Cultural Components of International Business
Journey from Colombia Interview with Libia Price By: Caitlin Scully
The Art Institute of Seattle
Colombian to New Yorker Libia Price discusses her cultural experiences when moving to America. In a Q&A style interview Caitlin Scully reports how Libia went from a Spanish speaking native to working in management positions with companies such as PSEG and Prudential Insurance.
Let me introduce to you the current Libia Price. Her career profile defines her as a Bilingual, Insurance Claims, Security and Risk Management Professional in the greater New York City Area. She also obtains an extensive reputable resume to reinforce her title. Libia’s past job titles and affiliated companies are listed below in chronological order starting with most recent:
Corporate Security Manager-PSEG
Business Analyst/Project Manager-Prudential Insurance
Property and Casualty Claims Manager-Prudential Insurance
Associate Manager in Executive Complaint Unit-Prudential Insurance
Associate Manager in Property and Casualty Claims
That’s how she looks on paper but naturally there is more to this beautiful Colombian native whose accent still shines through every time she speaks. It fits her though, creates her personality. It makes her human. Libia’s hard work and move to a different world provided her with the privilege of earning an education and working her way up the corporate ladder. But there’s more to the story. It is the intimate details, memories, culture shocks, and being a foreign woman in a business dominated by men that shaped her journey. The specifics and the truths of her past leading to her present reveal an aspect of what it is like to move from another country where a second language must replace your innate tongue. In a question and answer style interview conducted by phone I asked Libia about her experiences. The records of our conversation are depicted on the following pages.
The Interview Caitlin Scully: What Country Libia, are you originally from? Libia Price: Barranquilla, Atlántico, Colombia. Barranquilla is an industrial port city and municipality located in northern Colombia, near the Caribbean Sea. The capital of the Atlántico Department, it is the largest industrial city and port in the Colombian Caribbean region. CS: When did you move to the U.S.? Why? LP: In 1978 My Father sought it necessary to remove us from Colombia and bring his family to America so we could receive the opportunity of education and a better life. At the time there was a large amount of Drug Wars with cartels making it an unsafe environment for us to live in. So when I was 17 my father, mother, 2 brothers, and 2 sisters moved to Michigan. CS: What Languages do you speak? LP: Right now I can speak English and Spanish. Although English is my second language, it is the main language I use for verbal communication. Unless of course I am speaking to a relative back home, then you just can’t help it when that happens, your natural instinct kicks in. CS: Moving with your family must have provided at least some sense of security, can you describe your family life when first came to America? LP: I couldn’t even imagine moving to America on my own. I was so young and uneducated about the culture. I am so thankful for my family and what they were able to provide me with. My family life when I first moved to America was anything but glamorous. Without sugar coating it, we were poor. My mother worked as a seamstress and my father worked as a valet driver. But they both worked hard to send their children to college. Two of my siblings ended up joining the military and earned their education that way. But my parents paid for education for both my sister and I. Eventually a relative of my mother’s convinced us to move to the New Jersey, New York area as there was more opportunity for job choices. CS: Did you know any English prior to moving here? LP: None! Well, little to none. I could say some basic things or make a few hand gestures, but I was virtually clueless. When I moved here I was 17 as I stated above and I had to finish high school in conjunction with learning a new language. Needless to say I entered college speaking broken English. CS: Not knowing full command of the English language in college must have been frustrating and anxiety ridden? How did you cope with this? 2
LP: In concurrence with my college studies I also attended night school to further my education in the English language. It was something I knew I had to do. To better myself so I could communicate with other people fluently. Not only did I know that this would create more opportunities for me, it was also respectful for me to have a full understanding of the language in the country I live in. Plus I wanted to make friends, and I did, I even met my husband. CS: Do you recall any embarrassing situations when first moving here? LP: Oh my too many times to count. Usually I was around people who would help me or correct me, like my husband Peter. I would mispronounce words, use them out of context. This would create silly sentences. Instances where I would get sayings wrong, using a wrong word, or misunderstanding someone were probably my most humiliating yet humbling experiences. CS: How long would you say did it take for you to be comfortable with the American language? LP: Although I am 100% comfortable with it today, I still find myself slipping up. I guess I could blame that on still having an accent, but it works for me. I couldnâ€™t give you an exact date though; it will always be second to me. And second place always means there is room for improvement. CS: What college did you attend? LP: I attended Missouri Western State University during the years of 1979-1983 CS: What did you end up majoring in? LP: I received my BS in Biology CS: You mention that you went back to college years later, what was this degree for and how did it help you with your career? LP: Trying to balance a full time job with a salary and going to school was tough but completely worth it. So I went back to college in 2001 to expand my job options and skill sets. I took an online course through the University of Phoenix. I received my MA in Organizational Management. I finished the course in 2003. It was a complete benefit, I was now qualified for more job options, and I received promotions and pay raises. CS: Who do you work for currently and what do you do? LP: Presently I am taking some time off from work, perhaps considering retirement. But my most recent position was Corporate Security manager at PSEG in Newark NJ. I had been with PSEG for 13 years in various positions. As a Corporate Security Manager I was in the utilities department and overlooked projects, analyses, and systems support. I held this position for 3 years and 4 months. During the dates of December 2007 â€“ March 2011. PSEG is a Public Company; 10,001+ employees. Working in the PSEG Utilities industry required me to fulfill the following tasks. 3
