Finding My Place in the Cross-Cultural Communication Field
It was three years ago that my career gained what I thought was to be my launch into the global market. After graduating from college and achieving my dream job of working at a huge corporation in Tokyo, the unexpected occurred. Within six months, I quit and moved back to my home country, the USA.
Deciding to leave so quickly shocked not only my community, but also myself. I had spent four years learning about Japanese language and culture. Having studied abroad, researched, and interned in Japan. I had braced myself for expected sexism in the workplace, strong drinking culture, and even power harassment. However, the one thing that was I had not prepared for was my own lack of cultural agility.
Despite knowing what the Japanese perspective might be, I found myself defining right and wrong. I would often deem Japanese corporate culture to be unhealthy for its collective mindset, in contrast to my valuing individuality and freedom as someone raised in the USA. When I ended up leaving Japan to pursue a career in cross-cultural communication, I came away from the experience subconsciously wanting to fix Japan. I had a vision and a strategic plan; next steps were to gain the tools.
Overwhelmed, confused, and nervous… I was sitting in front of my computer screen at 2:00 a.m. on a Tuesday night (2014), staring at a list of hundreds of schools around the world that appeared in the search result for “Masters Degree in Communications.”
Our Corporate and Organizational Communication program attracts a diverse body of students from around the world, drawn by the opportunity to study in Boston and make connections with a global network of students and alumni. As the lead faculty for our Public Relations concentration, I interviewed a recent alumnus, Pablo Cateriano Llosa. Pablo works in his family-owned PR firm in Lima, Peru.
As we forge into this Information Age and World of Robotics, the concept of Human Literacy has been introduced to the stage. What is Human Literacy? Northeastern University President Aoun has proposed Human Literacy to mean our unique abilities to adapt, collaborate, and offer empathy in comparison to computational literacy generated through artificial intelligence. This new use of the term human literacy is an example of a cultural linguistic adjustment in professional studies within higher education. This is where the idea of a cultural audit takes footing. So, what is a cultural audit?
I am a learner. I love reading articles, books, taking courses – you name it. If I can learn from it, I’m in.
But, even so, it took me a while to go back and get my master’s degree. I knew it would be an investment, and because of that, I wanted to choose wisely. I left college years ago, went on to have a series of great jobs, and slowly came back around to the idea of going back to school.
Surprise! There is more to corporate communications than writing press releases. We showcased this with five Boston-based graduate students, who joined the MilliporeSigma Corporate Communications team for a day. As alumni from the Corporate and Organizational Communication’s program, we know how exciting it can be to apply classroom learning in the real world.
In 2015, Carlos Colon Raldiris, relocated from his island home in Puerto Rico to the vibrant city of Boston to advance his studies in project management at Northeastern University. He completed his undergraduate degree in Public Communication with Film and TV Production at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. Carlos reminisced about his last semester working as an intern at a small agency called Nostrom Images Group Corp. He assisted in the production processes for TV commercials. In addition, Carlos produced a short movie and a music video for his advanced film courses as a part of his final projects.
Upon starting classes for his degree in project management, Carlos discovered that the Public Relations concentration within the Masters of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication was more appealing. He decided to change his direction and pursue this new passion in public relations. “Even if you have an idea or mindset about something, that doesn’t mean that’s what you are going to end up doing,” explained Carlos. He was selected for a co-op offering the opportunity to use his public relations knowledge and broadcasting background.
Landing the Right Co-op
As the saying goes, “third time is the charm.” Carlos first worked at a public relations agency, then a marketing agency. Those two experiential learning opportunities helped to prepare him for his “favorite” and third co-op at American Public Television. Carlos was hired at American Public Television as a Business Development and Marketing Assistant. His role included but was not limited to composing press releases, notification letters to producers and creating marketing materials for international TV buyers at an annual convention in Paris.
Carlos shared, “Northeastern has a great way of preparing students for work,” as he highlighted ways in which he planned for his co-op. During the co-op preparation process, Carlos learned how to connect his personal objectives with his professional endeavors from his co-op course, Career and Development. He researched various organizations and job requirements to ensure they were in line with his career.
Not only had Carlos gained experience in storytelling, media and broadcasting, he also tapped into his acting skills by appearing in a few documentaries as a prop.
The Power of Co-op
The type of real-world experience Carlos attained during his co-op created a pathway for him to apply for a full-time position at WGBH Television. “This co-op helped me to target exactly where I wanted to go,” Carlos shared. His co-op encouraged him to hone his networking skills, cross-cultural communication skills, and gain work experience while completing his masters program. Carlos voiced, “It’s important to learn how to address intercultural differences in the workplace. I experienced this at the office, but I was never frustrated because Northeastern taught me how to deal with it.” He also mentioned how he learned to adjust to different organizational cultures while being cognizant of the various communication styles. One challenge he overcame was learning how to brand himself and network in a room filled with CEOs from popular television networks, such as PBS.
Carlos shared some advice for co-op and job-seekers:
Don’t let the opinion of others dictate where you go. “You need to taste the waters of wherever you want to go.”
Take your co-op seriously, be responsible. But, don’t forget to have fun as well.
“Doing a co-op/internship is the best thing,” exclaimed Carlos “everyone should do it if they want to have a successful professional life.”
Build relationships with your colleagues in the office. “Don’t always be formal. There are moments when the informal interaction matters.”
“Do your job at work, but also check other parts in the office where you can help someone.”
Carlos shared that his third and final co-op was incredibly rewarding. He was able to view the TV industry through different lenses, from co-op student at American Public Television to a full-time Broadcasting Scheduling Assistant at WGBH Television. Carlos will continue to immerse himself in the TV industry. His ultimate career goal is to become a writer/producer of short films and/or documentaries.
In the last six months, we’ve been doing a lot to embed experiential learning opportunities into our master’s curriculum, from traditional co-ops to international field study courses to experiential capstones.
For me, experiential learning means, quite simply, learning in action. This happens when we apply a skill, a concept, an insight, a new way of looking at things in order to communicate more effectively. This is what we hope to motivate and enable our students (and our alumni!) to do.
An example. Nicole Wild Merle, a recent alumna who is based in Charlotte, applied what she learned in her social media and assessment courses in a co-op project, WomenVotes. You can read about this creative initiative here.
But this was just the first step. Along with many other volunteers and nonprofits, Nicole has harnessed digital media to help people get to the polls. As Brian Rashid writes in Forbes, “Carpool2Vote is the first ever volunteer based app that provides free rides to the polls for people all across America. Even the major ridesharing platforms are not offering such a service. Yes, they offer vouchers and gift certificates, but only one-way, and only to new users. Carpool2Vote, on the other hand, offers free rides to anyone who signs up. No credit redemptions. No stress about whether or not you are a first time user. Free for everyone.”
We’d like to hear your stories of ‘learning in action’ — share your stories by commenting or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. to tell your full story in your own blog post”.