

It’s daily situations like the one Natália is in, that can put children at a loss. It influences their way of connecting to new classmates and making new friends. I remember another situation with my own son. For several years we had been living in Ghana, where he had been playing ‘king of the hill’ with his friends. They would push each other off little hubs of sand that were lying about, just frolicking and sporting. He showed the same behavior on the playground at his new school in the Netherlands, but before he knew, he was punished and had to sit in the classroom during break. His behavior proved not to be appreciated in his new environment. I wish I would have had a site like, which would have made me able to explain it better to the boy.

Children and adults

On the one hand it is very important to put children at ease and explain that their behavior is not wrong but simply different, using neutral terms to describe these differences. On the other hand adults experience the same differences and this will affect the effectiveness of their work and teams. The story of Natália, for instance, may be recognizable for adults that have experienced Dutch meetings: participants talk freely and continuously, and people from other cultures often wonder why the chairman of the meeting isn’t taking more control?

Last but not least, differences like the ones described above are not only experienced between countries far apart, like the Netherlands and Brazil or Ghana. Just around the corner, between Germany or Belgium and the Netherlands, leaders take different decisions, and behavior and processes change.

Hence, cultural differences are very influential in how we experience the world, what we consider ‘normal’ or ‘good’ behavior and how we judge and react to deviant behavior,  whether this is at school or in the work environment. Visit our website and find out more!

Alette Vonk is a board member of Connect2Us. Check the website for more information.