Deborah Olson, associate professor of management and leadership, presented the advantages of studying aboard and the importance of cultural competence in her faculty lecture Monday at the President’s Dining Room. Olson had led five study aboard programs and started the lecture by encouraging students to travel abroad to learn international leadership.
“The cultures have shifted,” Olson said. “And it’s these cultures that (change) the way we perceive the world and the lens we use to approach… and how we adjust to different people, what we see as important and what we miss. These lens we have help us filter.”
A person’s language of origin is also the language of emotion, Olson said. Language of origin and spiritual beliefs shape the way people perceive the world.
The first study abroad program Olson led was to Costa Rica, and during the trip, she and her students learned the Costa Rican business practices. American corporations doing business in Costa Rica are regulated by the local government to buy local. Hilton hotels have to buy towels made by locals instead of importing them. That helps Costa Rica protect its own workforce and economy while allowing international companies to enter the market as well.
In March 2011, the Tōhoku tsunami hit Japan two days before Olson was supposed to bring a group of students to study abroad. Although the students were not able to experience the Japanese culture first hand, they bonded with the Japanese through the disaster and organized many fundraising events for the victims.
Studying abroad creates linkages with international businesses and corporations through culture, Olson said.
The dimensions of intercultural competence include having a mind set, skill set and heart set.
A mind set consists of awareness of current world events and knowledge in the country’s history and cultural practices. Olson mentioned her own personal story of adopting her daughter from China. China has implemented a one-child policy and girls are not valued as much as boys. Instead of mourning for the loss of a child, the parents would be in “a position of relief” that there is one less child to feed. The belief system is different and people should not approach cultural differences with judgmental stances, Olson said.
A skill set consists of changing and adapting to cultures by putting personal beliefs aside and genuinely appreciate the value of seeing cultures. A heart set incorporates the openness to experience in approaching other cultures.
Olson and her students tried eating fried scorpions in China and the heart set comprise of how the person would respond to the cultural difference in that situation.
Prior to the trip, Olson and her students would learn about the cultures such as by learning how to use chopsticks before going to China. Olson said the students should adapt and engage with different cultures. Globalization and multicultural competencies will make a difference, Olson said.
“I thought it was very interesting and I completely agree with it,” said Gursharn Singh, sophomore business administration major. “I definitely understand how understanding cultures is different from researching on it. You have to be emerged with it.”
Singh is in the military and had traveled to many countries including Spain, Japan and Israel. He enjoys the different cultures, environments and ways of living he encounters when he travels and he is looking forward to traveling more in the future.
“Having led study abroad, I can definitely concur (with) the need for cultural awareness,” said Marga Madhuri, professor of education. “We need to know to relate and interact with people from different cultures and different point-of-views.”
Madhuri’s first travel aboard experience was to Europe when she was a high school sophomore. She also studied abroad in Italy before. One of the most important things she learned about cultures was during her trip to Israel with her youth group the summer after high school graduation.
“I was raised in a Jewish family and it’s hard to live in the U.S.,” Madhuri said. “When I went to Israel, by mid afternoon Friday to Saturday, everything shuts down because that’s when the Jewish rests instead of Sunday like in the U.S.”
“(After going to Israel,) I realized I live in a Christian culture, especially back then when everything shut down on Sunday,” she said.
ULV students may study abroad on six continents for a semester or a year. For more information, visit the Study Abroad Office or contact the Study Aboard Director Al Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cody Luk can be reached at email@example.com.