David Standen. MBA Student
1 December 2002
A Southern Californian MBA student explains his personal experience at Instituto de Empresa. "...I have worked with the French, negotiated with the Japanese, presented with the Dutch and argued with the Germans. I have strategized with the Mexicans and marketed with the Spaniards. I have balanced accounts with the Belgians and broke the bank with the Russians...".
Like most Southern Californians, I began my education in cultural integration a few days before my 3rd birthday (the age at which Disneyland starts to charge admission). Most who made the pilgrimage at that early age would agree that although Dumbo was awe inspiring and Peter Pan as astounding as any ride in the Magic Kingdom, It’s a Small World stole the show. We even leave the park singing the song. In this initial introduction to the wider world around us, this seemingly simple ride offers a profound insight. For what feels like an eternity (indeed long enough to permanently engrain the song into our tiny little heads) we float through tunnels of… foreigners. All dressed in weird clothing; singing, dancing and spinning in place. That evening we leave the park with something we didn’t have before, an international perspective (and a new pair of Mickey Mouse ears).
Over the ensuing years the ears are soon forgotten, but this phenomenon of other peoples in other lands begins to take root and, if we’re lucky, change the way we think and look at ourselves as Americans. Our schooling system, however, seems to attempt to modify the cultural opinions we formed during our Disney experience. We learn about the British at an early age, clad in armor, fighting dragons and rescuing damsels. The French start out in our good books by helping us win independence and then by selling us the western half of our country for the price of a Big Mac. The Mexicans make a somewhat biased introducion in the persona of Speedy Gonzolez. And finally, the Germans and the Japanese make a somewhat contradictory appearance being our adversaries in history books and our heroes in department stores and auto marts, leaving us with an overall different few of cultural integration than we had on our 4th birthday.
As we grow our awareness expands to two of life’s fundamentals, the other sex and Rock n Roll. Ok, in the 80’s we didn’t call it rock and roll, but our introduction to the London music scene made no less an impact for that. For the first time since It’s a Small World, we were confronted with foreigners through direct media. The English, Swedish, and even Germans beamed themselves into our homes via MTV, and we were stunned, nay pleased to see… foreigners, dressed in weird clothes; singing, dancing, and spinning in place.
Many years passed between my first glimpse of a European rock star, and my wading through stacks of MBA brochures in search of “the perfect school”. Still, I would probably be glossing over the truth if I said the former in no way influenced the latter. After all, after almost a lifetime of evolving my personal definition of cultural integration, my limited sources of input had left several aspects… un-ratified shall we say?
Well here I am with but a couple of months to graduation. My sources of cultural imput have expanded to include over a year of work groups and projects with colleagues from all over the world. That’s right, no longer foreigners, just colleagues. Twelve months of trying to intertwine the homogeneity of our species (business people or homo negotiatus in the Latin) with the heterogeneity of our cultures. I have worked with the French, negotiated with the Japanese, presented with the Dutch and argued with the Germans. I have strategized with the Mexicans and marketed with the Spaniards. I have balanced accounts with the Belgians and broke the bank with the Russians. The Chinese have shown me that we’re all the same and the Swiss have shown me we’re all different. And through it all, the British have been there to mediate. And these experiences are, but to name a few.
[*D We are common in our goals and unique in our methods *]
But the MBA education is a drop in the bucket when compared to the MBA experience. I don’t pretend to know any more about my colleagues’ countries than I did when I started. But I do know how to work with them. My perspective is still my own, but at least I understand and respect theirs. I still eat hamburgers with my hands, but I’ve seen it done with a knife and fork (in case I ever want to shock anyone back in California).
So once again, my own personal cultural integration level is forever changed, for the better I should think. In a couple months time, I will return to the office and once again will be faced with business trips, teleconferences, and the like. I return, however, with a new consciousness. I know what I know, but more importantly I’m aware of what I don’t. For we, the human race, are exceedingly simple and exceptionally complex. The last twelve months has been a process of attempting to untangle motives from culture and ambitions from upbringing. We are common in our goals and unique in our methods, it’s something that at the very least, is worth a good ponder. Unless of course you’d seen us at our “relive the 70’s” end of year party last May. For then, we were all just a bunch of foreigners dressed in weird clothing; singing, dancing and spinning in place. It’s a small world after all!