How to Develop Your Intercultural Awareness to Communicate More Effectively Across Cultures

In this episode, I spoke to Vanessa Paisley who is an experienced Global Competence, relocation and repatriation trainer and coach. She supports people in the process of moving countries, creating a space where they can discover and live their lives to the full, gaining the maximum potential out of the enriching adventure both abroad and back home.

I wanted to know more about her own personal experiences with overcoming culture shock and how she helps people to develop their intercultural competences to work across and within different cultures. She has a blog where she shares a lot of very useful information around these themes.

Vanessa's contact details:

Blog - Helping non-native speakers of English to communicate effectively across cultures. Vanessa Paisley LinkedIn

Paisley communication Instagram

Want to do The International Profiler evaluation with Vanessa?

Get in contact with Vanessa on LinkedIn or her website.

We discuss:

Culture shock and reverse culture shock & ways to adapt

✨ Why we both love teaching languages in context

Intercultural Communication and why it matters when you're working across cultures

The International Profiler and 5 Competences you can develop to improve your communication skills

In episode 4 I discussed some vocabulary we used in the episode especially phrasal verbs and expressions.

Books & Resources

📚 The Culture Map, Erin Meyer

📚 No Rules Rules, Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings

💻 The International Profiler -

Recommended episodes:

Episode 4 : 3 Easy Ways You Can Learn Phrasal Verbs and Expressions More Efficiently

Episode 1: How to Build Your English Confidence: for Architects and Built Design Professionals

✨ Follow me on Instagram:

✨ Connect with me on LinkedIn Tara Cull

✨ Extended Show Notes and Full Transcript:

Ready to take action to speak up and share your voice?

Ready to start making a BIG impact on your English & building the architecture career you want?

You know it's time to make a change and you've got to start somewhere. In the evaluation and action plan, you will get my best tips so you stop the self-doubt and start taking action now. Take me to the action plan

Table of Contents

Books and Resources


Transcript Images of Expressions


antiquated - old-fashioned or outdated.

bringing something up - make a note of something

culture shock -

to flag something (flagging something) - brining something to someone's attention

get the balance - make sure you maintain balance in life

honeymoon period - the early stages of something when it seems happy and fun

monocultural communication - communication between people from the same culture

repatriation - the return of someone to their country

See episode 4 for a list of expressions


Quick Find Snippets - Take me straight to these sections

Vanessa's Personal Experience

Culture Shock

Adapting to a new culture

Reverse Culture Shock What does politeness mean to you? 3 Things Vanessa has learnt about good communication What is The International Profiler? Key Takeaways

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:00

You're listening to Think Big Episode 5.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:11

Hello Big thinkers and welcome to another episode of Think Big English for architects. I'm your host, Tara Cull, and Neurolanguage coach, English teacher, and landscape architect. I help people in the built design profession who speak English as a second language to build outstanding communication skills to help them find their voice and to speak up. And you can learn more about my coaching programmes at Now, of course, I do all of this from my house from my place in Montpellier in France. So as you may already know, I am an Australian, as you can tell from my Aussie accent, but I live in France. So just like you, I am also adapting and understanding what it feels like to live in a different culture. So the purpose of this podcast really is to share stories from architects and about architecture and its various disciplines. But it's also to talk about things that will help you with your English learning. So that does include things like adapting to a new culture, and culture shock, and intercultural training, all of these things to help you adapt and get the best job or how to live the best life possible in your home away from home. So the podcast is for everyone. But it's also a listening resource, first and foremost for my clients and English learners, from the discipline of architecture, or even those who are just interested in architecture, and anything that I have to say, really. And hopefully, this will help you to improve your listening comprehension and your critical thinking skills, the expression of ideas, and also around your motivation to do with living and working in a different culture. And so today, I wanted to share a fantastic interview that I had recently with Vanessa Paisley. And you can find out more about her work at Paisley hyphen So I'll include all the links to her website and all the things that we discussed today in the show notes, and in the blog post for the episode. In today's episode, I really wanted to know more about Vanessa's story and her experience with cross-cultural training and experiencing living and working in a different culture. And you can really see how she brings her passion. She brings her experience into her work and how this has taught her so much about the people that she works with, and also her own experiences. Throughout the episode you'll notice we use some expressions phrasal verbs, and we talk about sometimes how it's not about what you say but how you say it. So I wanted to discuss this in a little more detail without making this episode too long. So I've made a mini Episode Four, to discuss some of these expressions, and how you can learn them more effectively. It's only a short episode, so go and listen to that first if you think you'd like more explanation.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 03:19

Before we get started in the interview today, I wanted to explain a little bit more about who Vanessa is and what she does. She is a trainer, a lecturer and a coach in cross cultural communication and teaching English as a second language. Now back in the UK, she lived in Austria for 23 years, and has trained and coached clients across all levels in universities, and a variety of industries including hotel and catering technology, logistics, politics, engineering, luxury travel, Media and Sport. She has a master's in Communication Studies and is licenced to use a developmental tool for intercultural competences called the International profiler. And we'll talk a little bit more about this in the interview. She delivers training in both English and German. And in her job she sees herself as the mediator, encouraging people to find out more about the world. And just like myself, she believes that the worlds of language and communication are very much interlinked, and she enjoys supporting non native speakers in developing their confidence when working in an international context. In our corporate training, she regularly delivers country specific coaching for living and working in the UK. So other popular topics include working with a global mindset, and cross cultural team building. So thank you very much for joining me today, Vanessa. I'm super excited to have this conversation and I'm ready to listen to this story.

