Um … school in Chile is weird.
Ok, I should rephrase that since I’m not technically in “school” or “colegio” but at a university getting a post-graduate degree (postgrado). In short, I’m dabbling in Graduate studies. And for someone who was raised and who received her entire education (for better or for worse) in California, studying in a foreign country is weird, overwhelming and scary all at the same time.
Adolfo Ibañez University is considered one of the top private business schools in the region (so you can imagine my surprise when I was accepted) and their professors stem from various educational and professional backgrounds, including MIT, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Universidad de Chile, La Catolica, etc. These are (unfortunately only) men who serve on Boards of Directors, own their own companies, are Gerente Generales or of similar titles and who, for some reason or another, also teach courses in Integrated Marketing (what I’m studying).
Yesterday was my first day of class and there are about 45-50 students – people who also come from different walks of life and careers. Yesterday’s professor was the head of the department and the same man who interviewed me when I applied to the program. He’s charismatic, energetic and seems to really know his (version of) business. The program is going to be demanding and what I’m realizing is that it’s going to be hard to adapt my thinking to that of Chileans. Half of my motivation for doing this is to understand how Chileans think, how one can market to them and what kinds of consumers they are. So yesterday when the professor was speaking, I found myself thinking “No I don’t agree” or “No, it’s not like that” and then had to stop myself and REMIND myself that “oh yes, this is what the typical Chilean thinks, this is how he acts and reacts.”
For instance, he was talking about why JC Penny or Sears didn’t make it in Chile when they attempted to expand their business in Lat Am. Or why Wal-Mart hasn’t decided to change its name to just that and continues to hide behind the local name “Lider” (Wal-Mart bought out the local hypermarket chain, Lider last year). The tend to look down on the big corporations but at the same time embrace the status said corporations bring (think Starbucks, which incidentally has take this country by storm.) Chileans are rock stairs in the retailer arena (it’s the only country with less than 20 million people that has over three department stores who compete in a healthy environment.) And the likes of Sears and JC Penny didn’t thrive because Chileans are much too loyal to their brands. So as I’m sitting there thinking “But no – there’s bigger and better out there.” I have to remember that in Chile there’s no room for bigger and better if it’s not Falabella. Enough said. I can’t beat them, I need to join them. Integrate and then work in crazy, unconventional ideas! It’s my master plan (insert wicked laugh.)
Seriously though, I find myself arguing with the professor in my head though who am I to argue when the reality we’re talking about is Chilean and I’m here to learn about that? It’s not the time to fight the power, Andrea!
Then there’s just the idiosyncrasy of many Chileans, which will slowly become apparent in each class. For instance, in yesterday’s class the professor was making a point about perception and he projected a slide with one image of Tiger Woods in mid-golf swing and the other picture of Eminem and 50 Cent together. He asked the class “How many of you find it strange that the world’s number one golfer is black? Or that one of the best selling rappers of all time is white?” AND OF COURSE there were a handful of people who agreed that it was “weird” that the best golfer in the world is black. The most outspoken woman in this group stated that it just seemed “raro” (or strange) because it made more sense for a white, blonde man to be the best golfer.
WHAT WHAT WHAT??!!!
As one friend correctly pointed out last night after I told this story, back home even if someone was thinking the same thing, NO ONE would say it! And here it’s like “Oh yes, he’s black and rich and that’s weird.”
Of course I’m smart enough to know that MOST LIKELY these sentiments don’t stem from any malicious part of the Chilean psyche or character. In fact, it’s so homogeneous here, blonds are MORE idolized than normal AND it just so happens that many of the blonds are also from affluent families. The Chilean reality is just different … and I’m here to learn about it and to try to influence it.
First and foremost, I need to sit down and shut up and learn about how they tick. How do I market to them so that they can eventually expose themselves to “weird” things … realizing of course that “weird’ to them is having “too many” milk options. I kid you not there was a discussion yesterday on why there is any such thing as Lactose Free milk and even Soy milk – THE HORROR!!! :o)
Ok, theories and idiosyncrasies aside, I’m also going to HATE MY LIFE with all the reading material I have – IN SPANISH. I can’t even begin to imagine how I’m going to write an actual term paper IN SPANISH or contribute to a group effort when half the things they say go over my head! I fear being the dumb one in the group … seriously. Ack!
The upside is that I have my own Gerente to bounce ideas off of … when I arrived home from class yesterday, a beautiful ENORMOUS bouquet was waiting for me at home, accompanied by a note telling me how proud he was of me and how he intended to fully support me through this tough year ahead. :o) (Sigh… bliss!) It’s not going to be easy but then again it’s been a while since I’ve done something that was this hard. Life can get pretty boring if one doesn’t challenge the status quo. And life can get pretty tense if one is always fighting the foreign mentalities and actions. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
I’m seeking knowledge and understanding of the people who surround me. If anything, so I can learn to sell them on a different way of thinking! :oP