Starting a new master’s program in business can be tough for anyone. Starting that program in a specialized, complex academic area after moving to the university from another country with its own set of values, cultures, and languages? That’s beyond daunting. But each year, students in the specialized master’s program come from across the globe to get an education—and a broader mindset—at Olin.
This year, the Office of Graduate Studies embarked on a new adventure with those students—dedicating the weeks before the semester started to acclimating international students to St. Louis. This began with Passport, an internationally-focused, three-week event that introduced students to the intricacies of American culture and interpersonal skills.
Also new this year and available to international and domestic students alike was Career Stamp, the professional counterpart to Passport that bolstered professional skills like self-branding and networking. Career Stamp is the product of the Weston Career Center’s resources, staff, and skills, led by Mark Schlafly.
Career Stamp attempts to bridge the gap between cultures by giving students a feel for the professional norms of US business in a safe space—whether they’re from the US or not. It’s meant to introduce students to a business way of thinking, through intensive career preparation before the semester begins.
“Things go so fast once the semester starts that it’s hard to find the time to get things done,” explained Laura Hollabaugh, academic advisor for SMP students. “These are things that will help students be prepared for whatever’s ahead. Passport and Career Stamp are the building blocks, and then the students can build the confidence to keep moving and not slow down.”
Those building blocks have given international students a new level of comfort with themselves and in their studies. Jessica Jiang, an incoming accounting student from Beijing, appreciated the use of the CareerLeader self-assessment and how it helped her create a personal brand. “I didn’t know that I enjoyed leading people before I did the assessment.”
While the self-assessment, as well as other presentations on research and job skills, were incredibly important, many students’ favorite memory was an exercise in networking. Not a typically popular practice, particularly with brand-new international students, the networking session was made much brighter thanks to a presence from R-S Theatrics Company, which provided helpful tips on how improv can guide a person through life – and business.
Jiang appreciated learning the No. 1 rule of improv: always respond “yes, and.” “It means accept and adapt. It really works out for me,” she said. “I love to talk a lot—so maybe I have to listen more to adapt. I had to realize that maybe sometimes I’m shutting down the conversation.”
Dylan Chen (BSCS ’18), an incoming customer analytics student, appreciated the use of improv as a lens for learning to network. “Life is a lot like improvisation,” he reflected. “A lot of it is random, and you have to improvise on the spot to keep it going. Being able to be a people-person, make people feel like you care about them, are interested in them, and you want to have a conversation with them.”
The culmination of Career Stamp and the beginning of a new school year leaves much to be done – and these students’ time at WashU and in the US are only just beginning. But students are already seeing the intended impact—they’re learning about themselves, they’re growing, and they’re gaining confidence.
Take it from Jessica. “I think I changed a lot through these five weeks. I’m more extroverted after this program. I have more skills. I know how to talk to people, I know some principles to communicate and network. And I met a lot of my fellow classmates. We made great friendships.