The case describes the cross-cultural interaction between an American student, Sarah James and a Mexican host family. Sarah James, attends to a Mexican university (INI) because she has been accepted for her academic success during the summer to develop her language and cross-cultural capabilities. At the end of a successful semester, she sends an email to the director of international recruitment for the Mexican University and she makes a copy for her major professor in the United States complaining about the treatment she received from her host family. She seems to have disaffected all parties involved as she avoids the problem. On one hand, McGill had been attempting to build a relationship with the administration at INI in hopes of sending more students there for cross-cultural and language training. On the other hand, McGill knows he has to deal with the complaints of the student and solve them to provide professionalism and loyalty.
As it was discussed in class, Sarah’s success in Mexico is important to a number of parties. Obviously, Sarah can benefit from her education and internship in Mexico; in addition to her degree, she can gain experience and a great opportunity to add references to her eventual business resume. For PLU, the exchange program offers a marketing opportunity in the ability to provide students of international manage-ment courses with international work experience which make the college more at-tractive to prospective students. Similar benefits come to INI. Finally, the families which hosted the students can benefit because of the fact that they are paid, and they can have a cross-cultural interaction.
According to the text, her reference to ‘hearing’ about the culture and beliefs fur-ther tells us that she did make an effort prior to her trip, to truly learn about Mexi-co culture and its different beliefs. However, her interaction with the host family culture is almost nonexistent. She does not participate in it. She seems to spend her time with her host family looking exclusively through her own cultural lens. This is particularly apparent in her complaints about the host family not being prepared for her vegetarian diet. As Lee Stacy states in Mexico and United States, 2002, the Mexican diet relies heavily on beef, on chicken and on lard for preparing many dishes. Sarah appears to not having researched the commonality of vegetarianism where she would be staying; to having any advance preparations regarding it; or to offering to purchase and cook her own food to accommodate it.
Far from considering the additional work and expense for the host family, Sarah seems to have simply expected them to provide for her needs, and not to have been appreciative of their efforts in that regard. It is worth mentioning that she was not the only student to encounter this issue which means that it is a failure in planning on the part of PLU. This university had no knowledge of what preparations were made by INI with the host families.
In the text there are lots of additional indications that Sarah viewed her host family not committed. With regard to a ride to the airport on the day of her departure, the ‘host mother indicated several times’ she would provide transportation. If this sub-ject was mentioned ‘several times’ the message may in fact have been that it was troublesome in terms of schedule, expense and inconvenience for the host mother. When the question arose of payment for the day of student’s departure, Sarah simply suggested the host family contact INI.
Far from being concerned about whether than how the loss of a partial days’ sti-pend would impact the family, Sarah never gives a thought as to why the family brought it up to her. According to Mexico and United States published by Lee Stacy in 2002, Mexico is a collectivistic country; that is, hierarchies are highly considered and it is seen as taboo to try to avoid them. In this situation or case, INI in general and Alberto Jiminez in particular may be viewed as authority figures. It might seem disloyal or disrespectful to Jiminez for the host family to complain and asking for the partial day stipend. They may also fear exclusion from future opportunities to host new students. If Sarah contacted INI to ask about the payment, the request would not be seen as an idea of the host family. Finally, when Sarah mentions that she would be moving to her own apartment for future terms she has no idea of how this would be perceived by either university; how it might impact the program and how her decision might directly impact her host family. The salary that the host family earned during her stay probably made up a significant portion of their in-come.
Her unilateral decision to move out would adversely impact them not only in the short term, like the loss of salary, but possibly also in the long term (if they were not offered the opportunity to host other students). Additionally, the potential neg-ative impact to the program and the relationship between the universities is enor-mous. Sarah is a product of her culture which is clearly individualistic in all her views, freely sharing commentary on what she thinks should have been done to make her more comfortable.
Her feedback seems to have been mainly a venue for complaint about how the pro-gram did not allow her to live her own lifestyle in the Mexican culture, missing the point of the program and not benefitting from the opportunity she was given. She didn’t truly learn about Mexico and its people. She was not open-minded and looked at the situation only from the perspective of her own benefit, learning op-portunity, and convenience or inconvenience.
She completely ignores the fact that she was staying in someone’s home. While Sa-rah may be viewed as ‘flexible or versatile and cooperative’ in her own environ-ment, she clearly feels her own lifestyle, her culture. With regard to preparation and training, several failures are evident. The selection and preparation process for both students and host families is clearly lacking or there are a lot of steps missing. Even the basic information collected on the students for example, dietary re-strictions, seemed not to have been shared with, or explained to, the host families. The two universities need to collaborate to develop a thorough selection and prepa-ration program. For students, there should be a requirement for them to demon-strate an understanding of the day to day world in which they will be living – diet, cooking, shopping, transportation, family schedule, religious observations – and what they can and cannot expect from their hosts.
Most of all, the universities need to recognize that as young adults it may never occur to some of these students that they are not entitled to special treatment from a family on whom they are, after all, imposing. Part of the preparation process should be to orient them to the fact that they are moving into a home and sharing a family situation. For host families, it would seem that very little information was provided to them about their student; in fact, the case study tells us that PLU had no knowledge what, if any, preparation was undertaken for the host families.
As it was discussed in class, in terms of selection, a simple survey on attitudes, be-liefs, schedules, flexibility and requirements might help make more successful matches between families and students. Providing biographical information and allowing advance correspondence between the parties would allow them some in-troduction prior to the program beginning. A basic talk about day to day life may increase comfort levels and given stakeholders an opportunity to ask basic ques-tions they may not wish to ask ‘authorities’. On an ongoing basis, compiling these questions and sharing the answers with each successive group of participants would go a long way. Equally important, if a student or family is not a good fit for the pro-gram, this would give them a way to recognize that before it is too late.
After each term, the students and families should be surveyed as to what went well, what did not work, and what could have been done differently to make the program more successful. Once Sarah released her email, it was critical to the future of the program that the situation she created be properly handled. Professor McGill would need to personally reach out to Albert Jiminez to offer apologies for Sarah’s lack of sensitivity. A discussion with the host family (especially the mother, who likely bore the brunt of the inconvenience of Sarah’s visit) should be held to ensure that their side of situation was understood. The input of the host family should be solicited; apologies offered to INI and to the family for the offense given; and a plan drawn up to make the program more successful going forward. Careful listening, planning, and agreement between the schools may be able to ease the tension Sarah unwit-tingly created. As the first student in an effort intended to promote international business major program and build the relationship between PLU and INI, Sarah was in a precarious position. She does not seem to have been prepared to truly learn about Mexico by living like her hosts and considering her impact on them.
Beyond expressions of gratitude for the opportunity she was given Sarah’s contact should all have been with and through Professor McGill. Also, she need not have waited until her term was over. Opening the door to communication before a prob-lem escalates will usually allow us to control how big a problem it becomes. Globali-zation requires companies to seek employees who understand how business is con-ducted globally. The program in which Sarah enrolled was intended to prepare her for an increasingly competitive international business world.
In conclusion, Sarah had the opportunity to become grounded in a culture and lan-guage foreign to her, but due to her own self-absorption, as well as failure to plan on the part of both universities, I believe she missed out on the potential benefits.
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