Together with Karsten Kneese and Fernando Reyero Noya, we continue to explore Geert Hofstede’s concept of Culture as the Software of the Mind. We discuss the aspect of cultural updates and how people need to adapt to new rules and behaviours due to changes in our society. Often they are brought about by changes in the law where as a result everybody around us starts behaving differently – for example after the smoking ban in public places. In fact, this update goes even further and there is a new word in the English language: “smirting”, which is a combination of “smoking” and “flirting”. This new behaviour pattern came with the non-smoking laws and allows a new kind of communication which lasts as long as a cigarette just outside the pubs. You wait until someone you would like to get to know in the pub gets up to have a cigarette and then join the person outside and use this 5-minute break together to get to know each other. Wikipedia has picked up this new trend and even describes the phenomenon of “passive smirting” as “the pastime for those who stand outside with friends or colleagues but do not actually smoke themselves.”
While most of the time we just react to updates and readjust our lives accordingly, some people actively open themselves to challenges and updates – for example by studying in another country in order to broaden their horizons. Aurora Mustonen from Finland is such a courageous person. She tells us how after her A-levels in Finland she decided that she wanted to move to England to do her bachelor’s degree.
It is amazing how such stays abroad do not only train our adaptability to other cultures but also seem to change our attitudes when we go back to our own cultures afterwards. This may be because we integrate successful pieces of behaviour which we learned and tested abroad into our home culture.
In our last category, we go on to another Finnish exchange student, Anna Moisio, a student at our University of Applied Sciences, Koblenz, who took part in a course called “International Business Simulations”. She soon found out that while this was called a “simulation” her managerial tasks as the CEO of the simulated company with branches in Lithuania, England, and Hungary had to be pretty “real”.
Anna explains to us how she had the opportunity to prove herself as the boss of an international company and was able to put into practice what she had learned about motivation and leadership in lectures and books, all within her experience at the foreign university setting. This experience was particularly important for her, as after completing her master thesis she plans to set up her own company. We wish her good luck for that!
The next show will be coming to you on 1 May from Anne Fox in Denmark.
I would like to take you back to the island where I took you a month ago. Previously, I shared my experiences of an Erasmus Intensive Programme with you and we listened to students and organisers who had taken part in it. We have more material about the project “Borrowed Identities” on Achill Island for you today.
In our first category Egle, Dainora and Marijus from Lithuania tell us how important this experience was for their own self-development and that the fact that so many students from so many different countries worked and lived together for two weeks was a challenge in itself.
We hear that the international workshops organized themselves democratically and some students were tempted to try out new leadership roles. It seems that the beautiful landscape on Achill Island inspired students in different ways – many of them found out more about themselves and their strengths and weaknesses. With the help of the “ship-metaphor” the students analyzed how they actually worked together as a team and how they could change roles. Some students tried to be captains, others were up in the look-out making sure that the ship does not hit an iceberg and some others were reading the maps and pointing out to the captain which direction to take.
Many students reported that the experience had helped them develop the confidence that they needed to be successful and at the same time enjoy the international teamwork.
Maria Koenen tells us how she was encouraged to have experiences on two very different levels: to do the work in the workshop but at the same time look at her own behaviour and the group dynamics within that workshop.
The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) says that when you look out of the window you have to decide whether you focus on the tree outside or on a little spot of dirt on the window pane. He says it is impossible to focus on both at the same time. However, this is exactly what we encouraged our students to do. On the one hand the students had to concentrate on the contents of their international teamwork and on the other they were encouraged to talk about their behaviours and their positions within the workgroup and even to play with different roles within the team. This change of focus and perspectives was perceived as stimulating but rather unusual. Reports from the students were that during the two weeks they were forced to work within constraints which come very close to those in international work places where the job may be defined by somebody else and the colleagues were already there when you started.
We listen to Sabine Rauh, who tells us that the other participants – like characters in a film – grew because of their self-development and the intercultural challenges they mastered during the seminar. She describes what it felt like at the beginning to find one’s place within this international team. Her job as student manager had put her in email contact with the other participants from Lithuania, England, Hungary and Germany but she admits that all this contact only felt real when she finally met the real students from the partner universities in the real train station in Dublin, Ireland.
