Management Students Develop Cross-Cultural Relationships in Denmark and Germany

Posted: March 10, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Students in the School of Management’s undergraduate MGMT 461 Cross-Cultural and Global Management course are learning firsthand how to develop cross-cultural working relationships by partnering with students at two European universities.

Over six weeks, 65 students in the two sections of the course are communicating with team members at the Niels Brock Business Academy in Copenhagen and Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich through WebCT, an Internet-based text communication and learning platform, and an exchange of video podcasts.

catherine cramton
Catherine Cramton
Photo by Evan Cantwell

The project is being carried out by Catherine Cramton, management area chair, and Tine Koehler, management adjunct professor, together with professors at the European institutions.

“It is the task of the American students to explain American ways and values to their colleagues in Europe, and it is the task of the German and Danish students to explain German and Danish cultural ways and values to the American students,” says Cramton. The students also are exploring U.S., Danish and German communication norms, business practices and leadership values.

The pedagogical approach was originally developed by Michael Berry at the Turku School of Economics (TSE) in Finland. In spring 2007, an 11-week collaboration between Koehler’s students at Mason and Berry’s students at TSE was launched. Given the success of Koehler’s initiative, the project was expanded in fall 2007.

“There is a real magic that occurs as the students begin to teach each other about culture and discuss the nuances of culture in greater and greater depth,” says Koehler. “It happened in the American-Finnish collaboration last spring, and it is happening now in the German, Danish and American collaborations.”

Koehler is an advanced doctoral candidate from Germany in Mason’s Industrial-Organizational Psychology Program. She has worked with Cramton and taught in various supporting roles in the School of Management over the past several years.

The students also are enthusiastic about the learning experience.

Management major Ali Altalib says the course and collaboration encourage out-of-the-box critical thinking and link personal experience with colleagues abroad with knowledge of strategic business practices.

Another management major, Joshua Etemadi, says, “Many of my colleagues are envious of this opportunity, and I feel it’s an opportunity that everyone should have at some point in their lives. The fact that we can talk with students in a different country gives us a completely different perspective. Denmark, like the United States, is a mixing bowl of cultures and nationalities. Discussing topics like business customs, ethics and even political beliefs with the Danes provides us with an unfiltered view of their country, their people and, most important, their individual personalities. It also gives us an opportunity to change their perspective of the United States because they probably have some stereotypical views of Americans.”

Students who already have international experience feel that the project adds a new dimension to their intercultural understanding.

Management major Holly Norris says, “I have traveled all over the Middle East and Africa, so I thought I had a good understanding of different cultures and how to relate to them. In this class, I realized that the countries I visited were used to working with Americans and were cultures that develop social relationships to build trust, so they were very outgoing and interested in Americans.

“I found that countries like Germany are the opposite. This class has really opened my eyes to the fact that you just have to get a good understanding of the people, culture and country norms before attempting to build relationships if you want to be successful and feel comfortable.”

Senior Cristina Maniquis, who called the experience “one of the highlights of my academic career,” says, “In this project, we are not simply reading about cultural differences but rather experiencing the richness of cultural exchanges.”

This article appeared in a slightly different form in the winter 2008 issue of the SOM Times.

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