By: Morgan Borer, @morganborer
Understanding. Patience. Acceptance. Early on, these words were used in my education, before I really understood their meaning. While I now feel that I have a good grasp on each, and try to demonstrate these qualities in different areas of my life, this summer I grappled with an entirely new question. How do these apply in the workplace?
This summer, I am working as a Communications Assistant in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology for the International Space University (ISU). This is a nine-week professional development program covering a variety of disciplines. I have the unique experience of working with 111 individuals from 30 countries around the world, ranging from Poland to Saudi Arabia to China. These individuals have backgrounds in space exploration, science, engineering, technology, the arts and more. Despite their unique stories, there is one attribute that unites them: their love of space.
Before assuming this position, I had little experience working alongside international people. Will I be able to communicate with them? I am a 21 year-old journalism student from Toledo, Ohio. What could I possibly have in common with these cool space engineers? The answer? More than you might think.
During the first week of my internship, I struck up a conversation with Remco, a social media strategist from the Netherlands. Remco is heading up the ISU SSP15 Online and Social Media Campaign. He explained to me that in social media, he is completely self-taught. I shared my classes and experience in Scripps with him, and he suggested that we collaborate on the campaign. We found commonalities in our love for New York City and, of course, public relations.
I also met a man named Shripathi, a passionate, energetic photographer and video producer from India. He is one of the younger participants in the program, so it was easy to chat with him about campus, class work, and my desire to learn more about photography.
My advice on working with international people? Be open minded and ask questions. If you close yourself off from others, you’ll miss learning opportunities. Ask a lot of questions, even if they seem conventional. Don’t be afraid of small-talk. Recognize that common practices in the work environment in their country may be drastically different from those in the U.S., and find a common ground.
Talk about food. Seriously! Food unites people around the world. It’s an easy topic of conversation. People from other cultures love to talk about how big American portions are, and the fact that they’re scared of gaining weight when they come here (trust me, I heard it last night).
Learn from everyone, and let them learn from you. At work, I practice observation. Even if I don’t totally understand the language, I try to pick up on snippets of conversation and figure out what the topics of interest are. You can learn a lot by listening and paying attention. On the flip side, they’re going to ask you questions, so let them pick your brain about everything from the Cleveland Cavaliers to road signs.
While I can admit that I’m no space fanatic, I do love the people that I am surrounded by on a daily basis. They are extremely intelligent and inspiring. I’ve learned something from each person I’ve met here, and I’m excited to learn more throughout the summer.