Vanessa Paisley 04:58

Thanks, Tara, and thanks for having me. It's a real pleasure to be here today.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 05:02

Yes, as, as we've had these conversations before, it's something that we could definitely talk about for a long time. So it's going to be an exciting conversation. And really just reading your introduction has made me very excited to go further into some of those topics. So storytelling is obviously something that's very important. And it's something that I've touched on in previous episodes. So I'm really interested, firstly, to hear where your story began. And could you talk us through your story of travelling the world and then coming full circle to return home?

Vanessa Paisley 05:38

Yeah, sure. So I'm British, of British parentage, but I was actually born in Tanzania. So my life sort of started abroad. And then I actually moved back to the UK when I was six months old. So I never really experienced that sort of ex part lifestyle. But obviously, you know, I came back and then I grew up in a town just a few, like miles north of London, very small. I've actually come back to that area now. So it's quite funny. But my parents, I guess, you would have called them globe trotters at a time when there weren't very many people travelling. And my dad continued to travel and work abroad when I was a kid. And then I always used to say, Oh, can we go abroad on holiday and my dad was very much against it, because he'd been away, you know, putting up electricity pylons in the Andes, in Peru for six months at a time. So he just wants to, and we were like, as kids go, please, please. And I think that's what inspired me then. So I got interested in languages at school, I did French I did German, I went on exchange trips. And I eventually studied German, which took me to Vienna on my year abroad in 1989. And that was quite unusual being an exchange student in those days, because there wasn't any Erasmus programmes or anything. So I was quite exotic, I suppose being abroad then. And then when I finished my degree in the UK, I got a job teaching English in Vienna, as a language assistant in two schools. And I went there, and I decided to stay there. And I got a job as a journalist in Vienna, my boyfriend was from another part of Austria, and I ended up moving to the western part of Austria with him, I actually found it really hard. That's when I went through culture shock. So I was quite young, I was like, 24, you know, had a really outgoing career in Vienna. And I ended up in this very rural part of Austria and didn't really know what to do with myself. I eventually acclimatized, got settled, spit out with that boyfriend, by the way, but then moved on and got back, you know, and then I basically got married there and and then I was teaching English. And then I eventually moved into this cross cultural fields, just because it seemed like a natural progression for me.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 08:04

So when you moved to Vienna to begin with, what was your level of German? Did you feel comfortable enough to converse with people?

Vanessa Paisley 08:11

And yeah, I mean, I think when I arrived as a student, on that year abroad, it was really strange, because I was almost a bit embarrassed to say that I was studying German, because I didn't understand anybody who's live living in the student accommodation with me, because they were all from different parts of Austria, and had different dialects. But of course, you I picked up the sort of local language quite quickly, and it was an advantage. Speaking, German, definitely, you know, I think you might I, you underestimate how difficult it is if people don't speak the language, or they just know what they learn at school. And then they don't understand anybody. So what's the point being able to like, I don't know, read Bertolt Brecht in German, but you can't order a beer and be understood. I think there's a real mismatch there between what we learn in educational establishments and what we need.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 09:07

Absolutely, I could not agree with you more, I think it's so important to be able to order a beer in, in a country where they make it really well. And so you talked originally about undergoing culture shock, which I think is a really important topic for us to kind of talk about because a lot of the clients that you work with a lot of the clients that I work with experience culture shock, and it's a really difficult thing for them to go through. Can you tell us a little bit more if it's okay, tell us more about how you overcame that culture shock? And how what things you would share with other people going through the same thing?

Vanessa Paisley 09:43

Yeah, sure. So I think it's often underestimated how difficult it is. Because culture shock people go Oh, well, in America, you always get iced water and I don't like iced water. That's culture shock. You know, if I ever asked students what is it though? come up with some really funny ideas like in the UK everybody eats a full breakfast every day that No, no, that's not culture shock. Those are just things you experience on the surface, aren't they? That made you realise you're in a different place. But I think we often talk about the culture shock curve. So when you arrive in a place, it's like the honeymoon period, everything's great, you see all the nice things. And at some point, you realise you've got to adjust your behaviour, your style of living if you're going to fit in with that culture. And that can be a real dip. And some people like come through that very quickly, they learn the language, they find hobbies straight away that they did back at home, they make friends, they get a job, all of these things make that curve smaller, but some people get stuck in the bottom. And I think I definitely experienced that when I moved to the western part of Austria because I think it's because I didn't have a job. So I didn't meet anybody I had, my whole self-worth was really low. And obviously being quite young, I just didn't really know what was wrong with me. But I do remember there were times when I didn't really want to leave the flat. And to get through it, I eventually didn't get any help because it didn't exist back in those days. Right now you get x pack coaching and all these things. But I actually joined a gym, and I met loads of like-minded people. And I think by doing sport, getting fit, and then meeting people socialising. I think that's so important. I mean, I don't know what it was like for you. I mean, did you experience culture shock in?

