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Culture Shock in Silicon Valley


Recently, City Hall hosted a group of Swiss college students participating in an“International Program Experience” – a six-week work/live immersion into the US tech world. IPE brings students and a professor to the US for six weeks, and in addition to learning about the local area, teams of students engage in pro bono work on research/
development projects with local companies. This is part of the students’ third and final year studies at Lucerne School of Information Technology in Switzerland.

Two of this year’s students, Ursulina Kolbener and Matthias Perrolaz, posted their impressions of the difference between the US and European ways of doing things. The post is in German, so we will summarize some of their observations. We found this an interesting lesson in cross-cultural communication!

  • The gaps are enormous — America has homeless people, and also provides food in enormous portions, in restaurants and for sale in grocery stores.
  • Courtesy on American freeways allows merging cars and last-minute lane-changes, but also allows people to cancel business meetings at the last minute.
  • American are friendly when you meet, but might not remember you the next day.
  • Where the Swiss concentrate on details and delivering a perfect product with modesty, Americans lead with their strongest pitch and focus on the positives, not the challenges.

Their conclusion? The diversity of San Jose contrasted with their initial perception of Silicon Valley as solid nerd country. But in fact, the authors did see a unifying principle: Be the next unicorn!

We look forward to what their projects bring to the participating companies they will be working with – Twitter, Swisscom, Varian, Valora and some early-stage start-ups.