Amith V Kumar on the advantages of perspective and learning  

Amith V Kumar has lived, studied and worked in several regions and interacted with people from many countries. By keeping an open mind and not jumping to conclusions, he has embraced building relationships and learning about others.

Amith V Kumar on the advantages of perspective and learning  

Amith V Kumar
19 June 2023

Amith is our Regional Senior Destination Manager (CAN & USA) - MEA. Working on client relations, business development, planning, & events

Amith V Kumar has lived, studied and worked in several regions and interacted with people from many countries. By keeping an open mind and not jumping to conclusions, he has embraced building relationships and learning about others.

“I was raised in Kenya and consider myself more Kenyan than Indian. While I tend to be more laid back, I do get around to getting my things done. After I completed my O levels, I moved back to India for my high school and Bachelor as well as to learn more about my culture. It definitely was a culture shock!

I had always been closest to my grandfather, but he was no longer alive, so I lived with my grandmother. She saw things differently to me. As an example - I loved reading about movies, reviews, and the industry, but she thought I was too young to be reading this kind of stuff. I thought from her perspective and realized that she is old and was not going to change her habits at that point. It made me realize that I need to see things from different people’s perspectives, and that became a turning point for me personally, but also for my relationship with my grandmother. We became very close after that.

For my post-graduate studies, I moved to Sydney and went to Macquarie University. One of the subjects that I opted for was ‘Managing Cultural Diversity’. There was a group assignment and I distinctly remember noticing that we were all different – there was a Finnish person who had been in the military; a Thai person who had grown up in Canada; a person from Indonesia; and me, an Indian who had grown up in Kenya. The Finnish person taught us good time management, structure, and how to break things into parts. He had a very distinct way of doing things. I was a lot more laid back, because of my background. It was a great opportunity to learn the good qualities of different cultures. One thing I remember learning from my Finnish friend was to do the work early, finish early and then relax ahead of a deadline.

From Sydney, I moved to South India, where I noticed the difference between North and South Indian traditions and family relationships, being more mature now as well as being able to understand the complexities. In North India, the students are more independent, so it is important to speak with the students as they are making decisions. But in South India, the parents are making the decisions so there needs to be a different focus on the parents. For those of us interacting with students or parents we need to remember that they come to us for help. They are in our system, and we have information available to us to learn about them before we interact with them, rather than making up our own stories about them. Give them care in this future changing time. Cultural understanding will help everyone.

So, 2 things I do:

Observe behaviours, understand people – then react to those learnings.

Always be curious to know about the other person – have an open mind and don’t judge. Try to understand the person sitting across from me.

It is very easy to assume what people will say next or to complete their sentence in your mind. Being curious, listening, and letting people finish ensures you hear their perspective, not yours.

Now I am living and working in the Middle East. When I travel or move to another country, I learn about the country, culture, and customs first. It’s really important to respect other traditions and cultures. The same goes for meeting other people, the more you can find out about them before you meet, then the better the interaction will be – what do they like and not like? This is true in business as well, to make interactions more than transactions. I will be sharing some of my experiences which I have implemented in my work and/or life.

When I first came to the Middle East, I knew that Ramadan was very important, and I was very conscious of not eating or drink outside, not even carrying a protein bar. Five years later, UAE is different and with 90% expats, eating and drinking outside is accepted during Ramadan. Another example of understanding local culture and implementing it in your business is the use of the local language in your marketing collaterals (examples are Arabic/Turkish depending on the country), rather than English.

When I previously visited Iran, it was another opportunity to consider other perspectives. We hear and read a lot in the papers, and it is easy to have preconceived ideas. But getting to know the people, and going to our office where the staff were amazing was a really great experience as well as eye-opener. We were able to let our guards down and have a great time together.

I travelled to Eldoret in North Kenya where there are many farms. The farmers keep a low profile and live a modest life. It was another lesson in not judging, as they are very wealthy, and are looking to pay for their children’s international education. There are other examples of people who we assume are wealthy because they live a high life, but they are living paycheck to paycheck. Humans tend to judge; we should practice not judging.

One thing to note, if you try, but make a mistake, just apologise and move on. People will appreciate that. We are living in a world without borders, there is so much exposure to other people and cultures. I really recommend seeking out friends from different backgrounds and don’t judge who they are, what they do, or where they come from. When I studied in Australia, I came here with friends from home, and we lived together and studied the same subjects. It was such a big investment to do international study and for us to really benefit from the experience, I thought it best that we rely less on each other and discover new friends and opportunities independently. It was a tough conversation with my friends that I dreaded but prepared for, and it allowed us all to learn as well as experience our new environment by volunteering, joining clubs, and making so many new friends.

Learning and trying new things and places can be challenging, but it is worth it! I think it takes about a year to settle in, understand the culture and people, but then you’ll be fine!”

Thank you, Amith, for your wise words and for showing us the importance of not judging, and of seeing things from other perspectives.

#ItsUpToMe to be the best I can be!