From Florence to Texas: Dealing with culture shock in international roles

Executive director of HR at Baker Hughes on navigating different cultures in HR

From Florence to Texas: Dealing with culture shock in international roles

When it comes to working with diverse cultures, understanding and adapting to different perspectives is crucial.

For Loretta Bersani, Executive Director of Human Resources at Baker Hughes, it’s second nature. Having been in HR for more than 17 years, across multiple countries, the Houston-based Italian native is well-versed in navigating a milieu of cultures and backgrounds.

“I grew up in a family where nobody travelled,” she tells HRD. “Nobody saw anything of the world - but I've always been curious. I always told my parents that I wanted to travel.”

That desire to travel propelled Bersani across the globe, from the UK to Russia to Ireland, gleaning a love of cultures along the way.

“The element of getting to know different cultures is fascinating and one of the reasons I love this industry – it’s the energy,” she says. “Because it's very global and because every day I interact with people from everywhere.”

Her travelling finally led Bersani to Canada, where a company was looking for a project leader in a talent acquisition center.

“They tried a lot of people before me but no one wanted to move to Toronto,” she tells HRD. “I’m not sure why - it’s an amazing place even if it is cold in the winter. So I was the only one ready to go. They told me if I was up for the challenge, then the role was mine. So that’s what I did. I have to say, I had a culture shock. In Europe, and I lived almost one year in Australia, the professional environment in Canada was so different.”

Dealing with culture shock

And Bersani’s not alone in this. According to data from Gitnux, 25% of expats return to their home country earlier than expected thanks to culture shock, with 15% of international students dropping out too. Six in 10 overseas employees say that it takes upwards of a year to fully adapt to a foreign culture, with 30% of new CEOs in international companies admitting to extreme culture shock in the first days on the job.

For instance, in Florence, Bersani says that the whole team would go for coffee together.

“Every time you have to have a tough conversations with someone, you go for a coffee with them,” she explains. “So sometimes you’d end up having 12 coffees a day.”

But in Toronto, nobody invited Bersani for coffee. And Bersani just assumed they were doing it without her – leaving her out.

“You start questioning, ‘Am I not fitting in?’ Then I realized that the coffee machine was in a dark room where people just go individually, pick up their drink and leave. And that was a massive culture shock for me as an Italian.”

Building relationships in an alternative way

However, as Bersani immersed herself more into the Toronto scene, she realized that Canadians are “super kind” – and have a different way of building a relationship.

“It’s so interesting interacting in another culture – adopting to the Canadian way. I found a way to build relationships in a way that was more like their way and not my way.”

And then when she finally found her feet in Canadian HR, Bersani upped and left for Texas and another type of culture. Now, as Executive Director of Human Resources at energy technology giant Baker Hughes, she’s never looked back. Speaking to HRD, Bersani says she’s fully settled into the Houston way of life. 

“I feel very local here, but I’m also involved with the Italian community here. I’m a member of the Committee for Italians Abroad – my goals are to help the Italian community, especially the new people that come to Texas too so they suffer less culture shock.

“I try to give back to the community and maybe avoid some of their culture shock that I had myself.”

Recent articles & video

Alphabet layoffs later this year to be 'much smaller in scale': reports

Elon Musk: Jobs to be optional in 'benign' AI future

What are the top people risks for employers?

Employers urge Biden to grant long-term immigrants work permits

Most Read Articles

Alphabet layoffs later this year to be 'much smaller in scale': reports

PTO requests up 9% year-over-year in April worldwide

Wage premiums for AI specialist jobs hitting 25% in 5 countries surveyed