Three Lessons about International Students and Communication
from The Heller School at Brandeis University
When you walk through the halls of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, simply cock your ear this way to hear students speaking in Russian, and that way to hear others speaking in Swahili. Two steps further and the patent sounds of Arabic, Bengali, and French permeate. With 49% of our student body comprised of international students, Heller is truly a microcosm of diversity! Indeed, students’ varying levels of English proficiency and experience in the United States make cross-cultural communication a significant inflection point for all of our students, even – and perhaps especially – for those born and raised in the Boston area. The implications for professional development are clear: Heller’s inherent diversity presents a laboratory of communication styles from which students can practice, learn, and polish their own messages and styles. As the Graduate Career Advisor for the Master’s in Sustainable International Development and PhD programs, I am particularly curious about how students navigate this laboratory of communication styles, and what their own communication experience has been like in this microcosm of diversity.
I started by surveying all the international students in our program about their communication experiences in the U.S., and within a week I heard back from about 25% of them (Note to self: asking students to do this favor during finals was perhaps not the most strategic move!) I was at once delighted and surprised to read their responses. On the one hand, many were confident in their communication styles and felt that with more practice, they could learn even more nuanced ways to communicate effectively in different contexts. On the other, many responses reverberated a familiar narrative around “American boldness” and the “pressure to show off” in the United States. I say “familiar” because for 10 years, I too was an international student (from Canada), and this feeling of needing to be bold and more forthcoming about my accomplishments was something of a culture shock to me, too.
I say “familiar” also because we at Heller’s Career Development Center (CDC) have grappled with this narrative for quite some time, our conversations now predictably turning to, “How can we empower all students to talk confidently about their accomplishments?” The responses also made me wonder: is the focus on accomplishments a uniquely American imperative? While tackling that question is beyond the scope of this article, this response prompts me to better understand Lesson #1 about International Students and Communication: talking about your accomplishments can, at first, be very uncomfortable. Based on our experience in the CDC, I would wager that this might be true not just for international students, but for all students. Our counseling perspective at CDC is to coach students through self-understanding to help them see their own greatness for themselves; when done well, we watch them really step into themselves through this process. Our stance is that when students see and embrace for themselves the unique and incredible qualities that make them who they are, they can be more poised to present them when the time is right.
Lesson #2 about International Students and Communication is as follows: to navigate this increasingly global world, we need to be facile and quick in shifting our communication style to match the changing demands of our audience and contexts. Certainly, the first step to being “facile and quick” is to recognize who your audience is and then, accordingly, what your message wants to be. The majority of respondents to my survey (62%) said that they deliberately change their communication style when they are in the U.S. versus when they are home in their native country. Qualitative responses to the survey suggest that moving to the United States requires one to “code switch” to be an effective communicator. Code switching refers to the concurrent use of multiple languages – or, I would argue, communication styles – to converse with different audiences. Our international students have learned, by necessity, to switch their styles according to their contexts. Our hope is that by being part of this diverse laboratory, all of our students get practice in communicating across styles and habits in their classes and as they walk Heller's hallways. Like many schools that host large international student populations, the Heller School regularly celebrates its diversity through Culture Nights to give students a chance to share a bit of home. We at CDC frequently organize networking events and topical career forums to give students practice in switching from “student mode” to “professional mode.” (Indeed, I was pleased to see that over 83% of survey respondents said that they understood well the difference between professional and casual communication!)
Finally, the survey revealed a challenge we often face here at CDC: certain “Americanisms” or habits of people from cultures other than your own, can be surprising, hard to interpret, and in the extreme case, offensive. Many students also expressed insecurity and concern about language barriers and in particular, accents that might be difficult for others to understand. To illustrate the complexity around cultural norms and expectations, especially as they relate to gendered communication, one student said, “Kissing, handshaking, hugs are not used in my country. This communication may be harder for women in my country.” The challenge of course, is that in this “laboratory of diversity” that we call Heller, a microcosm of the global stage, simple communication habits that we might take for granted can and will be interpreted in infinite ways, according to the receiver's cultural norms and expectations. For example, one student lamented, “I felt that in a personal relationship with somebody from the US, while I thought we were on the same page, I later discovered that he was operating from a different point all together, and it hurt a lot.” Lesson #3 about International Students and Communications then, is that at the heart of it, communication is a matter of interpretation. While we at CDC carefully refrain from telling students what's “right” or “wrong” in communication styles, we do take great efforts to intentionally model effective communication, at least as we see it working in the professional realm of job interviews, negotiations, and networking. It's important to us as career counselors to “practice what we preach;” this means modeling the kind of communication and behavior we encourage students to adopt. Effective professional communication is not simply about a firm handshake; the nuance is in knowing that you may very likely be misinterpreted, and thus you need to know how to protect yourself against that. As we all know from our own experiences, you need not be “international” or “American” or “female” or “male” to experience these kinds of misinterpretations; it happens to all of us and awareness is, as they say, “half the battle.”
