From East to West: Reflections on immersing myself in new cultures at Hult
Born and raised in Vietnam, I am proud to call myself a global citizen, with a Western education and Eastern values.
Being in an international environment like Hult has totally made me the person I am today. After working and studying with people from around the world, I have become more confident, adaptive, critical in my thinking, and open-minded.
But adjusting to new cultures can take a while.
Understanding cultural differences
Vietnamese people are hard-working, friendly, kindhearted, and live for their pride. I find many “typical” Vietnamese values have influenced the I way carry myself, especially the value of family.
In a collective environment like Vietnam, people tend to define themselves as a part of a group, rather than as an individual. On the other hand, I’ve found that my peers from other backgrounds tend to define themselves more as individuals.
“I find many ‘typical’ Vietnamese values have influenced the I way carry myself, especially the value of family.”
This difference became crystal clear when working on group projects with other nationalities. In a group context, I’d rather sit back and observe before speaking my mind. I’m very careful with what I say. And I could be seen as modest and extremely shy when it came to expressing opinions.
This is different from Western cultures where people are encouraged to speak their minds.
Personally, I think the most effective way to overcome the challenge of cultural barriers is by not being afraid to throw yourself into the situation. Give it a shot and be understanding. The more you experience other cultures, the less challenging it will be in the future.
Also, keep in mind that your fellow classmates are going through the same experience, so don’t be too hard on them either.
The benefits of cross-cultural friendships
You will gain a lot from being friends with people from around the world.
Besides some obvious benefits (like having free accommodation every time you travel!), the best thing about making friends from overseas is definitely that you will become more culturally sensitive. This can save you from embarrassing situations when you interact with new people from other countries. This sensitivity also helps you to be more adaptive in cross-cultural professional contexts.
My mindset has totally changed after having friends from other cultural backgrounds. It has changed the way I see different cultures, religions, and lifestyles, and has positively influenced my perspective on life.
“You will gain a lot from being friends with people from around the world.”
From undergrad in London to a masters in Boston: another cultural change
Regardless of how similar the cultures seem to each other, I’ve found British and American culture to be very different, too. And it’s more than just the choice of words and a preferred beverage, like tea or coffee.
I’ve found Americans to be somewhat more open and sociable. For example, strangers greeting each other is considered a social norm in America. Americans can also be very straightforward—they’re not hesitant to discuss issues. On the other hand, I’ve found that British people often express to themselves in a very reserved and polite way. (Brits can also have a sarcastic sense of humor!)
Sharing cultural traditions
My first truly American experience was Thanksgiving. I was fortunate enough to experience Thanksgiving with a very loving American family. It helped me understand more about the American values, social habits, and norms.
Then, during Lunar New Year, which is the biggest holiday in Vietnam, I was able to share a cultural tradition of my own. I gave my friends red envelopes. It is a tradition of Vietnam to give your loved ones red envelopes with money inside (chocolate coins in my case) to wish them luck and fortune in the new year.
At Hult, I’ve been educated to lead, to be open-minded, creative, and hardworking. Such a multicultural educational environment helps me to prepare for the real world, with practical skills in both business and self-improvement—a critical mindset and cultural sensitivity.
I believe this will prepare me to perform well in today’s global professional context.
“Such a multicultural educational environment helps me to prepare for the real world.”
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