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Distinguishing Global and Local

Mau (Mauricio) Otarola is originally from San José, Costa Rica, and now lives among locals and travelers 220 km east of the city in Puerto Viejo, along the Caribbean Sea. He is the co-owner of a vacation rentals and property management business that maintains and rents houses owned predominately by individual, foreign investors to visiting groups and families from Argentina and other South American countries, Germany, Italy and the U.S. When asked to make the distinction between what’s global and what’s local, Mau says, “For me, when you do something locally, you do it with more love.” This month, Mau sat down with intercultures to share how the story of one Tico[i] working out of the jungle of Costa Rica intersects with the stories of others around the world working globally.

Overcoming Cultural Differences

What may distinguish Mau from the majority of professionals working internationally is that he finds challenge in his work without feeling the external pressures he did living in the capitol. Having grown up in a fast, achievement-oriented city, Mau appreciates the slower pace of life on the coast while managing the circumstances that come with serving the high expectations of a rotating public from abroad. “Every day I have new challenges—even though I’m not prepared for that,” he says with a laugh. Usually, it’ because it’s peoples’ first time in the country; “basic stuff” that is not always understood “in the Costa Rican way”. Mau seems to accept the cultural differences that sometimes challenge, adding that his clients “are super nice, and [that] all of them also think differently…What I’ve learned so far about difficult situations where people are not calm [is that] you need to bring the calm”. An easy smile spreads across his face again as he speaks.

Working Better Globally

intercultures recognizes progressive interest within Latin America in developing the skills and opportunities to work better globally. As an early adapter to the opportunity for local work with global actors, English language skill was Mau Otarola’s entry point. “This experience that I have had [in building Habitat is because I’m speaking English.” For many others—including friends back in the capital city—English is not common and, coupled with English language-speaking travelers’ lack of Spanish—creates a barrier to communication. Others are attending training institutions that are emerging across the country. “In San José, I think six years ago it started,” says Mau. Since then, there has been a shift from an older order of barter economy, fishing and farming to bilingual young people seeking competitive-paying jobs at customer service call centers established in “Costas Más Ricas” by such companies as Hewlett-Packard and Intel. “Among the Central American countries,” says Mau, “I think Costa Rica was chosen as a first. I haven’t heard of this [international business development] in other Central American countries…The field is getting prepared for future generations. And it’s because…companies are coming to the country in order to offer these kinds of jobs.” Their workforce is ripening.

Setting ones Cultural Expectations

One critique that Mau hears from foreigners that have entered the country with new ideas is that Costa Ricans don’t want to work. Clearly, cultural interpretation is at play here. Some will supplement language and technical training with intercultural interventions in order to create sufficiently effective and sustained business with mutual benefit. Yet ironically, a highly active market for land and property as well as differing cultural expectations about service quality will influence the pace of life that clients come to Costa Rica to enjoy.

A Beautiful Day for Business

But for the time being, it’s green, warm and endlessly damp in the tropical rain forest where Mau and his neighbors live among agoutis (bush rats), chickens, iguanas, monkeys, snakes and likely a million other living creatures. Pipa (coconut) water is being sold straight from its shell on the side of the road. The traditional dish of rice and beans is being served at every restaurant worth it’s salt. It’s a beautiful day for business in Costa Rica, and business is good for this Tico.

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[i] “Tico” is a term used by Costa Ricans and other Spanish-speakers to refer to natives of Costa Rica.

The above article was included in our Jan. 2017 intercultures e-newsletter.

Picture Credit Title Picture: Malii Brown.