Developing Cross-Cultural Skills of International Business Students: An Experiment

Article excerpt

Cross-cultural skills are a major criterion for success in the global business environment. For students pursuing careers in international business, this means learning to manage cultural difference on three levels: self, interpersonal, and organizational. This paper describes five related and synergistic exercises that give college students experience in dealing with and solving real-world problems in cross-cultural management on all three levels. Anecdotal evidence suggests the exercises are a highly successful method for developing the cross-cultural skills of students. To confirm the efficacy of this process, a pre-test post-test experiment was conducted with a treatment-group and control-groups. Results show that the treatment group was the only one to show a significant (at p<.05) increase in intercultural sensitivity--a measure of cross-cultural skill.

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International business managers rate the ability to work with people of other cultures as the most important quality of success, particularly in overseas assignments (Bhawuk & Brislin, 1992). Yet most International Business programs in the United States deal inadequately with cultural differences in management. Too often the issue is addressed only at the cognitive level. Students who envisage international careers in business must prepare for life in alien cognitive and behavior contexts; cross-cultural considerations must be learned both intellectually and experientially (Serrie, 1992). This means being able to manage cultural differences on three distinct levels. First, students must be able to cross-culturally manage themselves: to move personally beyond culture shock and adapt to the alien location to where they have been sent.

Second, they must be able to manage cross-cultural differences at the interpersonal level. This includes relating effectively to fellow employees, suppliers, customers, and government officials. As an expatriate resident, this also includes dealing competently with the host nationals with which they come in contact in daily life, such as taxi drives, store clerks, service people and neighbors. Personal life in a foreign culture often includes helping spouses, children, and home country friends and co-workers to adapt to the host culture. Third they must be able to cross-culturally manage at the organizational or institutional level. This means possessing enough understanding of both their host culture and their home culture to be able to make correct managerial decisions regarding their organization's work force, its commercial markets, the community in which it operates, and the nation which is its host. Although the five exercises are separable, when used collectively they are especially effective in building cross-cultural management skills on all three levels--the self, the interpersonal, and the institutional (Serrie, 1992).

Anecdotal evidence suggests the effectiveness of these exercises: While most American colleges and universities have foreign students enrolled, many campuses report varying degrees of separation, ignorance, indifference, ambivalence, or even hostility between natives on the on the one hand and aliens on the other. These exercises have been credited with significantly reducing the number of unpleasant cross-cultural incidents reported to the Dean of Students of one liberal arts college (Serrie, 1992). To empirically test the effectiveness of these exercises to develop intercultural sensitivity (the ability to function effectively in cross-cultural interactions), an pretest-posttest experimental design was conducted with treatment and control groups. The paper next describes the five cross-cultural exercises, the experiment, the results, and the implications.

Cross-Cultural Exercises

Cross-Cultural Interview

In this exercise each student interviews one foreign student on campus, who is from a culture different from his or her own, and whom he or she has never met before. …