Archive for January, 2009

Business majors should study abroad too

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

The dean of the New York University Stern School of Business makes the case for international study as “a core component of undergraduate education in the 21st century.” She points out that even as a global world becomes the norm and international experience is increasingly recognized as vital in all professional fields,

the percentage of colleges that require a course with an international or global focus as part of the general education curriculum fell from 41 percent in 2001 to 37 percent in 2006. And 27 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities have no students at all who study abroad. But even among the colleges and universities that do promote “semester abroad” programs, most offer these as add-ons to the required course of study, providing students with only a taste of life in another nation and a small selection of elective courses.

By “taste of life in another nation,” she really means “a chance to drink for five months in another country.” While increasing the number of opportunities for all college students to study abroad is the key imperative, coupled with that must be a drive to increase the effectiveness (i.e., immersion and intensity) of these programs. Certainly study abroad can and should involve pubs; that just shouldn’t be the only thing it involves.

Networking scavenger hunt

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

In the wake of discussions here and here about networking, especially about how introverts or those who generally have a difficult time with networking events might make the most of them, I found it interesting that the Notre Dame Club of Washington Career Night that I attended last night (both to shill Working World and to make connections with fellow Domers) employed an ice breaker activity to ease participants in to the night and hopefully get them talking more easily.  It was a Career Night Scavenger Hunt:

How to Play:
1. Talk to other people in the room and ask which of the statements in the boxes below apply to them.
2. If a statement applies, have the person write his/her name in the box.
3. Each person can sign only one box on your sheet.
4. Talk to as many people as possible and fill up your sheet.

Statements in the boxes included: “Has been to Africa;” “Is a native of Washington, DC (or has lived here for ten or more years);” “Watched every football game this season;” etc. I give the organizers props for their creativity, but I don’t know how effective the ice breaker was—for me, anyway. While some others seemed to be enjoying it, I once again found myself talking to the one guy in the room that I already knew.

But an activity later on proved much more effective for mingling and natural conversation, I thought. The room had 15+ tables set up in it, each of which was designated for a particular career field: international relations, government, consulting, engineering, etc. Table speakers (of which I was one) went to the table of their particular expertise or field, and others interested in that particular field then approached that table and conversations ensued. It was far easier in this situation to strike up conversations with folks, mainly because I already knew everyone mingling around the IR table had something in common with me and similar interests. The ice breaker was well-intentioned, but ultimately felt forced and stilted. The facilitated pockets of conversation based on field of interest, while also forced to some degree, ultimately felt much more natural, as our interactions were based mainly on mutually held passions.

“Rich, cocaine-snorting, decadent sybarites”

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Jerrold Keilson, NCIV board member and VP for business development at the International Youth Foundation, is quoted in this Newsweek article on the impact of American cultural and entertainment exports around the world:

People who watch U.S. television shows, attend Hollywood movies and listen to pop music can’t help but believe that we are a nation in which we have sex with strangers regularly, where we wander the streets well armed and prepared to shoot our neighbors at any provocation, and where the lifestyle to which we aspire is one of rich, cocaine-snorting, decadent sybarites.

Kudos to Jerrold for this money quote. And while author Martha Bayles’ overall point in the article is a good one—that it’d be nice if our cultural and entertainment exports helped the U.S. image abroad rather than hurt it—it seems like she’s missing two key points. The first is in her misuse of Keilson’s quote and the Pew Global Attitudes Survey she cites directly after. While Hollywood movies undoubtedly give some in other countries the impression that Americans are violent, decadent sybarites*, the way to effectively counter that impression is not, as Bayles seems to suggest, to also export plenty of Cole Porter, to make sure foreigners know that us Americans like our violence but we like our Tin Pan Alley too. Rather, what both Jerrold and the Pew study are getting at is that exchange—actually traveling to each other’s countries and seeing what life is really like with our own eyes—is the best antidote to misperceptions brought on by media. That way, even if someone does see The Dark Knight**, he knows from experience that Americans don’t generally wear Kevlar body suits and talk like “the offspring of Clint Eastwood and a grizzly bear.”

The second point Bayles fails to hit on is one that is typically overlooked in most discussions of America’s cultural exports and diplomacy, and in fact in discussions of American exchange programs in general: the question should not be ‘How can we get them to like us?’ but rather ‘How can we come to understand one another?’ Americans worry so much about whether the world likes us, whether our media is creating a bad image for us, that we don’t ever stop to consider that what might really help our image is if we learn a little something about those people we’re so desperately trying to persuade to be our friends. If people in Pakistan, Turkey, France, or Germany no longer like (or never liked in the first place) American pop culture, then the next move is not to determine, ‘Okay, so how can we get them to like it?’ Rather, it’s to engage them in a discussion, in a dialogue (an integral component of which would be coming to know their own pop culture), and maybe ask why they don’t like it. The same goes for exchange programs. I’ve always believed that the point of international exchange programs, especially ones that bring foreigners to the United States to meet Americans and experience life here, is not to ‘get them to like us.’ It’s to give them a true and accurate experience. That way, their opinion of the United States—whether positive or negative—is at least based upon a truthful, personal experience.

