First Impressions  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in

As a way to introduce international students to Americanisms, we were shown this video by some of the students.

I've been in Evanston for two weeks now. Already the American culture is slightly tiring me. So, yesterday's inspiring opening welcome to international students by the Interim Dean, Prof Sunil Chopra, could not have come at a better time. It's a shame the general opening welcome to all students today was not as eye opening.

While I spent my first week in Evanston setting my apartment up, I did manage to get out on some of the evenings to meet some fellow students. One of my 2011 classmates organised two events for people to meet before the official school activities began; I attended the second of these events - staged in a strange bar based within a cinema theatre complex. Several hundred students attended and I was not prepared for my first impressions:
  • hoards of guys chasing after cute girls - sometimes these girls would be circled by several men
  • people actually complaining that one of their fellow students had taken the initiative to organise these events; they'd say things like, "what does this guy want from me?!".
  • everyone going through the same motion of "what do you do? where are you from?", only to forget five seconds later and only for the same conversation to restart when the next new person joined each conversation

  • In hindsight, I was naive to not be more prepared for these things - to be more prepared for the way things are in American business schools.

    The last point on "what do you do? where are you from?" was addressed in a unique way during my second week at Kellogg. KWEST is a week long trip that students in groups of 25 go on around the world: a sort of a team bonding activity. On these trips, everyone is instructed not to reveal anything about themselves to others on the trip until the near the end - when there is a "big reveal". The idea of this game is to enable people to get to know each other beyond the stero-types that people perceive of others. In this environment, I noticed that
  • People grappled for something - anything - to talk about. Often this meant talking about films, TV shows and music. Inadvertently, I think this made if difficult for anyone not familiar with some of the American culture to relate to some conversations.
  • Some personailties were able to attract more attention than others. American rowdiness and cheer was more amenable to social interactions than I expected.
  • For me, the "big reveal" game prevented me really getting to know people. It came too late in the week, by which point I almost no longer had the energy to delve deeper into getting to know people

  • The trip was great, the people were fantastic, but I personally feel that I did not engage as well as I could have done - again I misjudged the culture of American business school students.

    For me, the welcome to international students by Interim Dean, Prof Sunil Chopra, came at the right time. He spoke about research done at Kellogg showing that the most successful people are those who can connect different "small worlds". People live in "small worlds" of people they are connected to - people who know each other. This could be the community of industry experts in a field or students from a similar country at school. Those who are successful are those who can reach beyond these small worlds. Coming to a different country, as international students are, it can be intimidating and easy to crawl back into the circle of friends and culture we already know. However, we should challenge ourselves to become connectors - to become people who can inhabit several of these different small worlds. If we are able to do this, we will find that we are able to do more - innovation, for example, comes most easily when different small worlds connect.

    While Prof Sunil Chopra's speech to international students yesterday seemed to emphasise the connections that we made as being the most important asset of business school, the proceedings today, the first proper day of school, were the expected dull welcome introductions to the academics.

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    8 comments

    Sadly, the "where are you from" conversation is something you'll have to deal with all quarter until you actually know enough people... one of the most annoying things about B-school (and the best things about KWEST!!)

    Good luck!

    1 September 2009 at 15:00

    Actually, I've recently started to find that it's a great way to perfect the pitch for my startup ;-)

    2 September 2009 at 04:43

    Ditto on your comments about the first impressions.

    That's why I'm living alone. It's nice to recharge from time to time.

    2 September 2009 at 05:12

    DG, wait until the end of the first quarter, you'll wonder how you ever felt so out of place. I think this feeling of displacement is something most international students go through. The key to overcoming it is being very open minded about all your experiences and using them to learn more about a different culture. Good luck with school!

    4 September 2009 at 15:51

    I think you're right. I'm starting to get the feel for the business school lifestyle. Still looking forward to getting into more of a routine though. First quarter will certainly be fun.

    11 September 2009 at 08:15

    all I can say is that you'll adjust, but possibly never completely get over it. I especially had an issue with, what I would call, 'polite socializing' at the beginning.

    the 'american phrase-book'-part of the video you added is hilarious. i remember quite a few situations where people started to talk about how they are, while the one who started the conversation gave him/her the "no... i didn't mean... ugh - i don't care!" look.

    as for myself - having lived in the states for 5 years I started to accept certain behaviors, adjusted to certain differences and began to laugh about things instead of taking them too serious.

    good luck!
    bizwiz

    11 September 2009 at 12:08

    love the american phrasebook clip you've posted! i'd say my initial experiences are quite similar - especially handling the "what did you do before B-school, where are you from, what do you want to do afterwards" type questions...but once classes start, team work starts, you have more to talk about!

    23 September 2009 at 15:44

    thanks bizwiz, choc heaven.

    that "awesome" phrasebook video has become "like" something of a classic.

    23 September 2009 at 19:12

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