Chinese Champions visit American Family Insurance

One of the most rewarding features of my current role at American Family is the opportunity I have with community outreach and making new connections. In an effort to further strengthen our relationship with University of Wisconsin – Madison, American Family Insurance was privileged to host an elite group of Chinese student athletes to our campus. This group of students from Beijing University of Sport arrived in Madison as part of a unique exchange program in mid-July and they’ll be leaving soon to head home. I was excited to host this group as part of their Tour Wisconsin Program.

I enjoyed the event planning duties associated with arranging for the visit, especially the chance to do some online shopping, plus working directly with some of our employees in other areas of our company. However, I want to outline the three underlying reasons that this event was so successful – cultural awareness, engaged teams and direct communication.

We made sure we set up a warm greeting for our guests – fancy food, building tours and a special parting gift.

Cultural awareness
I decided upfront that in order to best plan for the event it was pertinent to seek out a couple of our Chinese-speaking employees. Their insight was invaluable, both from a language standpoint and a cultural perspective. I’m hopeful that the students noticed the welcome signs upon arrival, the detailed Chinese characters describing their sport and their name tag translation. In addition to helping with our language issues, these employees offered very useful and detailed information about cultural differences, everything from proper greetings to opinions on our food choices.

Engaged employees
Words just can’t express the significance of the enthusiasm, experience and hard work our employee volunteers brought to the event. The first major obstacle for most of us was the language barrier. Several of our employees helped translate the brief presentations and building tour script, and followed along with the tour guide to help handle questions and to provide clarifications. We had a great group who also engaged in conversation with the student athletes during the refreshment reception in our atrium foyer.

Direct communication
Lastly, we gave a great deal of thought to the kind of impression our communication style and delivery exhibited. Our human resources vice president greeted the group in Chinese several times, and he made an effort to discuss our financial position in Qian (Chinese dollars) versus U.S. dollars.

As non-Chinese speakers, our other presenters waited for cues and non-verbal communication as they incorporated translation into their talks. Personally, this was my first experience presenting information to be translated. While it was nice to have this first experience, I honestly struggled with it. Tom and Marsha, our benefits director and wellness benefits specialist, did a great job waiting for translation during a session on employment wellness activities.

As I’ve written this post, I realized that cultural awareness, engaged teams, and direct communication are beneficial components of any successful project, task or assignment.

Do you have a similar story to share? How do you handle cultural differences in your work life? Have you ever worked on a project that came together well due to great teamwork? Let us know in the comments! ~Lisa

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