bridging the cultural gap

Bridging the Cultural Gap

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

By Kevin Moe

In 2007, when a wave of international undergraduate students were en route to the Carlson School, Associate Academic Advisor Anny Lin thought about how best to get them acclimated to their new cultural surroundings. Her idea was the Carlson Global Connect (CGC) Event Series, which she piloted in fall 2008. Now in its fifth year, CGC has been instrumental in helping students succeed in their new environment.

CGC centers around three events: a kick-off and faculty networking, career and job search strategies, and intercultural communication. “The kick-off and networking event allows students to feel and experience a strong international student community at the Carlson School,” Lin says. “In this community, students receive strong and caring support from Carlson faculty and staff. Faculty attending the event always show how much they want to embrace and support international students. Many faculty share their international experience with students, which helps them better position their academic and career plan with goal-oriented action.”

Thinking about their future plans is a vital component in the career and job search event, where students hear directly from seniors and alumni about some of the challenges facing them as they try to find a full-time job in the U.S. “They learn culturally specific tips and strategies because the job search process, plus language and business culture-related challenges, is definitely very different compared to what they may need to do at home,” Lin says.

The communication event introduces students to various topics such as Introduction to American Life, Cross-Cultural Management, International Team and Strategic Alliances, How to Talk Like Americans, and Small Talk and Business Culture. “Some specific information regarding Minnesotans are introduced to students, such as Minnesotan’s obsession of talking about the weather and the challenges of making friends with Minnesotans and Americans in general,” Lin says.

About 40 to 50 international students take part in the CGC each year. One such student was Xia Lai, who graduated in spring 2013 and is now working for Target in Shanghai. “I learned so many things that I couldn’t even count,” he says. “I was surprised to see how well students in Carlson balance their school and life. Most of the students have such excellent time management skills. As the old Chinese saying goes, ‘emulate the virtuous,’ so I have adopted myself to this balanced lifestyle which will certainly benefit me in the long run.”

For International MBA Students

The MBA Programs office also offers a cluster of programming for its incoming international students. “We begin with the belief that our students will be more successful and happier if they can really understand and engage with American culture. So we build a series of fun events to build familiarity,” says Associate Director and Career Coach Michele Moylan.

During “International Launch,” time is set aside for field trips led by staff from the Graduate Business Career Center and MBA Student Affairs. Last summer, students took a bus from campus to downtown Minneapolis to have lunch at the food trucks and traveled on the light rail to the Mall of America for shopping and mini-golf, among other activities. “In addition, we had second-year students provide advice on housing options and even give some tours of potential apartments to students who had not secured housing,” Moylan says.

Later in the fall, students gathered at Moylan’s house and walked to a nearby field for an “American Football and Barbecue” event. “They learned football by actually playing a game,” Moylan says. “Assistant Dean Phil Miller actually brought a football helmet so they could try it on and he joined as a player. Director of Student Affairs Pat McCarthy acted as referee. The group then returned to my house and had a wonderful outdoor barbecue.”

About 25 to 30 international MBA students take part in this program each year. “Our goals are to help our international students experience some of the iconic activities that our domestic students have grown up with to help the international students cross that cultural bridge and feel comfortable in Minnesota,” Moylan says. “These events help the international students build strong ties with staff so that when the inevitable hard times hit, they know they have an advocate and even a friend to help them through it.”