We just returned from Prague for a Spring Break Study abroad program focusing on successful international employees, teams, and leaders. I’m dividing this debriefing blog into two parts.
Today, I’m talking about what we learned and did. Tomorrow, I’m talking about what it’s like to be a professor in close relationship with students for a week+ in another country. (Spoiler: it is good)
So, the trip was to help students experientially understand what it is like to work abroad in multi-national organizations in multi-cultural teams. We can certainly read about such experiences in the classroom, but to take the students out of the US and plop them into a foreign country and talk with leaders of HR and of employees in these teams provides (I hope) a bit of the disorientation that comes with working overseas and lets our students hear from people who do this every day and do with successfully.
I like it. I believe it challenges students’ previous notions about working abroad. It lets undergrads hear phenomenally insightful advice from leaders in the field. It comprehensively exposes them to cultures (including food, art, language, beliefs) that they cannot experience in a regular classroom.
For our program, in the mornings, we met with exceptional organizations like Novartis, The University of Economics, Prague, and HSBC. Before we left for the trip, my students picked out topics they wanted to write a literature review on. During the trip, they asked questions of the organizational leaders related to their topic. Better, though, is the knowledge we created as a class learning about and responding to the information the leaders share on their own and their answers to our questions.
One thing I find so interesting on these study abroad trips is how the multinational teams and their HR managers respond to the inherent diversity on their teams. Rare was the team composed only of Czech citizens. More common were the teams composed of Czech, German, Italian, French, American, and Indian–among other—countries.
I really appreciate the humor and the drama that comes from what these leaders shared with us. The humor: The Italian employee wondering why his German teammate was so rude and cold to him all the time, and the manager saying “He’s not rude and cold; he’s German!” And the German teammate responding afterwards by effusively greeting and kissing his Italian teammate every morning until the Italian yelled ENOUGH! The drama coming from a Polish and a Czech teammate (I believe?) having such a bad political fight that they wouldn’t speak to each other and their manager saying there is no place for that sort of behavior at work and they had to figure out how to work together or they are both fired. They joyfully figured it out.
What I like about this is that it’s assumed that your teammates are going to be different than you. And it is ok to name a cultural explanation for the differences. The Italians are effusive. If you want people awake at an early morning presentation, have an Italian teammate do it. Conflict over culture qua culture is not acceptable. You have to figure out how to get along with different people and do your work. Period.
Or as Shawn and Gus would say on Psych, Suck it.
I do not believe that there is no discrimination in European multi-national teams. I gather women still have a glass ceiling to shatter. I think certain countries, certain ethnicities, and certain religions would argue they are not fully represented and possibly actively discriminated against.
And I’m not sure that saying “Oh, don’t mind Janet’s behavior, she’s just being Black” is a productive statement here in the US. ((ETA: That is definitely not a good thing to say.)) But realizing everyone is different and it’s likely based on their “culture” and you need to figure out how to get along with them? That’s not too shabby.
But yes, I did laugh myself silly today thinking of how funny it would be to say of a teammate “Oh he is not actually being a jerk. His white male privilege is showing.” ((Still cracking me up))
In any case, I treat all of the organizations we visit as a qualitative site visit. I hope the students get a lot out of it. My brain always expands on these trips and I learn a lot.
Tomorrow, the best part: the kids.