Inspiring Caring Leaders Across Cultures  

Managing M Exchange


Published Date : Dec 27, 2017

Porntip Kanjananiyot
Chotima Chaitiamwong
Thailand-United States Educational Foundation
(TUSEF/Fulbright Thailand)

 

Abstract

Student exchange remains an effective mechanism for education cooperation and networking of higher education institutions, moving toward internationalization. Priorities are, however, more on the exchange administration rather than the students who are the very key component of the exchange, not to mention the staff. As today’s students, or the Millennials (M), are from a different generation from those administering the exchange programs, this paper aims to urge higher education institutions to seriously consider the different lifestyles, values, perceptions, and expectations of the Millennials, which call for different approaches to student exchanges based on the open-mindedness of policy makers and staff to learn more about the changing needs and characters. The paper also shares some of Fulbright Thailand’s experiences and observations in grant administration particularly in the past six years when the Millennials have dominated the pool of our grantees in our most popular programs.

 

Focusing on the Millennials

Many higher education institutions are hypnotized by the word “internationalization” and have been struggling, alone or allied, to integrate international elements into their delivery of education. As students are the main reason and the end result of higher education institutions’ missions and their internationalization, students are undoubtedly at the heart of their thinking and actions. The International Association of University 3rd Global Survey showed that student-oriented activities, naming, outgoing student mobility, student exchanges, and international student recruitment, have been made top priority under the international policy of the universities.

Here, we focus on student exchanges, which could be the most effective mechanism for integrating international elements into both host and home institutions. It is with the strong belief that exchanges not only foster relationships between the two, but they also heighten desirable qualities from intercultural adjustments in cross-cultural settings and understanding global issues to critical thinking and teamwork skills. Not surprisingly, the number of collaborative MOUs is mushrooming. Many of them die young though initially they do help add impressive figures to university profiles. Many others survive and flourish. There is no secret for the ‘best practices’ to sustain relationships through mutual agreements as the success all depends on individual context (leadership, mutual commitment, effective management, etc). Learning and sharing from others, however, are useful for us to see the possibilities of doing things better and in some cases, bring about innovations. With decades of managing the Fulbright grants and observing student exchanges administered by other institutions, we are aware of the increasing challenges at the core of any exchange – the students.

By their nature, higher education institutions are a big ‘salad bowl’ of people with different talents, diverse cultures, and multi-generations. They are worlds within our world. Placing students across institutions and countries will leave them in complex layers of different cultures. Although we are more connected today through technological advancement and the globalization process, being directly exposed to diverse cultures without proper guidance could become terrifying or meaningless, thus making exchange programs unsuccessful.

In administering an exchange program, higher education institutions tend to pay much attention to the ‘program’ itself, e.g. timeline, budget, criteria of the candidates, visa procedure, etc. Facilities also rank highly on the priority list and so it is quite common for universities to promote their world-class dormitories or libraries as part of the advantages to attract exchange students. Such physical environment is important. Yet, it is much more crucial for exchange administrations to focus on ‘students’ themselves who are, in fact, the targets, beneficiaries, and promoters of educational exchanges. By having a student focus, we urge universities to consider their actual needs and nature when designing and managing the exchanges. These, we believe, matter most.

 

Millennials, not Mars

Ironically, student exchange programs are designed and run by administrators or lecturers who are not the ones to participate in the programs, not to mention have different values and needs than other generations. They are mostly Boomers (those born around 1945-1946) and the Xers (around 1965-1978), who make efforts to provide the best program for the M (those born after 1979). Therefore, student exchanges are based on the judgments and standards of older generations, which could work very well…some twenty years ago.

The M, however, are not totally from Mars. In fact, they are the result of an evolution of their older generations with some similar characteristics. It could be argued that the M inherit the can-do attitude of Veterans, the teamwork spirit of Boomers, and the technological savvy of Xers. Nonetheless, they seem to accelerate these characteristics to the extent that the other generations could really feel uncomfortable.

