The beating heart of the city
The rich cultural diversity of its residents makes Miami one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet
International, diverse, dynamic, innovative. These are some characteristics that members of Odebrecht USA attribute to Miami. The company is based in that vibrant city, replete with the colors and aromas of countries from the world over. The signs of its cultural diversity are everywhere, from billboards to the Creole spoken in the streets of Little Haiti, up to and including the offices of multinational companies in the Brickell Avenue financial district.
Miami is the gateway to the USA for people arriving from the Caribbean and South and Central America. Located in the far south of Florida, a region blessed with warm weather and beautiful beaches, the city has become famous and sought after by people from around the globe. There is a sense of liberality in the air, different customs from those found in most of the country, varied sounds on the radio and different languages wherever you go.
About half the nearly 2.5 million people living in the Miami metropolitan area were born outside the United States, and 70% of the population speaks a language other than English at home. “My wife was born in Miami, but her parents are Colombian, like me. She likes to teach our children our language to convey her knowledge about our cuisine and always remind them where they come from,” says Jorge Mendoza, 35, the Project Director responsible for the Metrorail AirportLink, an extension of the city’s subway system.
When Jorge went to Miami from Cartagena, Colombia, to pursue a master’s degree, he immediately felt at home because of the weather, the beaches and the people he met there. For him, there are many advantages of living in such a diverse environment. During his first project for Odebrecht, the construction of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, he shared his workspace with Kanwar Lobana, who is from India and currently working in Liberia, and Gaybei Zreibi, a Syrian-Antiguan married to a Venezuelan, now working in Portugal. They each learned about their co-workers’ cultures, religions and music and, above all, they learned to respect each other’s differences.
Juan Zheng, 33, also stresses the desire to overcome ethnic differences to pursue a common goal and build something together as a distinctive part of her experience in Miami. Born in Hunan Province, China, Juan is the Cost Engineer for the MIA Mover project. She went to Miami in 2004 to study for a master’s degree, and immediately took to the city’s cultural mix, especially the warmth and hospitality of its people.
Juan identifies with the family values in her community, as well as the honesty and integrity of the people with whom she lives and works. She says the Spirit of Service is also alive and well outside Odebrecht in Miami, which is something special because it is a concept that is deeply rooted in her culture. “In China, we believe in the principle of serving others. As TEO underscores, we must always be humble,” says Juan, who makes a point of maintaining her Chinese traditions, including celebrating special occasions, to stay in touch with her culture.
Keeping in touch with his roots is an attitude that can also be easily perceived in Umut Artuk, 32, the Project Scheduler for the North Terminal expansion project at Miami International Airport. Umut moved to Miami from his hometown, Ankara, Turkey, in 2004, to finish his doctorate, and it only took him a few months to fit right in. “I think two main factors helped me out: the affinities between the Latin and Turkish cultures, and the similarities between the American lifestyle and the life I lived in Ankara.” He emphasizes that Miami has a good selection of Mediterranean and the Middle Eastern restaurants serving dishes that are similar to his homeland’s cuisine – including black tea and Turkish coffee.
The varied blend of cultures in Miami also made Alf Neumann, 40, the Project Manager for the MIA Mover project, feel right at home and never like a foreigner or outsider. A German national from the island of Rügen, Alf moved to Miami in 1998 with two suitcases and a letter of invitation for a six-month internship at Odebrecht. “I was looking for a challenge. I wanted to acquire international experience and prove to myself that I could survive and grow outside my comfort zone.”
Alf, who always wears the German soccer team’s jersey with pride during the FIFA World Cup, emphasizes the positive and rewarding impact of living in Miami on his life and that of his wife, Randi. “The community we live in is extremely rich – always looking for new challenges and reinventing itself. It is a lively, open-minded and welcoming place.”
The vibrant fusion that Miami offers its residents and visitors is a mirror of the American melting pot, a term used to describe the country’s multiculturalism. “America is sometimes referred to as the ‘Land of Opportunity,’ and, for me, that includes any goals you have in mind,” says Marjorie McKenzie, 34, the Contracts Administrator for Miami Airport’s North Terminal expansion project. “Here we can achieve those goals easily because of the variety of academic institutions, industries, businesses and other organizations located here. I am always amazed at the range of options available to help us stand out in any area we choose.”
Marjorie is the daughter of Haitian immigrants who moved to the United States in the 70s. Born in Waukegan, Illinois, she moved to Miami along with her family when she was 10, when they decided they wanted to live in a tropical climate. To make a positive contribution in the workplace, she says she tries to learn words from the native languages of colleagues and friends, and enjoys their smiles of amazement. “Smiles are contagious! People feel that they are surrounded by friendly energy and are motivated to make a similar impact in their communities.”
Despite the multiculturalism of the members of Odebrecht USA – people of 28 nationalities working together on a daily basis – it’s easy to find similarities among so many different backgrounds. People are surprised to discover that cultures from countries around the world have so much in common. Alf Neumann says: “As human beings, we all share the same dreams and aspirations, regardless of our origins.” It is even more surprising and gratifying to find that most of these similarities are summed up and utilized in the Odebrecht Entrepreneurial Technology and applied on a daily basis.