The postgrado

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

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5 thoughts on “The postgrado

  1. Interestingly (although not for many people), I was recently working with a potential client, a big European shopping mall and retail company and the examples of JC Penny and Sears came up when we were talking about how to expand into the local market.

    One of the biggest problems for foreign companies, particularly in the retail sector, is the fact that Chile is owned and run by a few families, who have spent years buying up as much prime real estate and putting up as many barriers as possible to entry for foreign companies as possible. To break into the local retail market, foreign companies really need to partner up with a local, or buy a local company a la Walmart.

    Aaaand, local companies know how to market to local people:

    Look! It's a skinny blond woman wearing a tiny bikini. I really must buy that rat poison! If a skinny blond woman wearing a tiny bikini's using it, it must be the best!

    I mean, what foreigner would imagine advertising sugar like this?

    Btw, I've added you to the list over at http://www.bloggersinchile.blogspot.com if that's ok.

  2. Hey! I'm glad to here another gringa voice here in Chile. I think I found you through Abby. I'll be interested to hear what the things are that you just can't stand and have to shout out about. I have no experience in business or a post grado here, so I'm all ears!

  3. So it's settled… I practice my english and you practice your spanish… lol!
    Hope everything goes well… just be strong in your ideas and try to have fun!

  4. Obviously in order to market to a group you have to base your marketing off how they think, but I hadn't stopped to consider just how frustrating that might be at times – having to accept and work off of all the things I rage about on my blog! But that said, I have faith that you'll be integrating and dominating in no time 🙂

    The Tiger Woods story reminds me of my suegra once asking what black people were like. She has never met one, and she genuinely didn't know if they talked/acted/smelled/whatever different. At first my Bay Area liberal heart went "ahh, don't point out the racial differences!" but then I realized that not only was it an innocent question on her part (rather than some kind of "black people are different, so we can treat them differently" angle) but also that yes, there are certain traits that I would say African Americans share that make them different from other groups. It's good to challenge the PC mindset once in a while.

  5. Sounds a bit frustrating, but super interesting. I'd like to go back and take classes now that I know Chile better. Of course I studied abroad here and took classes, but that was before I really knew anything about anything Chilean. Marketing seems like an especially interesting topic to compare cultures!

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