25 February 2020

Julie discusses her experience of working and learning in the multicultural class group at the University of Edinburgh Business School.
Two students sitting on the steps at Old College

The first thing that drew my attention on the first day of class was the diversity of cultural backgrounds among my classmates. We have students from approximately 20 countries in the Master's in Marketing class. I didn't realise it would be a major source of personal growth for me back then. Now when I look back over time, I'm really proud of myself for making the most of the multicultural environment on campus, and I have genuinely learnt a lot from it.

Within a society or community, culture shapes our way of seeing, our way of perceiving the world. It's like you are wearing a pair of culture-glasses; often we are not aware of it until we come into a different culture. I probably would never have understood why people don't take an umbrella with them on rainy days, or why there are few high-rise buildings in a capital city, if I hadn't come to Edinburgh. It is difficult, if not impossible, to develop a holistic understanding of how the culture we were born into has influenced our behaviour, identity, values, and beliefs without any experience of other cultures. Some so-called common-sense things in China are neither common, nor make sense in the UK, and the only way to learn about these differences is by encountering them.

I have a better understanding not only of what kind of culture shapes you, but also why others hold different perspectives and values.

Honestly, the experience has not been pain free. I struggled with a crisis of my personal identity during the first couple of months in Edinburgh as a foreigner. But time solved everything. Through a constructive comparison of my own culture and other cultures, I think I've become more self-aware, more accepting, and more respectful of individuals' differences. It's not asking you to completely fit into a new culture, but the schooling environment in our University, with different religions, races, and cultural backgrounds, is really a precious opportunity to grow a greater appreciation of diverse cultures living in the world. I have a better understanding not only of what kind of culture shapes you, but also why others hold different perspectives and values.

Thanks to lots of teamworking opportunities at the Business School, I also learnt a lot from the multicultural group projects. One of my joys in group work is to see people solve a problem or approach a topic in various ways. Each of us has a unique perspective based on our dissimilar backgrounds and communicates differently.

For example, something interesting I noticed from my first group collaboration is that my teammates tended to focus more on positive things and gave effective praise. It is perfectly natural for them to say things like "good job", "well done", and "you are doing great". This kind of thing is quite challenging for me, as I grew up in an environment where my parents more often criticised my mistakes rather than praised me whenever I behaved well. I felt sort of embarrassed by such praise at first and didn't know how to respond. But I've been trying to get used to it and rewire my brain to be more positive, which I think is a favourable evolution.

I'm really happy to embrace these cross-cultural personality differences.

Next to this, I really appreciate that most of my teammates are open-minded and free-spirited. I may be too reserved or sometimes react slowly when it comes to group work, but they totally respect my being different from them. More often than not, they would actively participate in meetings, share opinions boldly, and nicely exchange ideas with me. I'm really happy to embrace these cross-cultural personality differences.

People always say that studying abroad can help expand our horizons and enhance our vision. It sounds terribly cliché but it's true. I've been doing my postgraduate study at the University of Edinburgh for nearly eight months, and what I have learnt from the multicultural environment in our school is really amazing and way beyond my expectations.

Zixuan (Julie) Zeng, Marketing and Business Analysis