Photos: Josh Groves, Holly Enloe, Madison McDonald, and Andrew Bennett; Holly and Madison with new purchases; students tour Vienna
Hardin-Simmons University students returning from a Model United Nations experience in Vienna, Austria, met in the first of four classroom discussions regarding what they learned about culture, diplomacy, leadership and teamwork, and how technology helped them communicate and solve problems.
The HSU students were among 250 students from 40 countries attending the August conference. Hardin-Simmons University professor of management and leadership and the director of the Leadership Studies Program, Dr. Coleman Patterson, said the trip to the Model United Nations is one of the many things our leadership program does to prepare students for leadership on a global scale.
Gathering in the Leadership Studies conference center on the first floor of the HSU Skiles Building, students Josh Groves, a sophomore fitness, recreation, and sports management major from Lindale, Texas; Holly Enloe, an accounting and finance major from Desoto, Texas; Madison McDonald, a freshman management major from Bay City, Texas; and Andrew Bennett, a management major from San Antonio, Texas; debriefed about their first European experience. Although Holly had previously spent several weeks in Ireland, the trip to Vienna was her first to a non-English speaking country.
This first session was for the express purpose of analyzing values, assumptions made by people groups, influences of culture on behavior, and culture shock and adaptation. Cultural shock dominated the bulk of the class discussion, from higher prices for soft drinks and food, to the differences in courtesy, customer service, language, and architecture.
Patterson pointed out that even simple things were challenging at first. “Something as simple as the numbering of floors at the apartment complex where we stayed, that was one of the students’ first challenges,” said Patterson.
“To us, as Americans, our apartment was on the equivalent of the fourth floor,” said Josh. But in reality, we were on the third floor; the ground floor was not counted as the first floor there.”
Josh said the differences in languages were especially apparent on the Viennese subway, with all of the announcements of stops in German. “I was grateful, however, that much of the signage included English. I don’t think we (in America) are as accommodating. For instance, during a layover in Washington D.C., the signs were only in English.” Holly questioned rhetorically, “But what other language would you use?”
Josh related a story about a Russian couple dealing with their own language barriers in Austria. “I felt bad for them. They grabbed my arm and communicated that they were lost from their hotel. They were asking us for help! We couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand us.” Patterson said the students provided some assistance, however, because the name of the couple’s hotel was shown in English on a map. “We pointed to the subway stop where they should get off,” said Patterson.
Other learning moments included the operation of equipment, like the washing machine in their apartment and drying clothes on a rack instead of in a dryer. Students pointed out that some of the differences, however, could be attributed to climate, rather than culture, like the lack of air-conditioning in their apartment.
Primarily, the students said they felt a real since of accomplishment when they were able to navigate their way around public transportation successfully.
Madison said the trip made her appreciate her home in America. “I was ready to be back where I didn’t have to deal with cultural and language barriers,” she said.
Josh said he appreciated the efforts of the Europeans and those from other continents to express themselves in English at the English-language conference. “English was not the first language of most of the participants, but we all worked together for a common goal.”
Holly said, “I thought it was really cool to see things that we don’t see every day. I really appreciated learning about things that were out of the ordinary.”
As students wrapped up their debriefing session, talk turned to future European visits. Students are already dreaming of more cultural experiences at Model United Nations events in other countries. The frontrunners for now appear to be Paris, France; and The Hague, The Netherlands.
Students will continue their debriefing discussions in upcoming meetings regarding diplomacy, problem solving, politics, and what they learned about themselves during the conference. They will be required to provide insights and examples regarding learned leadership and teamwork skills, and how they can now better communicate with people from around the world.