As a Full-Time MBA student in the International Business track we are required to do two international consulting practicums on two different continents during our tenure as MBA graduate students. This past January, I had the pleasure of joining a diverse group of MBA students from USD to work as a consulting team for a company in Shanghai City. The company we were assigned to is iPai, an American auction company whose goal is to bring auction of daily items to the general Chinese public. I primarily chose Shanghai City, the heart of financial and business operations in China, due to the lack of a language barrier and my understanding of the basics of Chinese culture. I figured that by eliminating the stressors of inability to communicate and not understanding how the culture operates, I would be able to focus on the consulting project at hand. Sound reasoning right? Boy was I wrong. Ironically, the consulting project turned out to be the easy part of the whole practicum experience and the cultural navigation was the hard part.
While overall communication did not pose much of a problem, it was much harder for me to navigate the Chinese cultural scene due to great discrepancies in the varieties of regional Chinese culture. For example, in Taiwanese culture calling a young female ‘miss’ (Xiǎojiě) or an elder female ‘Ah yi’ would be a sign of respect; however in Shanghai, I discovered that calling any female ‘Xiǎojiě’ would be the equivalent of implying they work in the red-light district and calling any elders ‘Ah yi’ would demote them to a cleaning lady or a female of low social class. The social stakes were high, and I learned quickly for fear of offending any more people than I absolutely had to – replacing ‘miss’ with the unisex formal name to address a server and ‘Ah yi’ with ‘older sister.’ These two phrases were just a couple of the multiple daily phrases that I had to constantly adjust to over the course of two weeks.
There were times I was envious of my colleagues for not being held to the same cultural expectations that I was, but that envy gave way when it was time to read the lunch menu!
It was definitely a different experience having to watch every word I said and how I said it, since the most innocent words could offend. The whole experience humbled me and taught me that despite growing up in a Chinese environment and culture, there is still much for me to learn.
-Submitted by Alice Shih, a 1st year Full-Time MBA student in the International Business track. Prior to joining University of San Diego’s MBA Program Alice worked as Research Programs Coordinator for the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at UCSD