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 11:48

Absolutely. So I mean, as you were talking, I was thinking, yes, it's right. Like, I think it's really important to step outside your comfort zone. I mean, I think I spent the first 12 months living here not really wanting to leave either, because I think I, I saw a post the other day on LinkedIn, somebody's talking about, you know, culture shock, is that idea of when you're walking to the supermarket, you're thinking, what do I say, if somebody speaks to me, or you're rehearsing in your head, what you need to say, there, those sorts of things that I experienced, like, oh, okay, I don't know what I'm going to be able to say, or what happens if this happens, and it just makes everything a bit more stressful. I definitely experienced culture shock in the beginning, and you almost lose an aspect of your identity where, you know, one way that you were, where you where you've come from, you have to change. So I know one thing for me is being in a group of people and not being able to ask people questions, because I love talking to people and asking him questions. So having identified that I know now that that's what I need to work on.

Vanessa Paisley 12:57

Yeah. And that's really interesting, isn't it? Because in classic language learning, you're always taught to answer questions and not really ask them. But as adults, it's an also part of building relationships is asking questions, isn't it? So I think that's Yes. And that reminds me of when I used to go out for dinner. And because I used to speak high German, and everybody would be speaking the dialect. As soon as I open my mouth, everybody out, went silent and was listening to me. And I'm not like an overly extroverted person. I'd be like, Oh, no, please carry on talking. I'll just talk to the person next to me, but I, I guess it was their way of being interested in me. But I felt as if I was had the spotlight on me, and it wasn't very comfortable.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 13:44

Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah. So it's, it's true. It's very different the ways that people react to you. And as well, like, and the other thing that I find, too, is that they want to be interested in what you have to say, but you know, sometimes you don't know how to say it, or what's appropriate to say, I know that for me, I have a big problem with I like to make jokes like silly jokes, but that doesn't really translate into French. It's sometimes I have these looks back at me like man, that doesn't translate very well. You kind of go back into your shell a little bit. So I guess what you're saying. So to overcome culture shock, it's important to step outside of your comfort zone and find something that you connect with.

Vanessa Paisley 14:29

Yeah. And also think about career wise, maybe you're going to have to change something because very often, you know, your qualified qualifications don't match the qualifications that are required in a certain country you're living. This means sometimes you have to like, take a step back, you know, bite the bullet, and then do something that you think oh, no, do I have to go back to school and do this or sometimes it's better just to get on with things and see see it as a chance or an opportunity to meet new people gain new skills rather than saying, oh, I've already done this. Now I've got to go back and get the qualification or the piece of paper, that tells me I need to do it. But it's also so it's, it's the unfamiliar getting out of your comfort zone, but also keeping daily coping mechanisms going. So if you did yoga at home, don't stop doing it. When you get to your new place, you know, I think the world's got a lot easier in that respect, you can do things online. Although I do also recommend that when you first move somewhere, you try and limit contact with home a little bit. Because otherwise you you aren't going to live in the virtual world. And it's so easy to do that, isn't it these days? So I think you've got to get the balance, right? Yeah.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 15:57

Yeah. And I mean, when you were saying that, I was thinking when I first moved here, I was pretty much talking to home every day. And so you're right, you get stuck, you get a bit stuck in this world of living into timezones or Yeah, living across different spaces. And so it prevents you from really being in the environment that you're physically living in. And but yeah, going back to what you're saying about having to adapt, I guess, because the what your qualification was back home might not necessarily translate. And this often happens for architects because they might be licenced, as an architect in the country they've come from, but it doesn't necessarily translate, or they have to do more qualifications, or they have to register again. So it can be really frustrating. And so I guess what you're saying is, it's important to be able to adapt, seek other opportunities or other training or things like that.

Vanessa Paisley 16:57

Yeah, definitely. And I think that happened to me, when I first went to Austria because I got a bachelor's degree in German, they didn't have bachelor degrees. In those days, they were only master degrees in Austria. And I remember it being crossed out, it was like it said, academic title on a form, I can't remember what it was for. And I wrote ba ions, and the women just got a pen and she crossed out. We don't have that here. You know, and then, but also coming back. I mean, this reverse culture shock wasn't a lot easier in that respect, because I've been teaching English at university level, and companies and all sorts of things. But I had to also go back and do my TEFL training my teaching English as a foreign language certificate, because in the UK, you can only use for work for British Council approved schools, and you have to have a certain qualification. So that was probably tougher, actually. Because by that point, I was, you know, in my mid 40s, thinking, Oh, I gotta go back and study the Present Perfect. I did it. So it was funny. Funny experience. Yeah.