Welcome to The Bicultural Podcast.
This episode will give insight into
- Mark’s story about being bicultural
- Experiences of Latin America
- Working with Nordic countries
- Leading a multicultural team
Hello, Mark. How are you?
Mark Dodsworth (00:33):
Good morning, Janina. How are you?
Janina Neumann (00:35):
I’m very well, thank you. I’m glad to have you on my podcast.
Mark Dodsworth (00:39):
Delighted to be here. Very honoured. Thank you.
Janina Neumann (00:41):
So tell us a little bit about yourself.
Mark Dodsworth (00:43):
I’m the co-founder and MD of Europartnerships, we were founded in 2000. My own personal history from a sort of bicultural/multicultural point of view, began really with my parents because my mother was from the U.S, and my father was from the UK. So I was already as a child living in a bicultural environment. Then in my early years, my parents moved to Argentina, to Buenos Aires. So, for my early years, I was going to school, in Buenos Aires, and it was a bilingual school. So not only did I have the U.S. influence from my mother, but I was also now being taught in Spanish, living in South America, and experiencing life in a country, a Spanish speaking country, thousands of miles from the UK.
Mark Dodsworth (01:49):
I was good at languages at school, and obviously learning Spanish at a very young age was helpful. So I went onto university and studied Spanish, Portuguese, and French did a Masters in Latin American studies. So everything seemed to be pointing towards living and working in Latin America. That’s precisely what happened, I went into the foreign office as a research officer. I covered Brazil and the so-called ‘Southern Cone’ countries of Latin America for four years. For various reasons, I didn’t stay, I ended up going into a languages faculty, an arts faculty in the university, and then from there into the private sector, focusing on language training and international business. And that was really where I spent the rest of my career was in that world of language training and international business.
Mark Dodsworth (02:52):
This is really when things became quite multicultural. So although I would have liked to have done more on Spain and Latin America, we ended up working in France. We did a lot of work in the Nordic countries, especially Iceland and Finland, and more recently, Norway. We worked a lot with your country Janina, with Germany, and particularly with the ‘Ossis’, the Eastern Germans from the new federal States. So you can see that many different influences in sort of my private life and my professional life, which makes me now able to say that we’re a multicultural company.
Janina Neumann (03:43):
Wow. There’s so much that I’d love to ask you about that. But just going back, you’d mentioned that you went to a bilingual school.
So that’s really interesting because from my understanding of a bilingual school is that you actually learn different subjects in different languages, which I guess also influences the way you remember things in which language and that you can switch perspectives quite well. Is that true?
Mark Dodsworth (04:16):
That is exactly how it was. I mean, this was the early 1960s and the Argentine system was that when you went to an international school, which is what it was, at least half the curriculum had to be taught in Spanish. And the subjects that were taught in Spanish were history, for example, and of course, the language itself, I remember biology was in Spanish. The day would start, I was just thinking about this recently, the day would start with everybody out on the playground while we raise the Argentine flag and sang the National Anthem. And I can still word for word sing you the Argentine National Anthem, which I learned when I was seven years old.
Mark Dodsworth (05:13):
But another interesting perspective was the way they taught history. So, of course, history was Argentine history. So amongst other things we learned about the terrible things that the English Redcoats had done to the Argentine Patriots during the 18th and 19th centuries, when they raided different parts of South America, as part of their empire-building phase. So this was a way of seeing history from somebody else’s perspective and not from the perspective that we would see it if we were being taught here in the UK.
Janina Neumann (05:53):
Yeah, that’s really interesting because also the way you learn about someone’s history also influences the way you think about things.
Mark Dodsworth (06:03):
Janina Neumann (06:03):
And I guess also about how you perceive people and, you know, part of this podcast is to actually give some insights into different perspectives and to give insights into different cultures. So that’s really interesting.
So tell us a little bit more about your role as a research officer. That sounds really interesting.