What I see in Heller's hallways is incredible: students code switching between Spanish and French, students teaching others how to greet people in their native language, students sharing often hilarious misinterpretations of American idioms, and of course, students sharing in the magic of being part of Heller's diversity. With students representing over 80 countries worldwide, opportunities to learn and grow, practice and stretch, are at every corner. With such complexity in students' voices and experiences, it is no wonder that we too, at CDC, continue to learn new lessons from our students.
PriyaNalkur-Pai, EdD, is a Graduate Career Advisor at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.
What do you get when you take 20 higher education administrators from across the US and bring them to Germany to spend two weeks traveling to a dozen different cities?
Answer: The Fulbright International Education Administrators (IEA) Program and one of the best professional development experiences of my career thus far.
Last October, I traveled to Germany with a truly diverse group of higher education administrators from all across the country. From study abroad and international student services administrators to career services, fellowship advising and alumni relations and development, my group not only represented diverse job functions, but they also represented a wide range of institutions, including community colleges, large state universities and smaller private institutions, and were at various stages in their careers.
When I first learned about the Fulbright IEA program in Germany, I was thrilled to find out that career services staff were eligible to apply. (There are three other Fulbright IEA programs - in Japan, Korea and India - however, the German program is the only program in which non-senior level career services staff are currently eligible to apply.) In fact, Germany boasts the largest and most varied of the Fulbright programs worldwide. Since its inception in 1952, the German-American Fulbright Commission has sponsored over 40,000 Germans and Americans in international exchange. But the Fulbright Commission is not the only organization that supports international exchange with Germany; both the German Academic Exchange Service (known as the “DAAD”) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation also offer a wealth of opportunities for both German and foreign scholars.
The first week of the IEA program was held in Berlin, a vibrant culture-rich city, where we were provided with an excellent overview of the German higher education system and contemporary German issues including immigration. Discussion of the latter proved to be extremely interesting and timely, given that the very same week Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Germany’s attempts to create a multicultural society had “utterly failed,” sparking a national debate in a country which is home to around 4 million Muslims (largely of Turkish origin).
During the second week, the group was divided into four smaller sub-groups and travelled to different cities visiting universities in those respective regions. My group travelled to Dortmund, an industrial city in the Ruhr region and the 4th largest urban area in Europe, and Hamburg, a wealthy port city in the North and the 2nd largest city in Germany as well as one of the most affluent cities in Europe – two very different cities indeed.
In Dortmund, we visited TU Dortmund, a large research university with over 20,000 students including more than 3,300 international students from over 100 countries. We were overwhelmed by the warm hospitality of our German colleagues at TU Dortmund. From the minute we were picked up from the train station until we were dropped off at the conclusion of our visit (during a German rail strike no less), our hosts could not have been more accommodating, even offering to borrow a minivan and drive us to Hamburg personally!
In Hamburg, we visited Bucerius Law School, a truly unique institution in the German higher education landscape – the country’s first private law school. While other private colleges and universities in Germany exist, the concept is still quite radical in many ways given a student can pursue a doctorate at any state-run institution in the country at no cost. While in Hamburg, we also had the opportunity to meet colleagues from the University of Hamburg, one of the country’s largest universities.
