If you aspire to a global career, getting experience outside of your native culture is a great first step.
For Laurinda Grieve, Senior Campaign Coordinator at La Trobe, doing a seven week staff exchange program with Arizona State University (ASU) in Phoenix, US, gave her an international perspective on the global higher education market.
Laurinda shares how university in America compares with life at La Trobe, and how she adapted cleverly to cultural differences.
New vocabulary and quirky campus culture
One of the first differences Laurinda faced in the US was a new vocabulary.
“Before I came to Arizona, most of my references for American university life came from movies and TV series,” she says.
“Americans really do speak like that. First years are freshman, second years are sophomores, third years are juniors and those in their final year are seniors.”
About six per cent of students at ASU are in sororities or fraternities – social organisations similar to clubs and societies at Australian universities.
“At ASU, students who are part of sororities and fraternities are referred to as ‘Greek’. When I explained that in Australia ‘Greek’ means people or things from Greece, they were quite surprised.”
Laurinda also found differences in the structure of US degrees. American universities follow a generalist approach, motivated by a sense that students need a broad education before specialising.
“The extensive list of Bachelor degrees you can do in Australia doesn’t exist – people looked at me a bit funny when I said I had a Bachelor of Commerce,” she says.
“There are really only three Bachelor degrees that you can do: arts, science or engineering. Studies such as medicine and law can only be done at a postgraduate level.”
Common ground: shared values and elite sport
Being optimistic about cultural differences and open to new language is key to working successfully across countries. These attitudes are part of positive indifference – a mindset that can make it easier to adapt to new ways of working without becoming overly distressed.
“What I keep at the forefront of my mind when I travel is something I learnt as an exchange student: ‘It’s not better or worse, it’s just different,” Laurinda says.
“It helps prevent culture shock. You enter your new environment embracing the differences, not continually comparing the two countries.”
When you’re working in a different culture, it’s also useful to look for common ground. Identifying shared values can help you better understand your colleagues and improve how you work together as a team.
Laurinda found lots of similarities between ASU and La Trobe University. For example, both institutions pride themselves on their inclusiveness, providing access to higher education for students who are first in their family to attend uni, from regional or rural areas, or of Indigenous background.
“They offer proof that you don’t need to exclude people to produce outstanding graduates and world-renowned research,” Laurinda says.
Another similarity is the emphasis on sport. College sport is a huge part of the university experience in the US. The most popular sports for audiences are football (grid iron), basketball and baseball. Students who excel in sports are offered sports scholarships to university, which eases the burden of college fees. However, they aren’t paid for playing their sport.
La Trobe also recognises the needs of students who compete in sport at an elite level. Our Elite Athlete Program supports over 100 elite athlete students to combine their academic and sporting pursuits. And our world-class Sports Park will provide a unique environment for play, performance, teaching and research in sport.
Enthusiasm and an open mind
If you’re keen to gain international experience and manage cross-cultural projects, taking a semester exchange while you’re at uni can be a good start. Getting work experience in the local office of a global company can also help you understand diverse ways of working.
And when your career leads you to take on global responsibilities, Laurinda has one key piece of advice: be approachable and passionate.
“I was genuinely excited by the opportunity to work in the US, so I approached everything enthusiastically and with an open mind,” Laurinda says.
“Being friendly goes a long way. Everyone at ASU was so lovely to me, generous with their time and made me feel very welcome.”
See yourself in a global career? Find out where a course at La Trobe University can take you.