Mark Dodsworth (06:27):
So I went into the foreign office as a Spanish and Portuguese speaker, and we were area specialists, employed by the foreign office to advise the diplomatic core on aspects of history, politics, and current affairs. Bearing in mind that most diplomats, when they come into the job, are generalists, they don’t come in with a particular special area of study. So they would employ Latin Americanists, Russianist, Scienologists, people with different experience of different countries and cultures as these specialist advisers to the diplomats. And that’s what I did for Brazil, and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Southern Cone, which was Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and of course, the Malvinas, the Falkland Islands, which at that time were on everybody’s lips because of the war with Argentina just before I joined.
Janina Neumann (07:42):
That’s really interesting. And I had a recent conversation with someone and she mentioned that you know, being bicultural, you actually become more empathetic with other cultures. So even though you might have certain cultures as part of your identity, you’re actually more likely to be able to understand how the other person’s feeling. So I can see that that must have been really good in your job of actually being a specialist adviser because you had those cultures, but you also had those experiences that you could pass on and advise people on that.
Mark Dodsworth (08:22):
Yeah, I was able, better than a lot of people, to see the situation from both sides. And I had this love affair with Latin America and with Argentina, you know, I love the place. I was very happy there as a child. I had many friends there, so I couldn’t share the view of some of the more unreasonable politicians and diplomats at the time who saw Argentina as simply an aggressive nation, you know, encroaching upon the poor Falkland Islanders. I mean, there was another side to it. I was able to see things, I think, from both sides, which made actually in some ways, made the job also a bit uncomfortable, and was maybe one of the reasons why I didn’t stay after four years, I decided to move on. But, certainly, at the time, it was very an interesting perspective, having lived in Argentina, and seen it from their perspective.
Janina Neumann (09:38):
Yes, I can certainly relate to feeling uncomfortable sometimes when you’re trying to tell someone else how this other person might be feeling about the situation. But then again, I think it’s also really important because actually you’re the person who might make them think or revise their perceptions of someone.
Mark Dodsworth (10:00):
Janina Neumann (10:00):
And that influences the next person that they meet. So I think that’s a really good thing.
So tell us a little bit more about kind of the differences that you saw between like Latin America and UK culture or specific differences, for example, with Argentina.
Mark Dodsworth (10:22):
You got to remember that I wasn’t working there in a professional sense. I actually wasn’t able to visit Argentina as a diplomat. I was a ‘persona non grata’. My passport was not acceptable. So everything that I was able to sort of read and study about contemporary Argentina at the time, had to come from books, and newspapers, and radio broadcasts, and things like that. But of course, I was able to meet and work quite closely with people from Brazil, from Chile, from Uruguay, Paraguay, and from the countries surrounding Argentina. I almost felt like I had like Latin American blood almost, because I’d been brought up there. So, I didn’t see too many differences myself, but I could see that in the UK at the time, there was quite a lot of ignorance about the different countries, about the history of the countries, about these people.
Janina Neumann (11:23):
I understand you kind of morph into the other culture because it’s part of your identity, so I can relate to that. Definitely.
Mark Dodsworth (11:31):
Yeah. So, therefore, you don’t maybe see the differences quite so starkly as somebody completely new to this culture would experience it, and I think that was certainly my feeling. I always got on extremely well with Latin American visitors and had many Latin American friends. Whenever I had the opportunity, I chose to travel to Latin America and visit people and places. So I always felt like I had, you know, definitely one foot there and one foot here. I didn’t in my professional life work with Latin America very much, ironically, I thought I would do, but that didn’t happen for various reasons. My career ended up taking me more northwards to the Nordic countries, to Finland, and Norway, and Iceland, and that was quite ironic in a way. Although I always, within the team, I always had Latin American colleagues working with me. So in that respect, we did keep our connections going with the region of my youth.
Janina Neumann (12:51):
That’s really interesting.
So tell us a little bit more about working with Nordic countries.