One of the most surprising things we learned on our sub-group visits is that the concept of university career services is still in its very nascent stages in Germany. In the US, we are accustomed to a student services environment, and in many ways, the student as customer ethos, however, this is anything but the case in Germany. It was mind-boggling to think of a staff of less than 10 administrators providing career services to over 38,000 students, as I learned from a colleague at the University of Hamburg! Alumni relations and development are also very foreign concepts in Germany. Cultivating a spirit of philanthropy and an allegiance to one’s alma mater are difficult challenges our German colleagues face.
Following our sub-group visits, the entire group reconvened in Mainz, a charming city located near Frankfurt and the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg, where we met and debriefed with Fulbright Commission staff. From beginning to end, the trip was packed full of interesting meetings, activities, opportunities to network with German colleagues, current Fulbrighters, Fulbright alumni and embassy officials, as well as cultural outings such as a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic and a tour of the Reichstag with a Member of Parliament. The entire trip exceeded my expectations on all counts both personally and professionally, and the German Fulbright Commission staff were phenomenal.
An international perspective has been woven throughout the many twists and turns of both my life and career. When I decided to make the transition from working on humanitarian aid issues to working in higher education, one of the most appealing factors was the ability to retain an international component to my career. I love interacting and collaborating with diverse constituents, and I have greatly enjoyed working with international students as well as with domestic students seeking work abroad.
The opportunity to get to know such a wonderful, diverse and interesting group of fellow administrators, as well as meet a wide array of German colleagues and friends was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my Fulbright experience. However in the midst of all our diversity, the one commonality shared by all was a genuine appreciation for intercultural exchange, which as Senator J. William Fulbright stated so aptly, “can turn nations into people, contributing as no other form of communication can to the humanizing of international relations.” The wanderlust of this career services professional was more than requited…at least for now.
Information about the Fulbright IEA Program in Germany can be found athttp://www.cies.org/IEA/Germany/. Another great resource for students and professionals interested in German exchange opportunities is www.funding-guide.de.
Julie’s IEA group pictured with Dr. Hermann Ott, a member of the German Parliament (Bundestag)
China's Robust Economy Means Job Opportunities Abound
Growth across all job sectors keeps
China looking for qualified talent to fill positions
China boasts not only the world's third largest economy, but also its fastest growing. Experts report the country’s rapid recovery from the global economic downturn is due largely to its enormous monetary and fiscal stimulus plan. China's economy is robust, and this is evident in its record employment growth. A recent survey of more than 3,000 Chinese employers reveals the most active hiring pace the country has seen in years.
Across all sectors, hiring expectations are more than twice as high as last year. The highest expectations are in the Banking and Financial Services sector, with 79 percent of survey respondents planning to increase headcount. Domestic and overseas banks are creating many new positions and offering higher pay to attract needed candidates. The need for financial talent in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou is urgent, with reports of as many as nine job vacancies for every professional, and the situation may grow worse. The talent hunt is especially intense in these cities because they are home to a number of financial companies. The five financial positions most in demand include stockbrokers, futures managers, fund managers, client managers at banks and investment managers.
Expectations are nearly as high for the IT sector, where 71 percent of respondents expect to recruit more staff. IT employers suffered during the downturn, but as budgets are “unfrozen,” demand for many types of IT specialists is growing rapidly.
As Chinese companies continue to expand, some are experiencing difficulty filling new positions. Recent surveys show 40 percent of Chinese employers are having difficulty filling positions due to the lack of suitable talent in their markets. Among the most difficult positions to fill in China are: production operators, technicians, management/executives, sales managers, sales representatives, restaurants and hotel staff, engineers and IT staff.
There is also great demand for talent to fill new energy jobs in businesses ranging from wind to solar. These companies include well-known international giants such as Danish wind power equipment maker Vestas, as well as an increasing number of domestic companies, including Himin Solar, which recently launched an ambitious recruitment plan. One reason for the current shortage of science and technology talent in China may be the long-term brain drain of the country’s best and brightest, who left home for education and employment abroad. Also many Chinese science and technology graduates do not meet the international standards or global orientation currently in demand by employers.
Despite the need for talent, the outlook for expatriates in China is not optimistic. The global economic crisis has caused many companies to reconsider the management of their expatriate assignments and packages in the downturn. A recent study revealed only 11.3 percent of companies planned to expand their expatriate population in the coming year, while 51.7 percent planned to maintain it. The study also showed Asian assignees at the levels of director and manager were most affected, while the demand continued for top executives.