From such mild negative feelings, misperception, and misunderstanding resulting from generation gaps could develop into a threat and, to be more relevant, a failure factor for student exchange. In managing the exchange program, again, we must first try to be in our students’ shoes.

 

The M-Factor and the Miscellaneous (Gender)

Literature reviews and Fulbright Thailand’s experiences have pinpointed six characteristics of the M that call for serious consideration by all those dealing with them and future generations to come. The following are discussed here as we have found them to be our rising challenges that are becoming more and more relevant to student exchange programs.

Pampered
Growing up in a time of high security and safety concerns, the M, regardless of how old they are and what status they assume, are closely supervised and very protected by their Boomer and Xer parents. Too frequently at Fulbright Thailand we receive calls or unexpected visits from parents, who want to intervene in our working processes, simply to ‘ask something about my kid’. Obviously, because the M are pampered and sheltered, they somehow lose skills for conflict resolution. Their lives are so directed and structured that they could feel so lost if they are not provided enough information in advance. As a result, some cannot even ‘feed’ themselves because they are very much used to being fed!

Entitlement
Evidently, the M have been raised to believe they are special and important people, which results in their continued craving for attention. Every step of their life is celebrated with a belief that “the results don’t matter, as long as you did your best”. There is no surprise that, to the older generations, the M are spoiled and always think they can do more than they actually can. In other words, they have unrealistically high expectations and a strong sense of entitlement. It is always the case, in which Fulbright grantees or even candidates are more concerned about their ‘rights’ than their responsibilities.

Speed
Born with Google, Facebook, and many other high-tech innovations, the M adopt technology naturally and use it to speed up life. They value efficiency and are not limited by the so called ‘appropriateness’, which can make them look impolite (e.g. texting during a conference, wearing jeans for an interview), impatient (regardless of the real necessity, they want everything done now!) and careless in tending to details (focus more on speed rather than quality of work). They are multi-taskers who proudly complete different assignments within a minute, leaving us at the Fulbright office repeatedly spending hours or days correcting them.

Social Networking
For the M, technology is about connecting. Cell phones, iPhones, and iPads are survival tools for them to get connected anywhere anytime. They are active networkers through social media such as Facebook and Twitter in a way that exceeds the six degrees of separation idea. Inside cyberspace, they can do anything within a blink of an eye e.g. updating news, sending/receiving messages, sharing opinions, and even getting their work done. Facebook, for Fulbright Thailand, has become an effective tool in reaching long lost/silent grantees/alumni and in passing along messages to our network. Still, it is a surprise that sometimes we receive formal messages through Facebook.

Teamwork
More than other generations, the M tend to be group-oriented, working well as a team. When given an assignment, they naturally delegate jobs among themselves, based on individual specific skills and knowledge. Obviously, since the M are natural collaborators, they work faster and more effectively as a team. On the flip side, they would easily hand their own jobs off so that they could fully focus their talents to something else. At Fulbright Thailand, we, nonetheless, find it very effective to ‘subcontract’ our young grantees to organize parts of our activities such as study visits, community services, and orientation sessions for the next batch.

Gender at Will
Along with increasing social openness, the M enjoy freedom of their sexual orientation. LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) have been much more common but are rarely considered by educational institution policy makers. To the M, the freedom to express their gender and sexuality is another choice of personal preference, similar to their choice of political party. It is not a crime and is definitely a right. This concept of thinking is evidently too advanced for older generations and could lead to extreme reactions. Regardless of increasing LGBTQ-related businesses, Thai society remains reserved in regard to LGBTQ, particularly in the academic realm. When matching Fulbright American grantees with Thai provincial schools, we have to consider this factor seriously. It is not only a matter of school environment but also the community attitude that affect the lives of the grantees. Likewise, when sending our students to the United States, we do need to know the nature of the respective communities to ensure that our students will learn how to behave properly.

These characteristics of the M, with interrelated strengths and weaknesses, give us clues about not only the needs and the lifestyles of our students, but also the betterment of our exchange program management.

