The Importance of First-Hand Experience with the Cultures We Serve

Posted by on April 2, 2013

As one of 11 credit union young professionals selected to participate in the January 2013 International Leadership Program through the World Council of Credit Unions, I was honored to have the opportunity to spend time at the COOPACRENE Credit Union in Neyba, Dominican Republic.

Through my role as Client Account Coordinator at Coopera, I have had the great privilege of working with outstanding credit union professionals around the U.S. One of the greatest joys of my work is seeing someone learn, or having their eyes opened, through a new experience, especially when it includes insight into a different culture. Although each of us had a different experience in the Dominican Republic, we walked away with an overwhelming sense of thankfulness that we were given this opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture and participate in the our host families’ and credit unions’ daily activities. Time after time during this trip, I saw the eyes of my fellow travelers light up from something they learned or experienced.

It is a Coopera best practice to participate in international exchange programs, such as this one, for these very reasons — because by better understanding the different cultures we serve, we can better help our clients serve their customers. It’s a win-win situation. Also, I have observed on so many occasions that first-hand experiences help us all grow professionally and personally, often in ways we can’t predict.

After the recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I recognized the potential for more credit union professionals to participate in these types of international exchange programs. And here are 10 reasons why:

1. Exposure to new cultures and/or a deeper understanding of cultures

2. Enhance language skills and/or learn a new language

3. Learn credit union best practices to take back to home credit union

4. Share best practices with host credit union

5. Develop a global perspective on the credit union movement

6. Networking opportunities with credit union professionals around the U.S.

7. Develop sensitivity to other people from other cultures coming to the U.S.

8. Make lifetime friendships and memories

9. Personal and professional development

10. Take a risk and challenge yourself to think outside the box

The World Council of Credit Unions has several upcoming opportunities to have international experience in Costa Rica, Ecuador and Brazil. Visit http://www.woccu.org/events for more information.

For 13 days in January 2013, 11 young credit union professionals were selected to participate in the International Credit Union Leadership Program. This trip was made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, and part of the larger U.S. Department of State Professional Fellows Program.

Each was placed in a different credit union or credit union association across the Dominican Republic. From Iowa, Traci Stiles, Business Development Manager at Des Moines Metro Credit Union in Des Moines, Iowa, was placed at the newest credit union in the Dominican Republic, CoopOriental; Erin O’Hern, Compliance Attorney at PolicyWorks, was placed with COOPBUENO; Anna Peña, Client Account Coordinator at Coopera, was placed at COOPACRENE.

Highlights from their experience have been shared in a series of blog posts.

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