Interview with Yueqiang Xu

Working as a culture coach


Yueqiang Xu (left) and Kiyoko Uematsu (right) are culture coaches.

Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you end up in Finland and Oulu? What are you studying in the University of Oulu?

I am from China. I have lived and worked not only in China but also in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam for over seven years. I love different cultures and learning new languages. Today I speak four languages (Chinese, English, Thai and Vietnamese), and I am currently learning Finnish.

Xu's profile:

I always want to learn new things and gain diverse international experience. That is why I decided to fly from tropical countries to somewhere near the Arctic Circle.

I am studying for a master's degree in International Business and familiarizing myself with the Finnish work and business culture.

You have worked as a culture coach. How did you get into that? What inspired you to apply to the culture coach training?

The school sent me an introductory email about the culture coaching programme. I thought it would be an interesting experience, so I sent my application… almost at the last minute.

For the selection process, firstly, I sent my application along with my CV. After that I was asked to participate in a group interview, and a few days after the interview I received an invitation to begin as a culture coach.

What was the training like? What did you learn about working as a culture coach? Did the training give you enough skills and tools to work with?

The training was well-organized and had a good structure: it contained culture theory, group discussions, culture sharing, case and situation discussions, and a final simulation case and a practical case with feedback from the teachers and peers.

I got different types of information from the training, including culture frameworks (e.g. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions), dos and don’ts in different cultures, characteristics of Finnish culture, how to prepare for a training session, as well as similarities and differences between cultures.

As mentioned, the training gave me an informational foundation due to sharing knowledge between both the teachers and the peers (we all represent different cultures). At the same time, we were given a simulation and a practical case in order to actually apply our knowledge to a real life situation.

What kind of coaching have you done? What have been your clients’ coaching needs?

I have done both group sessions and one-on-one meetings. Both have their positive aspects and challenges. For example, one-on-one meetings focus more on discussion and exchange of information and ideas. In comparison, group sessions require more energy in terms of engaging participants. At the same time, group sessions give a lot of ideas and experience for coaching development.

I have coached two types of companies. Firstly, companies who are interested in China and plan to visit China for the first time. They need coaching in business etiquettes such as greeting etiquettes and dining etiquettes, which can be quite different from the Finnish equivalents. Secondly, I have coached companies who have already started operating in China. Their needs are focused on business practices and management, such as business negotiation, workplace communication and employee management. They are more interested in deeper concepts like Quan Xi (relationship) and Mian Zi (personal reputation or “face”).

What kind of feedback have you received from your coaching sessions?

According to the culture coach coordinator, I have received positive feedback on the coaching sessions.

What kind of an experience has culture coaching been for you on the whole? What have you learned about yourself and the Finnish culture through culture coaching?

One great experience is that I have learned to leave my own cultural perspective aside and observe cultural differences from an objective point of view. I have developed an open mind which is beneficial in many aspects of my life, not only limited to culture.

Another good experience is that the culture coaching group gives me an opportunity to meet people from different cultures. The amazing part is that I get to know some cultural customs and stories that I could never come across in books or movies. For example, I should not invite Greeks to drink tea while it is a tradition to drink tea together in China.

Thanks to culture coaching, I have already had actual coaching sessions with two Finnish companies. It is a wonderful experience for me to help them with their real-life questions, solving cross-cultural communication issues. At the same time, real life situations have taught me a lot about the differences between Finnish and Chinese cultures and ways of communication. These situations help me to develop a deeper understanding about the Finnish culture and even my own Chinese culture.

Finally, I have learned to always be well prepared and open-minded.