 

Dealing with the Millennials: Fulbright Stories

At least two out of Fulbright Thailand’s five core programs target the M, e.g. the Open Competition program (OC) for Thai students to study for master’s degrees in the U.S. and the English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) program for recent American graduates to teach English in Thai provinces for one full academic year. Having been in close contact with them as candidates, grantees, and alumni, we experience countless cases, both positive and negative, relevant to the aforesaid characteristics of the M. We try to understand their nature and needs while constantly adjusting our grant management to tackle their challenges and, at the same time, utilize their strengths. The following are some management mechanisms we have found very effective.

Cross-culture Focus
Managing M exchange means managing at least two interrelated layers of cross cultures: those between students and staff/administrators (cross-generation), and those between host and home countries.

Cross-cultural understanding is, in fact, the founding principle and objective of the Fulbright Program and became Fulbright Thailand’s embedded vision, missions, and highlight of the Ten-year Framework (2010-2020). Emphasis is placed on self-understanding and cross-cultural interactions. Through friendly relationship and trust building, outreach activities have served well as means to promote understanding of one’s own root and context. Grantees can better share and learn from differences in a critical and constructive way when they have increased appreciation of their own countries and cultures. Consequently, discussions over host and home countries will become even more meaningful. Through cross-program activities encouraging interactions among Thai and American Fulbrighters, grantees as well as staff, they are able to learn how they themselves and others develop their intercultural capabilities, and what management would best meet requirements of each group. A comfort zone is then formed for all generations and nations within the Fulbright family. Indeed, cross-cultural learning is a continuous process and cases are recorded for sharing and analytical discussions.

Orientation
Different grants have different objectives and conditions thus requiring different kinds of orientation. For the OCs and the ETAs, however, they receive orientation with a similar broad structure including ‘must know’ and ‘should know’ issues that combine facts and experiences. In addition to necessary information on grant administration such as financial and visa issues, they are provided with tips for maintaining happiness and healthy living in the host country. The tips vary from current political and economic issues, cross-cultural management, art appreciation to stress management. The orientation is complemented by informal/optional activities such as study visits, special talks by renowned guest speakers, and community services to enrich their self-development while nurturing their sense of social responsibility as a privileged few.

Tailored-made activities are also organized for various grant programs with different needs. ETAs, the inbound grantees, benefit from a homestay opportunity plus practical teaching to get to know a bit more about Thai classes and students while Thai school administrators, the outbound grantees, are offered sessions to sharpen their presentation skills plus report writing tips. All along, the emphasis is, certainly, made on an equal balance of requirements and entitlements.

‘Extracurricular’ Activities
Various non-grant activities are organized in semi-structured style, with a group of grantees taking charge of some assignments under our guidance and support. For example, OCs are requested to team up for activities under the annual study visit “Knowing Our Own Roots” while ETAs are to develop some orientation sessions for their successors and help with community services every Thanksgiving Day. Group assignments are very successful in tailoring activities to their needs and fostering close relationships among them. Obviously, such activities benefit greatly from their teamwork, technological skills, and speedy actions.

In addition to group assignments, grantees and alumni are encouraged to volunteer for tasks at our Fulbright office, such as graphic designing, article/news writing, being guest speakers, and pre-screening grant applications. As a Foundation with most of the funding going to grant administration, volunteers are an asset. The volunteering activities help us maintain close contacts with grantees/alumni and provide them opportunities to ‘give back’ whether to us or to the community (through knowledge sharing activities we organize).

Networking
Our attempt to expand and fortify the Fulbright Thailand network is greatly promoted by the advancement of technologies. Once becoming Fulbrighters, grantees are encouraged to keep close and active communication with their own batch and with us through e-group, Facebook and informal gatherings. We also link them up with grantees, both Thais and Americans, from other grant programs and alumni, particularly those in similar fields, region, institution, etc. so that they receive support from their peers and their senior Fulbrighters especially during their grant period. At the same time, experience sharing from alumni helps our grantees be more realistic about their expectations, have some guidelines of what to look for during their grant period, and develop a support network in the country.

