A Whole New World

During my military career, I was afforded many opportunities to travel abroad to several foreign countries.  My most memorable overseas trip was traveling to Germany.  At the time I was 19 years old,  fresh out of basic training and ready to see every inch of this planet as I could.  So, as luck may have it, I got the opportunity to do a 3 week stint in Germany.  I was ecstatic!  It was my first “official” overseas trip and I couldn’t wait to see all that Germany had to offer.

Now, I must remind you, fellow readers, I was 19.  I guess I could’ve been excited about the fact that I would be walking around the famous Nuremberg City Walls, touring St. Peter’s Church Cathedral in Munich or even renting a sports car and going bananas on the Autobahn for a while.  But what really excited me was the fact that I was able to, shall we say, “sample”  all the fine German beer I wanted to…legally.  I’m not sure I would classify this as a “dream come true”, but in my little world at the time, I thought it to be quite an accomplishment.  So, I lined my pockets with Deutsche Marks (that was the currency type at the time) and made sure that while I was touring Germany I hit every local pub I could, making the most of my so-called 3 weeks of  legality.

The most interesting part of my Germany trip was being able to interact with an entirely different culture.  Up to that point, I spent my entire life growing up on the rolling plains of South Dakota.  I had never been outside of the USA, let alone in a foreign country were I now was considered the minority.  I had a blast sitting down at local restaurants in various German cities ordering food I have never eaten before.  The German locals were very accommodating and did their best to interact with the “American Tourist”.  At times, I almost felt they were more excited to interact with me than I was them.  The locals would always try to practice their English with me – which is what I found hilariously interesting.  The most eager participants were the  local pub owners.  They were always trying to learn the simple English phrases and, at any opportunity, learn our trendy “slang”.  If my memory serves me correctly, I think it at the time it was trendy (at least in Germany) to say Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” or something ridiculous like that.  I was astonished to find out that they were big on American TV programs and they all loved MTV and Hollywood.  All in all, I had a great time connecting with someone half a world apart that I barely knew anything about.

This experience taught me at an early age how important it is to connect with other people form different cultures, countries, ethnicity groups and backgrounds.  I learned how much we as human beings all have in common, no matter where we come from or what geographical distances separate us.

FAST FORWARD……After a late night of statistics class, some of the MLHR class decided to journey across the street to the Varsity Club (VC)  for a time of “socializing”.  I knew this would be a great opportunity to connect with my classmates and also it would give us all a chance to wind down after 4 hours of classroom fun.  While at the VC, I got a chance to interact with a lot of our international classmates.  I had such a great time talking with them and learning about their first experiences in the US.  Listening to all of them say they like it in the US and how friendly everyone has been to them was very rewarding.  Sitting in that booth on Thursday night reminded me a lot of my first time in a foreign country.  Thinking back, I am so glad that people I didn’t know very well (ha, that being local pub owners) took the time to make me feel welcome in their home country and took a genuine interest in me even though I was just passing through for 3 weeks.

I am glad I got an opportunity to meet our international classmates.  It was fun laughing and letting them share their thoughts, feelings and experiences so far at Ohio State University.   I am sure it, as it was for me, a whole new eye-opening experience which, at times, can seem overwhelming.  I am glad as an MLHR class we have made our international students feel welcome and a part of the Fisher College of Business academic family.  I challenge everyone to get to know their fellow international classmates.  Trust me, you’ll have a lot more in common with them than you think…and you’ll have a lot of fun as well.

Have you hugged an international student lately?

Imagine packing up and moving to a foreign country, say China for example, and beginning a two-year full time MBA program. All your classes are in Chinese, your books are in Chinese, three out of the five team members in your group are from China, you live in an apartment in a city that you don’t know, your best friends are going to bed when you’re waking up, and your mom and dad are literally on the other side of the planet. To say you’re a little homesick is an understatement.

In class you can follow along, but struggle with complicated concepts like economics and organizational behavior, since although you can speak and understand the language, your level of vocabulary doesn’t include all the technical jargon from business, law and medicine. In meetings you sometimes feel lost and don’t understand all the idioms, slang and inside jokes from the native speakers in your group. To top it all off, you attend the career fair and find out that only six out of the fifty employers represented will even take your resume since you’re not a Chinese citizen. You wish you had time to enjoy the night life, but studying for classes takes twice as long since you have to constantly reference your English-Chinese dictionary.

As difficult as all that may sound, many of our international classmates in the MBA program are dealing with very similar challenges. Some of them have left their families, friends, and even spouses and children back home for the pursuit of a world-class business education.

Something that I am proud of is being part of an MBA program that is very close-knit, collaborative, and fun. I’ve said it a hundred times, but last year was probably the best year of my life. When we have tailgates, themed parties, and cultural events, easily half of our program shows up. But what about the other half? What about those students who don’t enjoy going out to a crowded bar or a noisy tailgate? Unfortunately, many of the students missing from these events are our international students.

I’d like to challenge everyone reading this to work on making the Fisher College a more welcoming place for our international students. Look past the cultural differences and language barriers and realize that everyone is a human equal.

To the domestic students reading this, make an honest effort to connect with the international students, especially within your groups. Create an environment where questions, opposing opinions and asking for clarification is welcomed anytime. Instead of hanging out with the same twelve people every weekend, branch out a little. I’ve learned so much about the world around us by connecting with and hearing the experiences of many of the international students in our class. I even stayed with Claus’s family for a couple days when I was in Germany this summer for my internship (Thanks again Claus!). We are so lucky to have them in our program to learn from and grow with.

And to the international students out there, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone a little. Realize that getting an MBA is only partially about the education. Come out to the EOTWs and other events organized by our social committee. Don’t be afraid to speak up in your group meetings. If you don’t understand something, simply ask. We had some of the funniest conversations that drew us closer as a group from some of these questions last year. And ask us for help anytime, we’re more than willing to give it.

Unless you take a job with the World Bank or the United Nations, you’re never going to be in such a rich, diverse cultural environment. Make the most of it while you still can.

One love,

Mike ^_^

“People can only live fully by helping others to live. When you give life to friends you truly live. Cultures can only realize their further richness by honoring other traditions. And only by respecting natural life can humanity continue to exist.” Daisaku Ikeda (Japanese peace activist and leader of Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International)