Many companies in China are working hard to retain the talent they have even as they search for more to fill new positions. Raises of 10 to 20 percent are common in China, as talent shortages make retention vital. Both figures are much higher than for the other Asian markets.
A recent survey showed 73 percent of Chinese organizations expect to hire managerial staff in the near future. Combined with a relatively low rate of letting people go (17 percent), the results indicate a strong employment market that is improving all the time. As China works to harness talent within and outside its borders to fill an abundance of positions, its economy continues to grow. A major player on the world stage, it is a country to watch as it sets trends in growing sectors like green technology and breaks its own employment growth records.
Tips for a successful job interview in China
• Be punctual. Punctuality is extremely important in China. Timeliness for an interview is of the utmost importance. It is considered a serious insult to be late or cancel an appointment.
• Formal dress is required at the interview.
• A light handshake in greeting is to be expected, although it is best to follow the lead of the interviewer.
• Good posture, a quiet voice and a respect for silence are all desirable traits and will be respected by the interviewer.
Chinese Protocol and Business Etiquette
• Clothes and accessories should be stylish but discreet. For men, traditional dark business suits in subdued colors are appropriate. Women typically wear suits or more formal dresses. Shoes should be flat or with very low heels, especially if one is taller than the host.
• Business entertainment in China consists of an evening meal, a banquet or perhaps attendance at a cultural event.
• Officially, women have the same rights as men in the workplace. Foreign businesswomen can expect to be treated with great respect and courtesy; however, they may still find the Chinese are more likely to defer to a male colleague, assuming the male is naturally the decision maker.
Recommended Job Sites
http://www.zhaopin.com(Chinese and English)
One of China’s leading recruitment websites, Zhaopin.com was founded in 1997 by Alliance Consulting Ltd., the first foreign headhunting company in Mainland China. Zhaopin.com, a bilingual job board, has a vast amount of job information for Chinese and foreign companies and jobseekers. This website also provides a professional résumé/CV center free of charge to jobseekers.
Insight.China is a joint project of the New Times International Education Service’ and Hebei Province International Education and Exchange Association. This joint project, endorsed by the Hebei Education Bureau, brings together the resources of both parties to promote exchange between China and the rest of the world.
http://www.fesco.com.cn/(Chinese, English, and Japanese)
Beijing Foreign Enterprise Human Resources Service Co., Ltd. (FESCO) is the first professional service provider in China that offers a wide variety of human resources solutions to foreign enterprises, representative offices, financial institutions and business entities. It serves nearly 6,000 foreign and domestic companies from more than 100 countries and regions. It also provides services to nearly 100,000 Chinese staff who are working as officers, advisors, technology R&D staff, marketing and sales representatives, human resources managers and administrators.
AmropHever China, part of the AmropHever Group, is located in Beijing and is one of the world’s largest partnerships of independent and entrepreneurial executive search companies. While the focus is on executive search services, it also operates in the areas of executive development and executive education.
Mary Anne Thompson is the Founder and President of Going Global, Inc. (www.goinglobal.com) a subscription database service that contains career and employment information for more than 80 locations. More than one million users enjoy the unique content of Going Global, which is researched in-country by local career experts and updated annually. She is also an author, lecturer and frequent guest on various media outlets, including NBC and CNN International. Previously, Mary Anne served as an attorney and advisor to President Ronald Reagan in the White House.
International Center at the University of Michigan
A wealth of information for international students and US students interested in study and work abroad, including immigration and visa resources, FAQs for international students, lists of work abroad programs, and much more.
Institute of International Education – Study Abroad Funding
In addition to information about funding study abroad opportunities, IEE provides global leadership development programs, fellowship and scholarship resources, as well as research and publications.
International Careers Consortium
The ICC works to facilitate knowledge exchange and collaboration between career advisors, study abroad professionals and others by offering annual conferences and a variety of online resources.
Study abroad reviews and rankings organized by location and tips for those interested in studying abroad.
Fulbright International Education Administrators Program
The IEA seminars program (featured in this issue’s article by Julie O’Neill) helps education officials from the US create connections with the societal, cultural and higher education systems of other countries, including Germany, India, Japan, and South Korea.