Open Communication
At Fulbright Thailand, we cultivate family culture and therefore treat our grantees/alumni as family who are always welcome to the office, physically and virtually. They are encouraged to call, email, Facebook, Skype, or write us about anything from grant-related matters to their life progress, their impressions, their personal problems, and even gossip. Often time, it is we who initiate the communication for them to feel more comfortable and get to know more of each other. Then, they start converse among themselves. Every message gets an immediate response even during the weekends and holidays considering their need for attention and periodic guidance.

On our end, we follow up with them on their safety and well-being. In times of crisis such as natural disaster and political riots, we call, Skype, or use any other possible means to connect with them, making sure they are safe and do not feel threatened. In return, such family culture helps encourage them to keep close and open communication with us. Many even said they feel comfortable with us and can be their ‘true’ selves. The challenge is to balance between ‘open communication’ and ‘time management’ as the whole process is time consuming and requires team members with a great sense of service and ‘Thai hearts’.

 

People-to-People Contacts: Policy Makers, Staff and Students

With the changing of students’ needs and characteristics, higher education institutions cannot manage student exchanges the same way they did decades ago if they still wish to join the internationalization movement. Before moving forward in advancing questions such as “How can we help our students gain as much as possible from their exchange program?”, “How can the institution benefit from the pool of exchange students, both inbound and outbound?” or “How can we ensure that our student exchanges are not for just individuals and a one-shot event?”, we propose higher education institutions step back a little to the very basic success factor of student exchanges which is normally overlooked – the understanding and experiences of policy makers and staff members.

Both groups, though not the subject of student exchanges, are major driving forces for the success and effectiveness of the internationalization process. Since our inception in 1950, we have been in contact with senior administrators and staff members of different exchange programs from other institutions and are certain that they are the ones who determine the future of student exchanges. Both administrators and staff are generally composed of people from different generations. Frequently decisions concerning the exchanges are rarely dependent on the M. A good number of them have no or minimal direct exchange experiences. These are, in fact, not serious challenges as knowledge can possibly be gained and learning shared. The real challenge is achieving understanding and open-mindedness of the policy makers and staff members. These key people need to keep pace with the changing needs and requirements of the M in order for this generation to be guided properly and therefore gain the self-assessment necessary for maximum learning and sharing.

If policy makers and staff members do not try to understand different nature and needs of the students, they will not be able to design and manage exchange programs appropriately and effectively in order to create environments conducive to the learning of all concerned.

We, therefore, insist that higher education institutions encourage linkages of their policy makers, staff members, and students, making student exchanges not just a travel opportunity but a meaningful tool for students to learn about their own selves, to share their talents and views, and to enhance the learning and sharing process that will benefit most in the educational institution community.

 

Fuel Exchanges to Full Power

Having synthesized our accumulated experiences, we consider the following key to getting exchanges started with full power.

On Mentality
Get started through the understanding by the policy makers and staff that the M have changed and that management needs to be done in a far different way from what has been done in the past. The Thai cultural traditions of following top down instructions out of respect for seniority and authority only lessens the effectiveness of the exchange programs. Open-mindedness to the voices and changing needs of students will make the exchange program management more relevant and effective.

Take cross-cultural issues seriously as they directly affect the means and the ends of student exchanges. Being culturally sensitive based on understanding and open-mindedness will enhance our own learning for the sake of our students and faculty. Indeed, cross-cultural understanding based on true open-mindedness is a pre-requisite for being global citizens, a much broader scope than simply being ASEANers.

Equally significant, establish a good balance between “entitlement” and “responsibility” in order to make the student exchange a meaningful personal development process as well as allowing your office to be much more valuable than a service center.

