The Buffet of Life with Alan Headbloom · ShiftWorkPlace

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E43 The Buffet of Life with Alan Headbloom


It makes you less fearful: A Swedish-American intercultural consultant takes us on a delightful cultural journey of exploring the unknown in a way that makes us blossom.

Bio for Alan Headbloom

Alan Headbloom is an Intercultural Consultant/Coach, Applied Linguist and Talkshow Producer & Host. He presents workshops to immigrant professionals and to their American counterparts who need to function across cultures and geographies and provides one-on-one coaching to expats who need to perform at high levels in their global companies.

For the past seven years, his local TV show has highlighted the travails and successes of immigrants to the United States, along with providing tips on American English and culture. He also co-facilitates the Institute for Healing Racism. His personal and professional calling is to create belonging for newcomers and historically marginalized folks alike and has lived on six continents.

Episode highlight

As a Swedish-American, Alan Headbloom is very aware of his white privilege and has spent his life enriching himself with lessons from other cultures. Listen in on how he has created a unique tasting platter from the smorgasbord of life.



  • “Working across borders and timezones is something we’re all doing these days increasingly.”
  • “Once you get caught up in a world that’s not your first one, it makes you incredibly curious and you start asking more and more questions and start creating friendships that are not typical around-the-corner ones that you develop in your own locale.”
  • “You don’t know the blinders you grow up with because that’s just part of the water you swim in.”
  • “Racism… on this continent, was built by white folks and in particular, white males. The founding fathers of the US were all wealthy white landowners and so it’s incumbent upon us to now put our voices into a very awkward conversation around race and racial equity.”
  • “Nothing ever changes unless you are intentional about things like membership and invitations and we can all have the best hopes but without actually doing something about it – committing to something as important as inclusion – things are not going to change.”
  • “If you don’t know where you started, you’re not gonna be sure where you’re heading and what you might want to change.”
  • “We are roughly 40% people of colour in the United States and in another 20-25 years, we will be 51% people of colour in the USA.”
  • “Being Swedish-American gave me a small sense of – there’s something other than being white and anglophone, and that is – people can speak in other languages and live extremely fruitful lives.”
  • “When you stick your toe in the intercultural waters, you start to recognize that there are more ways to do things and sometimes better ways of doing things.”
  • “We all grew up in our own bubbles but the blinders that privilege put on you, when you start to peel them back, make you just profoundly self-conscious or even embarrassed.”
  • “It’s only until you bump into other people’s realities that you say… ‘How could I be so insensitive, how can I be so blind to other people’s conditions’?”


Childhood Incidents

At 12, Alan’s Swedish grandfather who had immigrated to the USA, took him and his sister to Sweden, exposing Alan to new behaviour and languages. He was awed by the cultural differences, caught “the intercultural bug” and felt inspired to fearlessly learn many different languages.

Once, when he accompanied his parents to the country club they belonged to, he found it odd that all the members were white and the servers, black. This informs his community advocacy to this day, and he refuses to join groups where people of colour aren’t represented or don’t feel welcome.

Influential groups

Alan was born to an upwardly mobile, white, Christian family in a white suburb of the industrial American city of Detroit. He claims he checks all the boxes for privilege – white, male, able, hetero, with a Christain upbringing. “I can pass in any group and be in the dominant culture”, he notes.

Temperament and Personality Influences

Alan claims that he has been bossy and righteous in the past but his experiences with different cultures have helped him grow. He tries to imbibe mindfulness from the people he interacts with because it does not come naturally to him.

Cultural Epiphanies

Alan remembers not being able to relate to his college friends who had to work while studying, since his parents paid for his college tuition. “If you’re not living that, it’s not your reality, it’s not your world, and there you are, blind to it”, he observes.

When Alan was in Germany for a year, he grew close to a friend’s family he lived with for 5 months. He then told the mother to use the informal pronoun for him. However, she told him that they didn’t know each other well enough. He was hurt but understood that they defined closeness differently.

When Alan worked with the Japanese, he learned to appreciate the sense of community over individualism, communication, thoughtfulness, and mindfulness of others. He recalls never having to “fill up your sake cup” at the dinner table since someone will have already done it for you.

More Great Insights!

Alan advises white people and native speakers of English to give outsiders a chance. “They are not trying to take your job, they are not trying to steal your culture; they are trying to make their lives better the way that your great… grandparents did when they settled in North America”, he remarks.

He also urges white people to put themselves in seemingly awkward situations where they may not be the majority, whether by gender, race or ethnicity. He recommends learning about other cultures to unlearn privilege and entitlement and become tolerant, loving and accepting.


Alan Headbloom checks all the boxes for privilege – white, male, able, hetero, with a Christain upbringing. However, he has grown to become a citizen of the world and uses his nuanced cultural insight and understanding in his work as an intercultural communications consultant.


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