What It Means To Say Hello In Another Language

Chris Wood

For the last eight weeks a team of eight, including myself (Christopher Wood), from Simon’s MBA/MS Admissions Office have been studying hard.  Working at Simon you may expect the course to be business related, but it is not.  We are learning Chinese.  Our school has long been known for its internationally diverse student body as well as our approach to educating students – an approach that typically starts with a simple hello.  Building any professional relationship starts with a mutual respect for each other which can be a challenging task when neither speak a common language.  Our initial goal in taking this class was to improve our ability to communicate with current and prospective students, but what we have been able to take away from this experience has surprisingly been so much more.

Prior to the class, our knowledge of the Chinese language was virtually non-existent.  Our instructor, Ellen Zuroski, however, put us through a rigorous and intensive program that currently has us answering questions like, “How many friends do you have?”  My response in Chinese was “sì.”  I still need to practice my numbers a bit more.  Beyond my humble network of friends, our takeaways from the class were rewarding and very personal.  Below are a few reactions and reflections I had.

Be patient, make mistakes – understanding and responding in another language requires a bit more time to process.  Building upon existing linguistic skills takes practice and more importantly a willing set of ears for some feedback.  Our students have been amazingly helpful and patient in working with us to practice our tones and vocabulary.

Be genuine – for some international students, this is their first trip to a new country and the total immersion in a new culture can be overwhelming.  Keep the student’s perspective in mind; a warm welcome in a language they are familiar with can help build bridges at a much faster pace.

Be prepared – I was not expecting the response I got from classmates and fellow students when I told them I was learning Chinese.  Team meetings sometimes went a little off track and quickly turned into personal tutoring sessions.  One classmate even brought in her young daughter’s Chinese books for me to use.  Support from the school and its students have been overwhelming.

I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity.  I am very proud of my colleagues and what we have accomplished.  Most importantly, I am humbled by the high expectations we have for our students and their ability to consistently exceed them- but it is not accomplished alone.  It is the culmination of hard work and utilization of the professional relationships our students have built, relationships that started with a simple hello.

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