Columns, Opinion

WHITING: A global perspective

I’m at Café Vanille, a French patisserie-type joint on the corner of Charles and Mt. Vernon Streets in Beacon Hill, sitting with a friend who just got back from visiting family in Leeds and Edinburgh. A man just ordered a croissant with a German accent (I think?), and the couple to my right is speaking Spanish.

That’s a fair amount of internationalism for a place that’s half the size of the Warren Towers Starbucks. Epiphany of the day: you don’t need to study abroad to get a taste of the international in Boston. Or in anywhere, for that matter — the States have always been a melting pot of cultures, and globalism’s been a fact of worldly life since Native Americans migrated to Minnesota, the Europeans discovered cinnamon and sugar and Subway introduced Tuscan chicken to the menu. You catch my continental drift.

What I’m realizing is that here — and at Boston University in particular — I’ve got the world at my fingertips. When I first arrived at school, I remember the most exciting thing for me was that I heard a different language on what seemed like every street corner. My freshman year dorm floor housed students from Qatar, Venezuela, China, Japan, Pakistan and Canada. Boston University boasts the country’s oldest study abroad program, and international relations is one of the university’s largest majors (and it’s turned out to be a practical field of study for my roommate, who’s now dating a guy from England). My best college friends are from London, Mumbai and Oslo, and other close acquaintances hail from Singapore, Israel, Russia, Uzbekistan, Algeria, Morocco and Iran.

The New York Times and International Herald Tribune’s most recent Global Employability Survey has ranked the employability of BU graduates 17th in the world and 10th in the country, right under Princeton University (holler!). Granted, what makes a person employable is subjective and hard to generalize. But if I had to guess, what makes BU students particularly favorable in an increasingly global world is (in addition to our apparently high standards, re: BU is famous for grade deflation) our school’s highly international profile.

According to Kenneth Freeman, the dean of the School of Management, global employers look for the “four Cs” when hiring: cultural awareness, communication skills, collaboration and creativity.

“They aspire to hire individuals who are sensitive to the impact of cultural differences across countries in the ways business is conducted,” he says.

As BU offers a slice of the world (cliché statement — overflow of Terrier Pride — deal with it), it produces global citizens for a global marketplace. I guess learning the “four Cs” is probably easier when you’ve got students from Sweden and Sudan in your classes. No matter how much time I spend cooped up in my apartment, I’m always provided the chance to become well versed in intercultural communication — that is, cross-cultural communication, which arises when an organization is composed of individuals from different ethnic, social, religious and educational backgrounds and which seeks to understand how people from different counties and cultures interact, communicate with and respond to the world around them.

This is key to success on the global platform. You must learn to distinguish cultural nuances. Last spring I worked for an advertising agency in Paris. We called ourselves “cultural communications specialists” because we worked to raise brand profiles internationally. Such expansion necessitates knowledge of different languages and an understanding of how to approach a variety of cultural demographics. I found a BU background to be quite helpful.

True, internationalism isn’t everyone’s passion or end goal. There’s something to be said for small-town consistency (I grew up a block away from my grandparents). Last week I was in Somerville with a friend from Germany, at the Burren Irish Pub, drinking Belgian palm ale next to an old man eating bangers and mash. He told us he’d lived in Somerville his entire life. I was impressed. My date, meanwhile, who works for TripAdvisor, was not.

“The world is global now,” he said. “You don’t learn anything if you stay in one place with the same people, even if you eat hummus and Thai food and practice yoga.”

Access to other places is easy thanks to both StudentUniverse plane ticket prices and the World Wide Web.

And he’s right. That’s why I came across the country to a world-class city for school: because I wanted to meet the world — to widen my perspective and learn to approach things differently and accept a number of viewpoints. (So progressive, so romantic.) I learned a lot from a junior year abroad, but on campus alone I’ve been able to do this.

On Friday, I pulled myself away from Stephen Akey’s memoir about college to attend a meeting with IMPACT, a think-tank group on campus. I sat eating arepas with students from Ghana and Milan while we Skyped an activist in Venezuela and discussed educational inequalities around the globe.

It occurred to me that although we’d all come from different places, have experienced different things and are undoubtedly going in different directions, we’d all come together to a basement in South Campus for the sole aim of hearing and presenting different worldly perspectives. BU’s campus is a little nutshell of International Relations. After four years we’ll all disperse — we’ll go home, or we’ll go forth into the world. But either way, when it comes down to it, no matter where we’ve come from or where we’re going, we’re all students just trying to learn a bit more about the world, and, maybe, start working toward global progress. And if that’s not common ground, I don’t know what is.


Anne Whiting is senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected].

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