On Actions
Manage to become a ‘C’ generation (Connected), by using the digital tools to which the M group has been attached including everything from Facebook, and Twitter to Instagram and Pinterest. By doing so, the benefits for the more senior generations will be to realize the M changes better while getting closer to them in order to give proper support as needed since this generation seems to reveal their feelings and frustration to the social networking world with ease. It is a beneficial opportunity to jump in as necessary.

Engage students in ‘must attend’ and ‘should attend’ activities while allowing room for them to initiate and take lead in the planning while senior administrators and staff members render support and help capture knowledge and experiences. Interview sessions could also be open to allow M participation as they know their generation better in various ways.

Remember that “one size fits all” support does not work for different student exchange programs. Though sharing some common core issues, especially logistics like passport, visa and safety concerns, are vital, orientation and extra-curricular activities must be managed differently to meet the different types of exchanges, national and local contexts, and targeted generations.

Lastly, value the stock of experiences in sharing forums that can be recorded as ready reference and more importantly, utilized to maximize benefits for all stakeholders in the exchange and university system. This in turn will help the host and home institutions to improve or innovate programs that can best meet the objectives of the exchanges and the changing nature of our younger generations.

To gain maximum benefits from energy, efforts, academic and psychological investment we have exerted while making sure that the objectives of our exchanges are met to internationalize our own community, each higher education institution needs to review its own policies and actions in order to formulate appropriate strategies to multiply desirable outcomes from individual students and the overall investment.

Still not sure where to start? Ask your M Gen!

 

References

Paper presented at the First Fulbright Internationalization Forum (FIF), November 15, 2012 at Pullman Hotel, Bangkok. Thanks to Ms. Gracie Raver (2011 Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) and Fulbright Temporary Program Coordinator) for editing the paper.

Gu Qing. (2012).The Impact of study abroad on the student self in University World News Global Edition. Issue 26. Available at www.universityworldnews.com [accessed 11/20/2012]

Coates, Julie. (2011). Generational Learning Style. in Generation Y- The Millennial Generation. Available at www2.honolulu.hawaii.edu/facdev/guidebk/teachtip/GenY.htm [accessed 9/ 28/2011]

Ibid and Howe, Neil and Strauss, William. Characteristics of the Millennial Generation. Available at www.lifecourse.com [accessed 9/28/2011]

Ibid

Lancaster, Lynne C. and Stillman, David. (2010). The M – factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace. New York. HarperCollins Publisher.

The six degrees of separation was initiated in 1929 by Hungarian auther Frigyes Karinthy who believed that everyone is on average approximately six steps away through introduction from other person in the world. In other words, we are in a chain of a friend of a friend in which we could be connected to other people in six steps or fewer. More information at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_degrees_of_separation [accessed 10/14/ 2011]

Howe, Neil and Strauss, William. Characteristics of the Millennial Generation. Available at www.lifecourse.com [accessed 9/28/2011] and Thielfoldt, Diane and Scheef, Devon. Generation X and the Millennials: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations at http://apps.americanbar.org/lpm/articles/mgt08044.html [accessed 9/ 28/2011]

Lancaster, Lynne C. and Stillman, David. (2010). The M – factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace. New York. HarperCollins Publisher.

There are 21 grant programs administered by Fulbright Thailand with various groups of applicants. More details at www.fulbrightthai.org

For example, Fulbright Thailand organized an annual study visit “Knowing Our Roots” in Chiang Mai introducing Thai grantees to Thai cultural heritage and challenges with first-hand experiences.

To foster cross-cultural understanding, we believe we must look at the broad picture and how we exist in different layers of cultural context through the inside-out and outside-in analysis. Then, we can see the real values of our own culture as well as complementary and conflicting ideas. In this manner, diversity helps promote personal growth as it challenges any stereotyped preconception, open our horizons, and encourage critical thinking. With these, we can adopt and adapt ourselves appropriately and effectively.

Based on this concept, the Cultural Diversity Capsule (CDC Model) was developed by a group of Thai Fulbright Alumni and Fulbright Thailand in 2006 and used as a tool to promote cross-cultural understanding among Fulbright grantees.