This interesting case study was a terrific example of well-intentioned people doing everything correctly in terms of logistics, but failing to consider and plan for the human side of this very personal and unique interaction. As the text relates to us, Sarah James seemed on paper like a perfect representative for the inaugural term of the exchange program between Palm Lakes University (PLU) and the Instituto de Negocios Internationales (INI). Her initial performance in Mexico indicated that she was on track for success. She did well enough in her course work and in a screening process to be chosen for a business internship.
Sarah’s success in Mexico was important to a number of stakeholders. Obviously, Sarah herself would benefit from her schooling and internship in Mexico; in addition to her degree, she would gain business experience and an opportunity to add references to her eventual business resume. For PLU, the exchange program offered a tremendous marketing opportunity in the ability to provide students of international management courses with international work experience. This would make the college more attractive to prospective students. Similar benefits would come to INI.
Less obvious may be the potential impact to the community in which INI operates. Businesses would presumably profit from the work of student interns and might also use the internship program as a screening process for potential employees. Finally, the families which hosted the students would benefit from the stipend they would be paid, and less tangibly from the cross-cultural interaction. The text does not provide too much detail about the work experience, except for a brief reference that things ‘had gone well in her work environment.
It is interesting to note that at work and in school, Sarah performed well. These are both environments in which one can be reasonably certain what is expected. Regardless of where we are working or learning, we have tasks which we are responsible to accomplish. It appears that Sarah’s trouble occurred exclusively in her interpersonal relations with her host family. In an article for her blog in The Huff Post: Education , author H Tavangar provides insight on an exchange experience which seems to have been very positive for all parties involved.
She describes the benefits of opening her home, among them growth in global competence for her own children; confidence in ‘socializing, working, solving problems, and finding new ways to communicate with diverse colleagues and friends’ for the host and exchange families; and perhaps most importantly, ‘Adapting to living with someone raised by different parents can teach our kids much about their tolerance for different habits, and become better communicators and more cooperative, assertive, flexible, resilient, patient, grateful, compassionate and forgiving adults — which is important as a college roommate, spouse, or business partner. Early in her article, she makes an important point: ‘It’s never the right time. ’ While she is referring directly to the changed logistics in her home life which would be necessitated by hosting an exchange student, I feel she makes a broader point here about flexibility. As you read her article, it certainly seems that the experience which she, her family, and their exchange student (to whom she refers as ‘my new daughter’) was a resounding success. Several points struck me about Sarah as I read the case study. In the first paragraph of her email she says she enjoyed ‘practicing Spanish and hearing about (Mexican) culture and beliefs’.
This was my first clue that here was a young woman not invested in cultural exchange but who saw the program as something exclusively for her benefit (and potential benefits she did not fully grasp, at that). Certainly it is true that using Spanish in a classroom is very different from conducting all your daily interactions in the language; however, her very phraseology tells us that she saw her host family, fellow students and coworkers as people upon whom she could practice – conejillo de Indias, or guinea pigs.
Her reference to ‘hearing’ about the culture and beliefs further tells us that she did make an effort prior to her trip, to truly learn about Mexico. A practical and a sensitive person would have studied Mexican history and culture in general and also those same subjects in terms of the specific state or region in which she would be living. The more disturbing impression, however, is that of her watching day to day life, but not participating in it, as though she were a visitor to some kind of cultural zoo.
She seems to spend her time with her host family looking exclusively through her own cultural lens. This is particularly apparent in her complaints about the host family not being prepared for her vegetarian diet. The Mexican diet relies heavily on beef, on chicken and on lard for preparing many dishes. Sarah makes no reference to having researched the commonality of vegetarianism where she would be staying; to having any advance preparations regarding it; or to offering to purchase and cook her own food to accommodate it.
Far from considering the burden of additional work and expense for the host family, she seems to have simply expected them to provide for her needs, and not to have been appreciative of their efforts in that regard. It is interesting to note that she was not the only student to encounter this issue; that speaks to a failure in planning on the part of PLU. We are advised in the case study that the PLU asked only the most rudimentary questions of students chosen for the program, and that PLU had no knowledge of what preparations were made by INI with the host families.
There are multiple additional indications that Sarah viewed her host home as something of a hotel which was lacking. With regard to a ride to the airport on the day of her departure, we are told the ‘host mother indicated several times’ she would provide transportation. If this subject was mentioned ‘several times’ the message may in fact have been that it was troublesome in terms of schedule, expense and/or inconvenience for the host mother. When the question arose of payment for the day of student’s departure, Sarah simply suggested the host family contact INI.
Far from being concerned about whether than how the loss of a partial days’ stipend would impact the family, Sarah never gives a thought as to why the family brought it up to her in the first place. Mexico is collectivistic; that is, hierarchies (actual or perceived) are highly regarded and it is seen as taboo to try to work outside of them. In the situation described here, INI in general and Alberto Jiminez in particular may be viewed as authority figures. It might seem disloyal to Jiminez for the host family to complain (or even to be viewed as complaining, such as asking for the partial day stipend).
They may also fear exclusion from future opportunities to host. If Sarah contacted INI to ask about the payment, the request would not be viewed as coming from the family. The final catastrophe of this experiment comes when Sarah mentions that she would be moving to her own apartment for future terms. She has no regard for how this would be perceived by either university; how it might impact the program as a whole; and how her decision might directly impact her host family. The stipend the host family earned during her stay most likely made up a significant portion of their income.