This second Newsweek article, in some ways, gets at this same point:

If it’s going to thrive in today’s interconnected world, [the United States] needs new habits of cooperation based on a healthy respect for the interests of everyone else. Much of the world remains well disposed to the United States. But America needs to reciprocate this good will by listening carefully to voices from around the globe and trying to work with them.

*Sybarite = “one fond of pleasure and luxury.” I had to look it up.

**And why shouldn’t he? The Dark Knight was a pretty sweet movie.

If you are shy, if networking is tough…well, then something “happened” to you

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

As a follow up to my last post on the occasional awkwardness of networking, a reader passed on this article: 12 tips to help shy people increase their “networking mojo” (Austin Powers references: often good; here: makes me cringe). As in the Jibber Jobber post I referenced earlier, Meridith Levinson also cites the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I’ve never heard of either Ferrazzi or his book until now, but they seem to be if not trusted then at least oft-cited resources in the networking world. The first thing that caught my attention, though, struck me as a bit odd:

Humans are hard-wired as communal, tribal animals, so the shy person isn’t shy by nature,” says Ferrazzi. “They are shy by design. Something happened to them to make them want to recoil.”

Sometimes, when an introvert hears that he’s not inherently a loner, that humans are innately social creatures, the realization helps him emerge from his shell of shyness, he says.

I’m not really sure how this is at all constructive. Sure, networking is important for all professionals and, yes, shy people can do well to find strategies to help them overcome their shyness (hence the point of this article, I thought). But to tell a shy person that the best way to get over their shyness is to finally come to the realization that no one is really shy so stop whining? Is that a serious piece of advice? That’s like telling a Bengals fan (of which I am one) that everyone is inherently a Giants fan and the best way to get over rooting for a crappy team is to realize that, innately, I am a Giants fan. Or, perhaps, like telling a gay person that everyone is inherently straight and that the best way to get over not being able to marry your partner is just to realize that, innately, you are straight.

Maybe Ferrazzi has some sort of concrete anthropological evidence in his book to back up this assertion. And I suppose I shouldn’t be going after him after reading just one out of context quote. But the quote did indeed strike me as particularly silly and, in a way, brought to boil a lingering, festering frustration I have with a lot of career advice articles and blog posts out there: they always try to sum every subject up with a series of tidy numbered bullets. 12 strategies for overcoming shyness, 5 ways to beat the economic downturn, 37 steps to a new you. The problem with the kind of column Levinson gives us here is it intimates two falsehoods: that everything about this topic can be boiled down into a set of 5 or 12 or 37 simple parts, and that the author knows for a fact that these 5 or 12 or 37 parts are everything that needs to be said about this particular career development topic, and you the reader didn’t know that, which is why the author is passing on his or her divinely-inspired wisdom for you to digest, then promptly enact with great success in the real world!

But things don’t boil down into numbered sets and whatever any one writer has to say about any one subject is never the last word. There are always other opinions and angles to be considered, other aspects to be learned. Sherry and I have always tried to stray away from giving this kind of tidy, no-further-argument-needed advice. We would much rather encourage a true conversation about issues in career development than propagate shallow, efficient tid-bits to make everyone feel better about themselves.

Levinson’s article has its redeeming points and is possibly worth a scan. But beware the condescension that drips from a good chunk of it (”…if they just possessed more self-confidence and weren’t such self-conscious wallflowers…” and “…it is possible for shrinking violets and shy guys to master the skill of networking…”). What Levinson doesn’t seem to realize is that networkers can’t be lumped into two distinct and separate categories, as she wants to do: those who can (like, presumably, her) and those who lack all self-confidence and fear rejection and feel unworthy and, ultimately, can’t. There are many different types of networkers, all of whom have confidence and feel they are worthy: those who excelled in it in one field but may be switching to a new field and are having difficulty finding traction there; those who are not shy in some situations but find difficulty getting their footing in a business situation; those who are introverts by nature (yes, I would say some of us are shy inherently, not because something “happened” to us); those who are excellent networkers in a variety of situations. It seems it would be far more prudent and useful to recognize this fact and then begin an actual conversation on networking that could examine all sides and all types, rather than generously giving to us poor, fearful, confidence-lacking have-nots the 12 steps we need to follow in order to become the haves.