Storytelling and Cultural Learning: An Expatriate Manager's Narratives of Collaboration Challenges in a Multicultural Business Setting

Michał Wilczewski, Anne-Marie Søderberg, Arkadiusz Gut

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This paper focuses on cultural learning processes in an international business context. The empirical material is an in-depth narrative interview with a European expatriate manager who emplots challenging cultural encounters in an Asian subsidiary of a Western European multinational company. We seek turning points and discoveries in her stories to show how and what she learned from her critical incidents. We found that the new business and cultural context posed a huge challenge during the early stages of her assignment and that prior (explicit) knowledge and international experience did not ensure smooth collaborations. Successful collaborations required creating new context-specific (tacit) knowledge embedded in organizational culture and locals' behaviors. We found that extrapolating from social interactions led to cultural misinterpretations and inhibited cross-cultural interactions and learning, but continued interactions led to better understandings of cultural others' behaviors as their attributions could be renegotiated. Moreover, we found transformative potential of storytelling for expatriate post-experiential learning. We contribute methodologically to the narrative approach in cross-cultural research. We found that collecting stories by the interviewer who shares a nationality, language, and culture with the interviewee may impose an ethnocentric lens on the experiences related and limit the interviewee's reflection on cross-cultural communication and collaboration.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLearning, Culture and Social Interaction
Pages (from-to)362-377
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Cultural learning
  • Cross-cultural collaboration
  • In-depth interview
  • Narrative analysis
  • Expatriate
  • Multinational company

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