How better to understand the impact of cultural differences on people and processes than to engage with someone outside of your own organization and culture?
Wilfrid Laurier University students in the fourth-year undergraduate course International Organizational Behaviour had the chance to put theory into practice during the winter term by organizing a cross-cultural team and leading in-depth discussions with students from Audencia Business School in Nantes, France.
Assistant Professor Anita Boey taught the course, which is focused on understanding cultural differences in the workplace. Students undertook a critical analysis of current research in cross-cultural organizational behaviour, psychology and human resource management.
“Living in Canada we are so blessed to be immersed within a diverse society,” says Dan Vu, a fourth-year Bachelor of Business Administration student at Laurier. “However, we don’t always take the opportunity to step back and analyze how different cultural values play a role in the way we conduct ourselves and interact with others. That’s what this course is all about.”
Boey brought these concepts to life in partnership with Camilla Quental, associate professor in the School of Business at Audencia Business School, by introducing an international experiential component to the class.
“Now is the best time for international collaboration,” says Boey. “We want students to expand their horizons, create international networks of connections and be exposed to different perspectives.”
As Boey moved her traditionally in-person senior seminar course to a remote environment due to COVID-19, she saw an opportunity to leverage technology to foster international collaboration.
Working alongside Phyllis Power, manager of global engagement programming at Laurier International, Boey put out a call to institutions in Austria, Hong Kong, Germany and France. Quental’s course at Audencia Business School, Managing and Leading a Team, was the perfect pairing for Boey’s course, as it included elements of human resources management and organizational behaviour.
“Laurier has partners all around the world and online learning makes for a rich environment of international collaborations, like joint projects or classes, with students from universities in other countries.”
Vu says the partnership provided students with knowledge and tools to improve and reflect on their cross-cultural interpersonal skills.
“Professor Boey has provided us with the necessary concepts and tools to help us proactively think about the way we interact with people from different backgrounds,” says Vu.
The 23 students in Boey’s class joined groups of three to four students from Quental’s class of more than 80 students. Groups were encouraged to engage in conversations guided by questions focusing on the realities of studying and working online, the future of work, managing diverse teams and other course-related topics.
Laurier BBA student Genevieve Murray found the experience of participating in the group discussion component of the class and her reflections on the experience equally educational.
“I understand that this conversation was a real-life experience to develop my intercultural abilities, but I also took this as a learning opportunity for analyzing different cultural approaches and responses,” says Murray. “I will continue to develop my global competence by expanding my exposure to cross-cultural interactions in the future.”
Quental, who has taught in her field for more than a decade, says she appreciates expanded opportunities to connect virtually and acknowledges the effort it takes to make partnerships like these a success.
“Nothing can replace the face-to-face interactions we have in class with our students but I appreciate the opportunities to learn and exchange online that we didn’t have before,” says Quental. “These types of partnerships take time and have challenges, but we can consider those part of the learning.”
Along with a difference in languages and broad range of cultural backgrounds, another challenge of the international collaboration was time zones, with Nantes six hours ahead of southern Ontario. Coordinating technology for the cross-cultural conversations also presented a challenge, as the two schools use different learning management platforms.
Boey and Quental say they see these challenges not as barriers, but as important experiences that will allow their students to develop skills and competencies in areas of cross-cultural conflict resolution and motivation they can use in their future professions.
“Working internationally, you need to take these issues into account and learn how to manage it,” says Quental. “This is part of their learning.”
Students managed well, using what they learned during group conversations to develop a comprehensive reflection report and a presentation shared during a final all-student meeting at the end of the term.
“I hope that other instructors take advantage of the resources and connections we have with Laurier International,” says Boey. “Laurier has partners all around the world and online learning makes for a rich environment of international collaborations, like joint projects or classes, with students from universities in other countries.”
Power says the pandemic and consequent adoption and expansion of online learning has brought to light how integrated and interdependent the world has become and how critical it is to graduate global citizens who can work effectively across differences.
“The international relationships that students develop and familiarity with the partner university can build confidence in students to expand their academic and professional goals,” says Power. “To ensure we continue to graduate global citizens who value difference and thrive in an intercultural and international context, Laurier International continues to create connections for intercultural interactions and space for students to apply their learning with students situated around the world.”