You have won an exchange visit to a School in a foreign country. That’s the good news. But how will you break into the culture in teams that have already formed among your new classmates? How can you fit in? You have to work out quickly what works for you. Here’s a learning aid which helps.
On boat race weekend in England, I looked at how Cambridge might have applied business school theory to help win the boat race. Well, they won the boat race. That doesn’t ‘prove’ anything about leadership theory. But it did encourage me to think about applying a little more practical advice to students on exchange. This is one of the times of year when students arrive ‘on exchange’. For many, a big issue will be how to fit in with their new classmates.
I want to concentrate on exchange students who find themselves working with other students on a common task, such as a business school project. The British saying applies to each one: ‘you are all in the same boat’.
The tyranny of the task
First, a general observation. I have been able to help quite a few exchange students over the years. The ones who really struggle have a few things in common. The first is that they fall under the influence of a dictator. The dictator is the workload they find themselves dealing with. Like other dictators, the power is partly exercised by compliance of the people. We conspire to create the dictators we deserve. This is mostly an unconscious process. As someone becomes more under pressure, the tyranny appears more intolerable.
The process is made tougher because the new arrival faces a lot of disorientation, and has to deal with being different. Maybe this will involve working in a different language. It will probably mean working in a different culture. That’s the personal conditions. There may be the requirements of the home institution, and the ‘carry-over’ grades towards the wider qualification. It’s tough if you have no family issues to deal with. It’s tough if you have family back home, or if you brought them with you…
Make it easier: confronting your gremlins
There are ways you can make it easier on yourself. First, let’s cut that tyrant down to size. Remember those childhood monsters? What helped you grow out of their tyrannical power? There’s a Government campaign in the UK. Ordinary people have a tyrannical demon, a gremlin which holds them back. The gremlin in the campaign is the fear that a weakness is holding you back. In that case, it is fear of failure. The objective weakness is being unable to read. Behind that, the weakness is having to cover it up. The objective ‘solution’ in the campaign is for the poor reader to take an evening course. The psychological message is to confront your gremlin. Are you making it worse by not admitting what your problems are – to yourself and to other people? In other words, it is you who are making the task tougher by supporting the tyrant. You can do something about it.
Learn from others
There will almost certainly be someone you can learn from. ‘I’m not like her. I’m different’. For sure. And there are ways when there are enough similarities for you to learn from other people. Otherwise you have learned from yourself, but you’ve learned mostly that there’s nothing you can learn to change things. That’s called learned helplessness. Take a look at a few other students who seem to have good ways of beating your particular gremlins. You are in the same boat.
Thinking yourself out of trouble: remapping your journey
Here’s a technique that works for a lot of people. It requires you to find a metaphor or different map for your journey. It has been used for thousands of years in various ways in various cultures. One leadership development textbook is based on the steps of such map reading, map testing and map making. But reading a whole book might be too much of a concession to your gremlins at present. So I’ve come up with a speed-dating version. All you need is five minutes to put your thoughts to the little mental exercise I’m about to describe. Just promise yourself you may find something worthwhile in the process.
Imagine your favorite team sport. Imagine you have moved into a new town in a new country. You contact the town’s club in that sport. When you visit the club, you really like it, and want to join. Joining is mainly getting signed up. But now you want to become a member of the first team there. You are invited to a trial with that team. But everyone else has already played on the team. You have trouble even communicating in their language. (Did I mention that?). So what do you do?
Now imagine you succeed, and become a much-admired member of the team. What steps did you take to do that?
Now how about that exchange team you are joining?
What lessons can you import from your metaphorical journey to help you join a project team during your exchange? It worked in your imagination. See how to make it work in practice.
Please suggest ideas for others
Please suggest any ideas you think would help others. From you own experience, or just because you want to take part in a discussion. What sport did you chose? What surprising insights did you gain from the map-making?
This post, in particular, will benefit from a community exchanging ideas.