Editor’s Note: Prabha’s story took place and was written prior to any travel restrictions. At Cisco, we love and celebrate our global culture and feel it is important to continue to share our collective experiences and stories until we can travel again in the future.
2,482 miles later, I had moved from Ohio to California to begin my career at Cisco as a Finance Analyst. The very next morning, my manager informed me that our team would be heading to Tokyo – in two weeks! There was a good bit of shock as I tried to process the news – and I had even told myself that I likely wouldn’t be allowed to go given how new I was to the team, and to Cisco.
When I brought up the trip to my program manager, however, their response was, “Well, of course you are going!” – that’s when I realized how team orientated Cisco is, and…that’s also when my panic began to set in. Soon, my shock and fear were replaced with excitement – I mean, how many people get an opportunity like this? Immediately, I began to prepare and research for my first business trip – and an international trip at that.
Here are four lessons I learned from my experience:
1. Research, Research, Research: There was a lot to do before my plane left California, but I found that research is key, and the most crucial element before boarding. Don’t forget to ensure that you have the right visa, get your corporate credit card, and register for international health insurance with Cisco.
It’s also ideal to figure out transportation details for the country you’ll be visiting and exchange a little cash in the foreign currency for emergencies. I also highly recommend reading over Cisco’s travel and entertainment policy to make sure that you are being compliant while you are traveling.
In my opinion, the most important research that has to be done when traveling to a new country is cultural research. I wanted to be sensitive and aware of the country I’d be visiting (Japan) and found that YouTube was a great tool, as well as a simple Google search for cultural tips and those specific to business travel.
2. Make new friends: Most of my time was spent with my direct team, and I was lucky enough to enjoy the company of co-workers from the United States, China, and the United Kingdom on my team. Together, we spent long days in the office and had fun bonding over work, food, and each other’s cultures at dinner. Building those meaningful relationships with everyone on the team was one of the best things I did over the two weeks I was in Japan.
You should also take time to make some new friends at the local Cisco office as well. This new office experience gives you a rare opportunity to meet and interact with co-workers from the country you are visiting. From meetings we had scheduled, to striking up a conversation with someone in the break room – I met some wonderful people in both these ways!
3. Eat all the foods: I learned a lot about the country and culture of Japan through the food. In your research, perhaps look up what the country or region is known for – and be aware of certain customs and respect you should pay to the local culture. I found being adventurous with food to be exciting – for example, I was always afraid to try sushi, but now I’m a big fan!
After a long day in the office, our team loved exploring different restaurants at night. The most memorable being when our VP took us out to dinner after our first day in Tokyo. Set tasting menus are common in Tokyo, but we had no idea that it would take about three hours for us to eat the whole set!
We were all immensely tired from travel and work, but quickly learned there is nothing like a three-hour meal to bring people together.
If you have food constraints (for me, I couldn’t eat beef or pork) it’s helpful to look up menus before heading to a restaurant. If you can’t find anything that suits your constraints, don’t be afraid to speak up so a place can be found to accommodate everyone. This is easier said than done, but teams are super understanding if you just let them know in advance about your situation.
4. Bring your best self and reflect: I’ve learned that everyone at Cisco wants to guide you and help you grow. I took full advantage of this and was a sponge – soaking up all the extra knowledge. I knew that getting to travel to a new country was such a privilege, and I wanted to make sure that I brought my best self for Cisco’s benefit and my own. I also found it helpful to jot down my thoughts at the end of each day during the trip which forced me to reflect on the day and served as a little time capsule of the experience.
Business travel can be overwhelming, so I recommend taking it all one day (and, really, one moment) at a time. Make sure you are experiencing each moment as it comes, and most of all – have fun! We are so lucky to work for a global company that encourages us to get to know one another in so many incredible ways.
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