One of the factors that allowed participants to develop and grow was the students’ close contact with the local population on Achill. During the initial welcome reception the students had invited local people into their workshops. Among them was Anton, a local reporter from the Mayo News, who tells us how he joined the group only to write an article about the project but then was integrated in the workshops as the students appreciated his advice for the media workshop. In fact you can find out how useful Anton’s tips were. The students learned from him how to make the headlines of their travelogue “snappy” and how to vary the formats of the reporting by introducing little poems or even personal email messages in their travelogue.
At the beginning of their international teamwork stereotypes about the Lithuanians, Germans, Hungarians and English really seemed to help because they seemed to make predictions about individuals’ behaviours possible. However, even during the first week these borders seemed to disappear and the way was free to look at personalities instead of nationalities.
In this show’s final category we hear how the group developed its own intercultural identity and turned into a kind of European family. Our 40 learners from 10 different nationalities on the Borrowed Identities Intensive Programme were able to get a much closer insight into what it means to work in European teams. They discovered that the diversity of cultural backgrounds produced a much richer team product than if the work had been done by learners from just one country.
The next show will be coming to you on 3 April from Anne Fox in Denmark.
This show is centered around our European Project which is called Borrowed Identities. And as you can see and hear Anne Fox is also involved in this. We are on the beautiful Irish island called Achill out in the Atlantic off the coast of Westport. I am very priviliged to be here with a group of 38 learners from four European Universities on an ERASMUS Intensive Programme subsidised by the European Commission. The participants have 12 different mother languages and in this remote part of the world we must look like a pretty colourful bunch of Europeans. Though during the day we are working a lot in our workshops all of us were immediately captured by the landscape and the music of this amazing island.
In our first category we take you listeners with us on a virtual journey which started in the classrooms of the universities of Kaunas in Lithuania, Worcester in England, Koblenz in Germany and Budapest in Hungary in October last year. All participating students took part in a preparatory course where they got to know the students at the other stations through the new media. By getting in touch with each other they found out more about the cultures of the participating countries and produced documentation, e.g. on how to prepare a meeting in Lithuania, how to tailor your job application for the English market or an advertisement for the Hungarian market. During this “virtual phase” the students used email, forums, chats and podcasts to get in touch with each other and prepare for their real face-to-face meeting in February. Then on the same day all students from the various countries got on planes and flew to Ireland to meet each other in real life – they went “from virtual to real”. In Ireland for two weeks they worked in mixed nationality workshops and lectures on Intercultural Communication and related topics. The workshops managed to include local Irish participants and some students took the challenge of trying out new leadership roles as workshop coordinators, documentation or language diversity managers. They also learned that working in international groups can be quite a challenge and acknowledged that this real life experience teaches you more than any international project management book can. Most participants were surprised to find out a lot about their home culture – simply by stepping out of it and looking at it from a distance.
Our social manager Maria Koenen had prepared an interesting small-talk exercise to prepare all students just half an hour before we were expecting our local guests in order to warm us up for small talk and find the right topics which would actually keep the conversation going. We had to stand outside our reception place in two circles, the inner circle facing out and the outer circle facing in so that everyone had a conversation partner just in front of them. After 60 seconds of small talk Maria asked the inner circle to move one person on so that everybody had a new conversation partner – a bit like in speed dating. With the new partner we could either practice the same conversation topic again or try another one. The subjects ranged from to the workshop contents to national stereotypes, age and background of the participants to the eternal small-talk subject: the weather.
absolutely integrated: Anton McNulty, a local reporter of the Mayo News, turned up to the first reception of the European group without telling anybody that he was from the newspaper in order to get a neutral impression. He was astonished and delighted that the students all seemed so eager and kind of competed to attract him to their particular workshops in order to spend their time on Achill working with him.
If you want to hear more about the project Borrowed Identities and want to listen to what the students produced and learned from the two weeks, please check out our podcast in a month’s time, where we will follow up this story with a second part.
The next show will be coming to you on 6 March from Anne Fox in Denmark.