Her unilateral decision to move out would adversely impact them not only in the short term (loss of stipend for her) but possibly also in the long term (if they were not offered the opportunity to host other students). Additionally, the potential negative impact to the program and the relationship between the universities is enormous. Sarah is a product of her home culture in that she is clearly individualistic in all her views, freely sharing commentary on what she thinks should have been done to make her more comfortable.
Her feedback seems to have been mainly a venue for complaint about how the program did not allow her to live her own lifestyle in the Mexican culture – completely missing the point of the program and not benefitting from the tremendous opportunity she was given. One wonders what, if anything, she truly learned about Mexico and its people. She was not open-minded and looked at the situation only from the perspective of her own benefit, learning opportunity, and convenience or inconvenience. She seems to have looked at the host family as hoteliers whose job was to provide her accommodations tailored to her liking.
She completely disregards the fact that she was staying in – and disrupting – someone’s home. There is no evidence of consideration of how she could have been flexible, helpful, better prepared, or less offensive. While Sarah may be viewed as ‘flexible and cooperative’ in her own environment, she clearly feels her own lifestyle – her culture – is superior to that in which she was set down. With regard to preparation and training, several failures are evident. From a practical standpoint, the selection and preparation process for both students and host families is clearly lacking. Even the rudimentary information collected on the students (i. . , dietary restrictions) seemed not to have been shared with, or explained to, the host families. Far from the difficult situation this created in the case study, such a glaring omission could create a medical emergency for a visiting student. The two universities need to collaborate to develop a thorough selection and preparation program. For students, there should be a requirement for them to demonstrate an understanding of the day to day world in which they will be living – diet, cooking, shopping, transportation, family schedule, religious observations – and what they can and can not expect from their hosts.
Most of all, the universities need to recognize that as young adults it may never occur to some of these students that they are not entitled to special treatment from a family on whom they are, after all, imposing. Part of the preparation process should be to orient them to the fact that they are moving into a home and sharing a family situation, rather than checking in to the Marriott. For host families, it would seem that very little information was provided to them about their student; in fact, the case study tells us that PLU had no knowledge what, if any, preparation was undertaken for the host families.
In terms of selection, a simple survey on attitudes, beliefs, schedules, flexibility and requirements might help make more successful matches between families and students. Providing biographical information and allowing advance correspondence between the parties would allow them some introduction prior to the program beginning. It might also be a terrific idea to allow the student to meet someone from the district where they would be staying, and the host family to meet someone from the United States, in an informal environment.
A basic talk about day to day life may increase comfort levels and given stakeholders an opportunity to ask basic questions they may not wish to ask ‘authorities’. On an ongoing basis, compiling these questions and sharing the answers with each successive group of participants would go a long way. Equally important, if a student or family is not a good fit for the program, this would give them a way to recognize that before it is too late.
After each term, the students and families should be surveyed as to what went well, what did not work, and what could have been done differently to make the program more successful. Once Sarah released her email, it was critical to the future of the program that the situation she created be properly handled. Professor McGill would need to personally reach out to Albert Jiminez to offer apologies for Sarah’s lack of sensitivity. A discussion with the host family (especially the mother, who likely bore the brunt of the inconvenience of Sarah’s visit) should be held to ensure that their side of situation was understood. The input of the host family should be solicited; apologies offered to INI and to the family for the offense given; and a plan drawn up to make the program more successful going forward. Careful listening, planning, and agreement between the schools may be able to ease the tension Sarah unwittingly created. As the first student in an effort intended to promote international business major program and build the relationship between PLU and INI, Sarah was in a precarious position. She does not seem to have been prepared to truly learn about Mexico by living like her hosts and considering her impact on them.
Beyond expressions of gratitude for the opportunity she was given Sarah’s contact should all have been with and through Professor McGill. Also, she need not have waited until her term was over. Opening the door to communication before a problem escalates will usually allow us to control how big a problem it becomes. Globalization requires companies to seek employees who understand how business is conducted globally. The program in which Sarah enrolled was intended to prepare her for an increasingly competitive international business world.
She had the opportunity to become grounded in a culture and language foreign to her, but due to her own self-absorption, as well as failure to plan on the part of both universities, I believe she missed out on the potential benefits. ? References: Steers, R. M. ; Sanchez-Ruiz, C. J. ; Nardon, L. (2010) Management Across Cultures: Challenges and Strategies. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press Tavangar, H. A. (August 2, 2011) 5 Lessons I Learned Hosting an Exchange Student Huff Post Education Retrieved from http://www. huffingtonpost. com/homa-sabet-tavangar/5-lessons-i-learned-hosti_b_916347. tml Andrews, W. A. (January 19, 2009) Sarah James in Mexico: Often Wrong But Never in Doubt. London, Ontario: Ivey Management Services Hollenbeck, G. P. , & McCall, M. W. 2003. Competence, not competencies: Making global executive development work. In W. Mobley & P. Dorfman (Eds. ), Advances in Global Leadership (Vol. 3). Oxford: JAI Press. Canisius College International Business Program Overview, http://www. canisius. edu/international-business/program/ HSBC Careers Page, Global Employee Programs, http://www. hsbcnet. com/hr/graduate-careers/business-areas/global-research. html
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