by Carol Sadtler
Can a Coca-Cola television spot that features people in a Mexican plaza communicating with hand signals convey a marketing message to audiences worldwide?
What happens when the executive of a major United States airline comes to Mexico City to promote the airline’s $5 Internet service in the airport, only to find out that Internet service is free in most public places in Mexico City?
DePaul students have many opportunities to learn how to become professionals who know how to navigate cultural differences like these–a skill that is becoming mandatory in today’s global economy. In a metro area where 18 percent of the population is born in another country, including 1.6 million Latinos/as, DePaul students take advantage of programs that provide them with cross-cultural professional expertise and experiences both at home and abroad.
Project Bluelight Chicago/Mexico
Though he visited Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on a post-high school graduation foray with his friends, cinematography student Michael Penick says that working professionally in Mexico gives him a much deeper, more complex experience of the culture–and how to adapt to it.
“I’m learning that different cultures and teams look at the role of the cinematographer differently. It also helps to think about multiple ways a person could mean something when there is a language barrier.”
Penick is part of DePaul’s Project Bluelight, a group that involves students from the School of Cinema and Interactive Media and Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. Shooting films together this winter in Mexico City, students learned that working together is about working it out across cultures. DePaul’s Robert Steel and Josť Soto of Universidad Iberoamericana led the project, which involves faculty, professionals and students from both institutions. “These kinds of programs, because the world is so much smaller now, are going to become more critical for the success of our students in their professional lives,” Steel says.
“Students learn to work and live in another culture and to understand that the world is much bigger than they are. A lot of them are here because they want to grow as artists. This will give them more experiences, more chops, to get work.”
Soto hopes that the students will learn to be truly international creators. “I believe that having them experience the way things are done in a different place, with a different crew, is going to change them dramatically,” he says.
Graduate student Sarah Henry, who is adding digital cinema skills to her undergraduate degree in communication and marketing, says she also is growing personally. Working in a culture that she experiences as more relaxed than the one at home is changing her. “It does help you to slow down some and not be so stressed about the little things,” she says.
Her classmate, Stacey Smith, who is half-Filipino, says that Mexican culture felt immediately “like home” to her because of the influence brought by the Spanish to both countries. Working on a tightly knit team, she’s overcoming her shyness. “Getting settled in with a small group of people I get along with and trust explicitly changes me for the better,” she says.
Learning at Home
DePaul students also can gain their cross-cultural expertise in Chicago.
The Latino media and communication program (LM&C) in the College of Communication, directed by Cristina Benitez, an experienced advertising executive, prepares undergraduate and graduate students to succeed as media professionals in the large and growing Latino media sector. The program also partners with area schools, cultural organizations and youth groups to connect DePaul students and local high school students to opportunities.
Nathaly Gamino (CMN ’11) worked hard to complete the LM&C program and two internships at prominent public relations agencies in her senior year. After graduation, she was snapped up by Flowers Communications Group, a rapidly growing multicultural PR firm at which she had interned. “I’m very proud to be here. I was just recently hired full-time as an assistant account executive,” she says.
Gamino already makes solid contributions at the agency; her research and analysis led to successful Black Friday media impressions in the Latino market for Flowers’ clients Kmart and Sears this past holiday season.
Quintiliano Rios, a senior in the program, wants to develop creative advertising for the Hispanic market, one he says “needs to be approached on its own terms.” He appreciates the program’s ties to the business world. “Sra. Benitez is really good at bringing speakers from the industry, so it gives you more of a sense of how the industry is working,” he says.
Rios is exploring community organizing in an internship and hopes to combine business and social progress in his work. “I truly believe in investing in the community and the socially responsible side of business,” he says.
More Than Money
After working for international companies and teaching international marketing at DePaul for more than two decades, Luis Larrea, an instructor in the Driehaus College of Business, sees the same predisposition in his Marketing Across Cultures class. “I have 41 students, half of them from other parts of the world. So many want to work in NGOs. They want to contribute–do something more than make money.”
When he leads study-abroad trips, Larrea tells his students: “You have to use other eyes. You can’t take the same eyes you used back home, because they’re biased.”
He should know. As an AT&T marketing director responsible for marketing strategies across the Americas, he says, “U.S. companies mostly thought ‘If it works in Peoria, it’s going to work anywhere.’” As he reminds his students, “You have to get rid of that ethnocentric mindset and understand that, despite certain similarities, there are far greater differences you have to cope with.”
Go If You Can
As many opportunities as there are in Chicago to learn about working in other cultures, there’s no substitute for traveling to see for oneself–even for students who have parents or grandparents from another country.
Esther Quintero-Guzman, associate director of global initiatives at DePaul, worked for multinational companies worldwide as a marketing executive based in Mexico City. She hopes that students whose families are from other parts of the world will have the opportunity to go to their countries of origin, where they can see a way of life that has not been acculturated in the United States. There, they can learn “the value proposition they have to portray in their business with that particular market. When you want to prepare a cake, you have to know the ingredients,” she says.
Quintero hopes that all students will have the opportunity to learn abroad “by contact with local people, students like them,” and to experience “real life–the traffic, the crowded buses.” She hopes they will learn “how to adapt to the new conditions, and then, how to be a liaison between their culture and another,” whether they engage through business or community-service trips.
Benitez agrees that international experiences are “the best 360-degree education you can get. It takes just one or two trips out of your comfort zone to realize that the USA is not the only kid on the block.”