Mark Dodsworth (12:59):
This all came about because, in 2002, I was visiting a company in Hertfordshire actually, doing some work for an export development programme for a client, a British client, and the export manager there was Icelandic. And she went back to Iceland, took a job with the equivalent of the Icelandic Department for International Trade, which at that time was called ‘The Trade Council of Iceland’ and we’d kept in touch. And she invited me to meet her boss and to talk with her boss about what kind of work we might be able to do for Icelandic SMEs, who were looking to export their products and services to, not just to the UK, but mainly to the UK, but also to other markets. So they invited me out in 2002, I had meetings, and we set up a pilot training programme for groups of 12 SMEs at the time, designed to help prepare them for successful export and working with international partners. And that was really where it all started.
Janina Neumann (14:15):
Wow, that sounds really interesting.
Did you notice any like differences in how they communicated?
Mark Dodsworth (14:23):
Most Icelanders, certainly most of the people I was working with spoke pretty good English. They’d been a U.S. base in Iceland since the Second World War, as a U.S./British base, but became a U.S. base. And therefore, they’d had American TV, and they were very keen on British TV, on the BBC. TV was not dubbed, it was subtitled, so they heard English all the time on the television. Kids learned English at school. There were, at that time, many tourists, English-speaking tourists, and increasingly Icelanders were traveling abroad to study because it’s a population of 360,000, so a little bit bigger than Coventry, but it in a country, the size of Ireland. So you get these strange characteristics. But this means that if you want to study certain subjects at university, you have to go abroad because they’re not offered within Iceland. So they would go to Denmark, they would go to UK, a lot of Icelanders were studying in Scotland, and in the U.S., and then they would go back to Iceland to work.
Mark Dodsworth (15:46):
So English was very widely spoken. This meant that training in English, which is what we did, was perfectly acceptable. The differences were more about the way they think, the way they work together, the way they interact, rather than any significant issues relating to language. Of course, they were very familiar with UK. Many of them traveled to UK to go shopping or to go see football matches. So they were familiar with us, but of course, I was not very familiar with them, and I guess that was the interesting area and that difference, that I didn’t know them as well as they knew me.
Janina Neumann (16:35):
It’s really interesting. And I can imagine that they must have different layers of their identity if they have studied abroad and then come back. So I can imagine that they have some like multicultural characteristics.
So tell us a little bit more about how their thinking might differ to the UK.
Mark Dodsworth (16:58):
As a group, when you have a group of Icelanders, first thing you notice is that there are many women in the group, so it’s quite possible that in a group you’ll have more women than men. Then, and even more so now, many founders and owners of SMEs are women, so that’s the first thing you notice, which is a little bit different from maybe an audience in Germany or UK or Spain. Second thing is the way they dress, so they’re dressed very informally. Men are often in jeans, the women are very fashionable, because fashionable clothing, designer clothing is worn. So it’s this sort of smart/casual dress that you would find. Very quiet to begin with, but in order to encourage them to interact and to work together, we would always introduce some sort of business games to encourage them to relax a bit and break the ice, and generally after an hour or so, they’d do it. They’d all be talking and working well. But generally, the atmosphere is relatively quiet and subdued and thoughtful and reflective, very different, for example, to a Spanish or a Latin American audience, where you’d have a lot of noise, a lot of things going on. So very enjoyable to work with, very relaxing, and a lot of very good interaction and feedback from the work that you would be doing with them.
Janina Neumann (18:41):
That sounds really cool.
So what are they passionate about? What things do they enjoy? What things can you connect with them?
Mark Dodsworth (18:52):
I mean, both business and non-business, they’re usually, the people that I would be working with, very well-traveled, so love to travel, love to meet new people. Love the outdoors, of course, Iceland has a lot of that. They would be well-read, well-educated, therefore, able to interact at a high level. A great sense of humour. Maybe not quite the same as ours, but they would be very familiar with a lot of the English TV comedies, and then find them very funny. And they would sometimes quote those back to you, quote some of the best jokes back to you, clearly enjoyed them. Their sense of humour tends to use a lot of double meanings and wordplay, which of course is completely lost on me, as my Icelandic is limited to about 50 words, but also jokes and stories. I guess you could say a lot of it is built around stories about very strange people, doing very strange things, almost surreal things, and that’s where the humour would come from. I thought it was hilarious and I got into that, but for people not familiar with that, it might take a bit of getting used to.
