On March 4, 2020, Logos Institute fellow Yinnan Shen launched a new elective, Elevate Multicultural Competence, for graduate students at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, also known as Columbia Engineering.

The course is designed primarily for international students, who are susceptible to a common challenge of living abroad – culture shock – defined by Michael Winkelman as, “a multifaceted experience resulting from numerous stressors occurring in contact with a different culture.” 

(Yinnan sharing her story when she first moved to New York)

Yinnan moved to the United States in 2015. She has dealt with culture shock herself since then and has concluded patterns of what works and what doesn’t when living in a culture outside of one’s own. Equipped with both academic research and lived-through experience, Yinnan shared ways to effectively manage culture shock and adapt to the new culture, with an emphasis on striking a balance between the host culture’s expectations and the values and identities associated one’s home culture.

When what is expected from the host culture and what is acceptable to oneself are in conflict, Yinnan shared, it’s important to consciously make the decision of whether to adapt to the host culture’s expectations in specific situations. She created a two-question decision-making criterion to guide students when deciding whether to or not to adapt.

Yinnan also explained how the process of deliberate adaptation and striking the balance between one’s home and host culture can help build an individual’s multicultural competence, which in turn transforms one’s seeming disadvantaged background into a competitive advantage. 

The graduate students Yinnan spoke to were enrolled in Columbia Engineering’s Professional Development & Leadership (PDL) program. Roughly 80% students in the program are international students. The PDL program’s objective is to build the engineering leaders of today and tomorrow, by equipping its students with the skills and tools necessary to maximize performance. The program’s curriculum was developed in part by Logos Consulting Group president Helio Fred Garcia, who teaches ethics, crisis, and leadership as an adjunct associate professor of the PDL program. 

All of the 25 students who attended Yinnan’s class were international students, who at the end of the session expressed how much the content resonated with them, and how liberating it is to know they are not struggling alone and that there are ways to effectively deal with the challenges they are facing. 

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