Archive for December, 2009

Attention students going abroad with parents giving you crap about it, ctd.

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

The British Council agrees with IES Study Abroad (whose recent study shows study abroad experiences give U.S. college students a decided “edge” in the global job market):

Venturing overseas to get a degree makes you attractive to employers – and it’s fun.

Thanks to David Comp for the tip on this article. David also points to the oddly cheery “and it’s fun” in the subtitle, as well as the fact that this fun factor (which we can’t help agree with) is never discussed in the actual article. David asks: “Why then did the author feel the need to include this in the sub-title of the article?” A good question, especially when you consider the last line of the article:

“If you don’t like it, you can always go home.”

Fair enough and certainly true. But related to both David’s take on the balance between an academically rigorous study abroad program and one in which students are able to travel, drink “underage,” and generally cut loose, as well as this idea of whether study/living abroad is always “fun,” I’ll throw out there that: 1) life abroad is not always fun and 2) even the un-fun parts can still be beneficial.

A quick example: my girlfriend studied abroad in Paris for a semester, though it was supposed to be a year: she cut it short because the experience was a difficult one for her (she didn’t like it, so she went home, I suppose). That doesn’t mean she didn’t like everything about the experience. There were many parts of France and the French and life with her host family that she loved. But there were also an overwhelming number of difficulties (expenses and difficulties with overaggressive and culturally-insensitive French men, to name but two) that made her experience a truly “un-fun” one, so much so that she cut her time there short. She didn’t have “fun” on her study abroad experience in the same way many people do—traveling every weekend and drinking into the wee hours every night. Yet her experience in Paris was still very formative. She gained important skills that she continues to use to this day—not just language and cultural skills, but also perseverance, adaptation, and self-reliance. Despite some negative experiences, she still holds a great affection for France and the French people. And despite the fact that she wasn’t able to travel all over Europe like many of her classmates, she came away from the experience with a desire to see more and go further, a desire which she has been trying to satisfy through further international experience and travel as she gets older.

As David says, everyone has a different definition of fun. In the same way, the “success” of a study abroad experience can come in different ways for different people. It’s important to both be open to what comes your way while you’re actually studying abroad, and to allow yourself the opportunity to discover how that study abroad experience continues to affect you (perhaps in unexpected ways) as you move further away from it.

Give it a ponder

Friday, December 4th, 2009

When sending out any email or other type of communication during your job search, it never hurts to take your time and do it right, to, as the wonderfully strange James Lipton says, give it a ponder:

Lots more Lipton here. Of course, any Lipton reference inevitably brings us back to Will Ferrell and a scrumtralescent Alec Baldwin:

Attention students going abroad with parents giving you crap about it

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Something for you to counter that crap with: an IES Abroad study that shows study abroad experiences give U.S. college students a decided “edge” in the global job market:

Parents of returning study abroad college students found the experience initiated a sea-change in their willingness to be more responsible, act independently, and take on the world by themselves.

I place this and other arguments like it in the category of “things I wished I’d known 7-10 years ago when debating my dad about the merits of going abroad.” That I would be gaining “maturity, self-confidence, appreciation for other cultures, and independence,” marketable skills in any profession, would probably have sounded a lot better than, “Well, uh, why not? I know you don’t want me living in the basement anymore anyway…”

In other news, was my study abroad really 10 years ago? Almost. Guh.

Cross-cultural communication, cultural anthropology, and the Human Terrain System

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I’m only now getting around to reading the November Atlantic (frequent WW readers already know of my obsession with the mag and its blogs), and one of its 27 brave new thinkers caught my attention: Montgomery McFate. Not only because her fantastic name reads like that of a Bond girl, but also because of the work she’s done as a cultural anthropologist recruited by the Pentagon to develop the Human Terrain System. HTS describes its goals as such:

The near-term focus of the HTS program is to improve the military’s ability to understand the highly complex local socio-cultural environment in the areas where they are deployed; however, in the long-term, HTS hopes to assist the US government in understanding foreign countries and regions prior to an engagement within that region.

The areas of cross-cultural communication, intercultural understanding, and cultural anthropology strike me as particularly ripe for talented, linguistically-skilled and culturally-nuanced people looking for an internationally-focused career —and as areas, as the HTS makes clear, where there is a lot of work to be done:

Iraqi drivers would unaccountably fail to stop when ordered to at checkpoints, and American soldiers, fearing a suicide bombing, would open fire—sometimes killing innocents. One possible reason was a devastatingly simple cultural confusion: the American gesture for “stop”—arm straight, palm out—means “welcome” in Iraq. “This and similar misunderstandings have deadly consequences,” McFate wrote in Joint Force Quarterly in 2005.

Luby Ismail, profiled in Working World the book, runs Connecting Cultures, which facilitates diversity training and cross-cultural awareness for a variety of clients (including the military). A good resource for those interested in cross-cultural work is the Intercultural Management Quarterly and its corresponding institute at American University run by Dr. Gary Weaver, a former professor of mine at AU and something of a legend in the cross-cultural communication field.

The racial gap in the job hunt

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

I read with interest this piece in the NYTimes yesterday about the racial gap in the job hunt and felt it was worthy of attention, and perhaps comment, in this space—though I really didn’t know how to thoughtfully add to the discussion, as racism in my career has never reared its nasty head (either directly, as I’ve always been a white job applicant, or indirectly, as I’ve never personally witnessed outright workplace racial discrimination).

Luckily Ta-Nehesi Coates steps in and does the heavy lifting for us. His take on all matters black and white is as thoughtful, thought-provoking, and balanced as it gets. If you don’t read him regularly, I would recommend it.

UPDATE: It also occurs to me to acknowledge, in the context of the international affairs arena (though this could apply in any industry), the discrimination a job applicant with a “non-American” sounding name could face. The Times article points out that Barry Jabbar Sykes, ”who has a degree in mathematics from Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, now uses Barry J. Sykes in his continuing search for an information technology position, even though he has gone by Jabbar his whole life. ‘Barry sounds like I could be from Ireland,’ he said.”

Did the name Jabbar imply to potential employers that he’s black (which he is)? Non-American (which he isn’t)? Perhaps Muslim (no discussion of his religious affiliation, which is how it should remain)? Some combination of the three? Do applicants for a U.S.-based job, no matter their race or country of origin, face discrimination if they have a “foreign” name, one that isn’t boilerplate Anglo-Saxon? It’s certainly possible. Perhaps a “foreign-sounding” name indicates the applicant is a non-native English speaker, and thus doesn’t possess language skills that are up to par for the job? Or the requisite cultural skills? Every new job has a learning curve, but perhaps the “non-American” applicant’s learning curve will be too long to make it worthwhile to hire him or her? It’s actually quite easy to see how someone (even myself) could judge an applicant in these ways solely based on their “foreign” name or the “foreign” manner in which their resume or cover letter is put together, etc. (Does my recent rant about “odd” cover letter salutations fall into this category? Seems like it easily could, and this may be something I need to check myself on.) Of course it’s up to every job applicant, no matter their name, race, or country of origin, to put together their application in a professional way–clear, cohesive, concise, well-written, no grammatical or copy-editing errors, suitable for the cultural/national context in which they’re applying. But it’s also up to the hiring manager to view each application and its inherent parts with no prejudgment or bias.

As to those “foreign-sounding” names…if a person’s name says very little about what they look like, it says far, far less about who they actually are and what they can do. Even so, the human temptation to assume based on surface indicators stubbornly remains.