Janina Neumann (20:17):
That sounds really cool. And I can imagine that they are quite creative and perhaps that also comes from being able to connect with other cultures quite fluently, because if they have different cultures within their culture. I can imagine that they learn a lot more about what else is going on in the world, so that sounds really cool.
You mentioned before about having a multicultural team at your Europartnerships, so how did that evolve?
Mark Dodsworth (20:50):
We started off going down that road because we were offered interns from different European countries. So the first non-British members of our team were Dutch, they were German, they were Spanish and they were coming to us on, usually on EU funded, programmes to spend six months or a year with us. Some of them stayed or they went back to their countries and continued to work with us in some capacity. So gradually the members of the team, at the moment we’re up to about nine people, but I was just reflecting the other day that we have, I think we have six different business cultures represented in our team at the moment. So we have Dutch, we have Spanish, we have Colombian, we have British, we have German, and we have Finish, and that’s all within a very small team, but we’re also a little bit unusual in that we don’t all sit in one office, we’re spread around different offices and sometimes different countries. You could say that we’re a virtual multicultural team rather than one that is co-located.
Janina Neumann (22:17):
That sounds really cool, and I also think it’s really fantastic that actually you have a multicultural team yourself. So when people come, for example, for your training programme and they experience certain things, you can actually really relate to them.
Mark Dodsworth (22:36):
Janina Neumann (22:36):
And that’s so important to actually have felt it and have it happen perhaps in your team as well, and it creates a great bond, but also, you know, that the expertise is firsthand, which is brilliant.
Mark Dodsworth (22:52):
This also makes the client feel very comfortable. So a couple of examples, I mean, we’ve done a lot of work with the Spanish Basque country, mainly in retail and commerce. So when those delegations of eight or 10 retailers would come to London, they would be met by Spanish-speaking members of my team, obviously, they would meet me. We would take them round, it would make them feel more comfortable and we would understand where they’re coming from, and they would understand where we were coming from. So, it was definitely a selling point to be able to offer that kind of service for them when they arrived. And the same with our German colleagues. You’ve seen some of our German events, Janina, and we were very comfortable with our German colleagues, and know that the kind of things that they’re going to demand and expect, which are a little bit different from your typical British group. But we can anticipate that and ensure that they have all the information that they need, that everything is carefully planned in advance, and that there’s not going to be any unexpected surprises, which might make those visitors more uncomfortable. So we can anticipate that and deal with it, thanks to our German team members.
Janina Neumann (24:20):
Yes, I certainly feel very comfortable attending to your events. And actually I’ve noticed when I feel comfortable, I learn a lot more. So I guess other people feel the same. So the way you make them feel comfortable and include them so well, they are also going to take in the information that you present to them, and how you interact with them, a lot more onboard than perhaps in another business setting where you feel a bit like an outsider. So it’s fantastic how you’ve built in that inclusivity within everything that you do.
Mark Dodsworth (24:59):
Yep. I think that’s absolutely true.
Janina Neumann (25:02):
So if people loved listening to you and they would perhaps like to connect with you or work with you, could you tell us a little bit more about how they can get in touch with you
Mark Dodsworth (25:13):
There are different ways of working with us or connecting with us. Obviously we run events. These events are usually connected with inward delegations. At the moment, they’re coming from Norway and from Finland, and anybody interested in those markets, particular in the tech and green areas, should contact me. You can do that through the website, which is europartnerships.co.uk, or contact me personally via LinkedIn. Then we’ll happily keep you informed about what’s coming up and talk about other things that may be of mutual interest.
Janina Neumann (25:55):
Fantastic. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you, Mark, and I’ve learned so much more today, which has been fantastic. And thank you for being a wonderful guest.
Mark Dodsworth (26:06):
It’s been a pleasure, I enjoyed it very much. Thanks, Janina again for inviting me.
Janina Neumann (26:10):
It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.
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