You’ve heard it from us before, and we’ve heard it over and over from our professors and heads of the program: mingling with foreign students is of the utmost importance, both for interpersonal, intercultural people-skills, as well as for professional networking after the program ends. However, just because we know that we’re supposed to interact on an academic and social level doesn’t mean that we know how to do it. It’s easy enough to say that we’re going to make it happen, but when it comes down to it, and you’ve got a midterm, a case study and three group projects to work on, our propensity to extend ourselves to consciously interact with students different from ourselves tends to be one of the first things to go. That makes sense, right? I know that when I’m bombarded with school work I tend to hang out with my friends – people I know I get a long with, instead of people I’m not friends with yet. Unfortunately enough, I’ve heard from other foreign students that they feel similarly – it’s often easiest to hang out with people you know, rather than branch out and get to know new people. Our cohort, in fact, is so blatantly segregated (we’re all friends, but we just don’t intermingle during our free time as much as past cohorts) that our Pacific Rim World Affairs professor, Melanie Billings-Yun has decided to personally sponsor an MIM mixer – the only stipulation is that a student from each country represented in the MIM program must attend. I personally think it’s pretty amazing that a professor would go to such measures to ensure that we’re all getting the most ouf of this program.
In addition to this though, here are a few tips of methods that I’ve found work to get myself in mixed social and academic groups with the foreign MIM students.
Start with the academic: here’s your chance to ensure that you spend some time with foreign students. Nearly every class has some kind of group project, and often you get to form your own groups. To reference my post last week, there are different ways to form groups, and by forming a group with a diverse set of cultural backgrounds, there’s a lot to be gained. From the increased perspectives that come from different backgrounds, to learning how to interact with those different from yourself, there’s really no downside (provided that work is fairly distributed). What’s more, it is often from these academic origins that more social outlets present themselves. Take for example my group for Corporate Finance this term: myself, three girls from Thailand, and one student from Indonesia. We just finished a big presentation for the term, and as an “Emergency Team Meeting” we all went out to dinner last night to celebrate. It was by working together in a group that hanging out with each other socially became an option, and a priority.
Find some common ground: it’s become a fairly regular ritual for a group of American MIMers to play basketball at the new rec center on campus, and it just so happens that a handfull of the Chinese and Taiwanese students also play basketball. It only makes sense then for these two groups to mix it up a little bit and get some games going with each other. Finding this kind of common ground outside of the academic realm are a fantastic way to really get to know some of the international students, and for them to get to know you.
Take the role of the tour guide every once in a while: this one’s primarily for the native Portland-ers. You know the lay of the land and some good places to hang out. Why not share a little bit of that knowledge and expertise every now and then? It may mean a little more work every now and then to organize outings, but that little sacrifice (if it can even be considered a sacrifice) pales in comparison to the benefit you’ll get in return. One example: this past Fall, some of the Portland natives spearheaded a trip to a Blazers game, for many of the Thai and Chinese students. And, not that it should need a compensatory action, but know that it’s likely this kind of favor will be returned when/if you visit the hometowns of some of the international students.
While this is by no means a complete list on how to build intercultural relations (we have entire classes for this kind of thing), these are just a few things that I’ve found to work at breaking down some of the intercultural barriers. For additional reading (and a head start for incoming students), look up a little bit on the Chinese concept of guanxi – this is something that current MIMers have heard plenty about, and is something that should be considered need-to-know for anyone that wants to do work in China, or with Chinese companies.
I hope that this helps, either current students, or incoming students by providing an idea of what the MIM program entails. As always, any questions are welcome, and topics for future blog posts are more than welcome.