Ryan went to the Kurdistan region to work in the NGO sector, but once he arrived, he realized that the work did not always go as he had imagined. In this article, Ryan explains how he learned and adjusted to the differences between the cultures of Iraqi Kurdistan and the United States.
Yesterday we met with the Dean of the Engineering Department and he asked me what I thought the biggest difference was between Iraqi Kurdistan and the United States. After thinking for a minute, I frankly told him that it was our views on time, which took the honor of largest differentiation. His being nearly 20 minutes late to our meeting certainly helped to influence my answer, but this lackadaisical attitude towards specific time management has been a prevalent issue we have continually faced.
In the US we view time as money, simple as that. We look at a day and devise as many possible ways to extract value from it as humanly possible. We talk on the phone while driving to work, use the internet to read the news while waiting, and truly treat our time as a precious commodity. Here in Iraq, I find that we are regularly waiting around for no reason, sitting through pseudo-meetings in which I derive no benefit, and undertaking activities that could just as easily be achieved via email. Today was one example in which I found myself thinking of going to the bar while sitting in a meeting because it was so frivolous I thought my head was going to explode.
This is not to say that the Iraqi method is all bad; there is certainly a great deal of benefit to be derived from a mindset as flexible as this one. Workers, although stressed for similar reasons as Americans – bosses, co-workers, etc. – seem generally happier. They are able to leave work for personal matters far easier than their American counterparts; typically work fewer than 40 hours a week; receive a generous amount of holidays; and do not have the constant pressure of having their work dissected down to its most minute details. Whereas in the US we constantly focus on the supply side of labor, in Iraq they seem to be much more attuned to the everyday worker.
There are inherent problems in both of our systems, but going back to my previous post the message remains the same: there is still something to be gained from this experience. While the Iraqis would inevitably benefit from some American efficiency, we could certainly learn from their appreciation of life outside of work. They spend more time with their families, conversing with friends, and enjoying the simpler things in life. They work to make a living; they do not live to work. In our search to produce value from every moment of life, perhaps it is necessary to utilize our American efficiency to make time for what is what is truly important. Looking back, those will be the days that we will remember as well spent.