• Lead security team responsible for business compliance investigations, asset protection, physical security and site audits including preparing and presenting detailed reports and key findings to senior executives and key stakeholders. • Obtain responsibility for the ongoing analysis of security exposures including managerial oversight of PSEG’s physical security program for critical infrastructure assets. • Managing the Company’s intelligence gathering, analysis, and reporting function in conjunction with Homeland Security requirements. • Facilitating large complex projects and developed, planned and implemented security compliance requirements and business continuation protocols for Corporate Security. • Managing Security Command Center Operations and relationship with third party security integrator. • Providing oversight of contract guard force and ID badging system. • Serving as a liaison with law enforcement, security and intelligence organizations. • Lead department administration functions and back-office support including budget planning, financial reporting, benchmarking, business scorecards and contract management. • Developing and presenting security awareness training and education programs. CS: How does being bilingual help you in your career? Does it create new job opportunities or chances to network for you? LP: There are so many benefits to being bilingual. In terms of my career being bilingual gave me more responsibilities and chances to work with more people in the company overseas because I could speak Spanish. This really shows respect when doing business internationally. So essentially I was an asset to the company. I could communicate to a larger network of people. There is also personal benefits to being bilingual as well. This is on a cultural level. In today’s world it is important to understand multiple languages. A variety of professions are requiring it, or at least offering the highest paying positions to those who obtain this skill. Overall it increases your marketability significantly. There’s no limit to linguistics. CS: Being a woman in a work world dominated by men is hard enough. You succeeded and then some in New York’s corporate culture. Clearly you are a strong woman. Were there any situations where you felt discriminated against or judged based on your ethnicity, accent, looks etc. LP: Of course I experienced times where I was judged or mistreated based on assumptions. But that is where confidence, hard work, and results come into play. I already had two things working against me, being Spanish, and being a woman. But coming from another country this hardly intimidated 4
me as it would to women raised in America. Because in Colombia opportunities for women were slim. America provided endless amounts of opportunity and rights for women. Keeping this point of view in my mind allowed me to ignore the judgments. They’re just thoughts; you have to have a thick skin. Once you prove yourself, then the trust is there, the questioning is gone. But you have to want to prove it. Don’t expect to earn any amount of respect if your hearts not in it. CS: As a culture we tend to evaluate foreigners and their behaviors by the standards we hold in our own country and culture, thus egotistically and perhaps subconsciously believing our culture is superior to all others. Describe ethnocentrism in your own words? What were your experiences with it in America? LP: Of course I will always have pride in my homeland. And I’m sure the pride is still strong to its current inhabitants. No one can ever take my heritage away from me, and for that I am proud to be who I am. My experiences with ethnocentrism in America seem to be backwards in regards to the standard definition. My family and I looked at America as an escape, a chance for a better life. So in a sense when I first moved here I was more submissive to the U.S. culture, adapting to western behaviors. But I do have to say that there is something about America that just doesn’t compare with the historical colorful art, clothing, culture, and events from home. I guess that’s where my personal ethnocentrism kicks in. CS: Alright, enough with the technical and fact questions. Surroundings and culture play a big part, probably even larger, in influencing your thoughts and behaviors. This happens on a conscious and subconscious level. Let’s dive into your experienced perception of American culture when you first moved here. How would you personally define culture shock? Did you experience aspects of it when moving to the U.S, or did you smoothly transition your way into the American lifestyle? LP: In Colombia we had a lot of the same television programs like the Flinstones. We knew some of the same celebrities like Davy Jones (whom I swooned over), and we wore a lot of the same fashion. I would have to say the elements that contributed to the culture shock I experienced can be related to the fast paced life of Americans, it was shocking, but I liked it. Societal standards and things like food, shopping experiences, and transportation was definitely a culture shock, but in a good way. I liked it. I knew I belonged here and I wanted to further my dream. CS: How was the media and pace of life different? LP: The media and America’s perception of the world was different but it was relevant to my new home so I accepted it. The fast pace of life that exists in America felt natural to me. It’s also not like I wasn’t exposed to constantly being kept on my toes; I just experienced it in a different way in
Colombia. There I was living in an industrial city with ports, and drug wars, America required full time jobs and time crunches. Both lifestyles resulted in lack of sleep.
Final Thoughts Libia ends our interview on a more personal note. She ends the conversation by answering a question I never even asked, advice for myself. Below in quotations is a monologue in her -own words. Real, raw, and off script. I believe its honest advice worth living for. “No matter where you are from Catie, don’t let other’s opinions influence you. Even more don’t let the negativity interfere with your overall goals. Be resilient. In the end it's you who supports you. Don’t rely on others to provide for you. So many woman in America choose to depend on others. This baffles me because they have the opportunity to be independent in this country. Being free and independent to make your own decisions was probably one of the most appealing aspects of coming to America. So here is my advice to you Catie girl; Work hard, choose a path that you love and make something of yourself. Take the lead and be confident. It’s all about confidence. Work isn’t always fun, but the sense of accomplishment and reward outweighs it all. And to know you did that for your-self is a wonderful thing. Most importantly though be happy and respect others. Without those two foundations you may make it somewhere in life, but you’ll never feel it, and no one will recognize it. Be proud of who you are and don’t get distracted by societies negative clutter”. Mrs. Price currently resides in Plainfield, New Jersey with her husband Peter Price. Both her and Peter have experienced the corporate lifestyle. The successes and stresses. Lay-offs and pay raises. The rat race that is ever so common and even more extreme in the New York area. All in all they can both agree that they made their mark. As they get older plans to retire are in their future. They remain active within their community and various organizations. One could consider them socialites within their network of friends, acquaintances, connections, and relations. A journey from Colombia provided Libia Price with a life that she would have dreamed about if America was a thought and not an action.