First Impressions

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.