I am originally Libyan but I lived in the UK most of my life. However, at home, most of my upbringing has been Libyan and I am very familiar with the culture of my native land. When I started my studies with Sheffield Hallam University, I felt like I was in the middle of two worlds. The educational system of the United Kingdom appeared to be very different from what exists back home in Libya.
In Libya and Libyan homes in the diaspora, life is mainly based on a strong Orthodox Islamic structure. We are raised to follow the Sunnah, which is a list of Islamic traditions that spells out almost all activities of a person's life from birth to death and even the afterlife as well as the conduct of a person from the time he wakes up in the morning till the time he goes to sleep in the night. The Sunnah is made up of ancient traditions that predate Prophet Mohammed (SAW) as well as other modified elements that were authorised by the elders of the Islamic world.
The UK, being a traditionally Protestant Christian nation, has very different lifestyles and cultures from what exists in Libya. The people are more liberal and the institutions are less religious than they are back home in Libya.
In terms of the culture in the UK, what really strikes me about the UK is the family system. In the UK, the concept of individualism is very rife. People see themselves more as individuals rather than members of a social group like a family. In Libya, one's identity is based mainly on the family, clan or tribe he belongs to, however, in the UK such a thing is generally not entertained, except amongst the conservative and rich elites. Also, I noticed that because of individualism, the social security system for the elderly is very different. Whereas in Libya it is an honour for a person to accommodate and sustain an elderly person like his father or grandfather in his home, it looks like elderly people in the UK are rather kept in Homes where they live with strangers and obtain specialist care. In summary, whereas members of the UK attain most of their social security as individuals, most social services a person gets in Libya is often obtained through the family a person belongs to and not as an individual.
At Sheffield Hallam University, the cultural shocks I experienced started right from the orientation day which was supposed to be my first day in the university. When we were introducing ourselves, I found it a bit uncomfortable when the lecturers introduced themselves by their first names. It took me a very long time to adjust with that setting because all my life, I have been raised to know that it is disrespectful to call an adult or a teacher by his or her first name.
During the new students' orientation, we were introduced to the operations, structures and activities in the university using very advanced and sophisticated technological systems and presentations. Everything was orderly and it seemed that the educational system of the university is very much structured and everything is always in order from the registration process through to the identification system of the university.
On striking quotation I read before starting my education is a quotation of Shaul in the book Culture in School Learning: Revealing the Deep Meaning by Hollins (1996) is:
"There is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the 'practice of freedom' the means by which men and women participate in the transformation of their world".
With this statement, I refused to just become a conformist as I study at Sheffield because of my intentions in life. I do not plan to solely live in the UK or Libya. I intend to have an international existence and that means that studying in the UK to become a conformist would seriously restrict my ambitions. I need to get a good understanding of what makes other people different from me and how to optimise resources in new and unknown cultures without getting any challenges from the natives. This in my view is how I plan to change the world.
Professor Schein also said "Learning forces individuals to fundamentally rethink the way they view the world - a process that is difficult in part because of cultural assumptions predisposes them to take certain things for grated, rather than to examine them continually" (Schein, 1996).
This gives me a two-way view about my life. First of all, I realized that studying in the UK gave me the opportunity to put aside my Libyan views about things and get a very neutral perspective in the foreign culture I am studying in. With this, I hope to build an independent mind that would thrive in other cultures as well and also minimize my stereotypes. Secondly, there is evidence that when I study in the UK, I would be able to get the ability to rethink my view of the world. This would enable me to pursue an international career with ease.
The quest to go international in my working life means that I need to understand the foundations of culture across international spectrums and also understand how to quickly fit into people's cultures and setting. In the third week at Sheffield Hallam, I was introduced to a landmark definition of culture as "The collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another" (Hofstede, 1984). This seemed to be the starting point of all my enquiries into culture and internationalisation.
What struck me early about the Sheffield Hallam and the United Kingdom is that it is a melting point for many cultures and social systems. This offers me a great opportunity to learn and understand how I can become an international personality in a practical manner. I was therefore very happy when I noticed that most of my course mates were of different backgrounds: Asians, Europeans and other Africans.
Also, with an ambition of becoming a spearhead and representative of my people in the international community in the future, I believe it is very essential for me to get strong leadership qualities and skills. I therefore made it a point to learn about leadership whilst I study at Sheffield Hallam. This, I planned to accomplish as a member of a study group that I have.
Additionally, with the understanding that this course is a taught one and I need to learn and be assessed at periodic intervals, I decided to find out my learning style. From the seminar on learning styles, I identified that I belong to Kolb's (1984) classification of an 'Assimilator'. This is because I always love to use a logical approach in analysing things. I am good at grasping ideas and concepts. I perform best when people explain things to me logically and generally, I am not so much organised and focused enough to learn much during practical work. And based on this, I would have to identify an approach to learning that would enable me get the best from my studies at Sheffield Hallam.
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT NEEDS
In planning and personal development, Gallen & Buckle (2001) identify four very practical questions one needs to ask himself before proceeding. They are:
What is my vision?
How important is my vision to my profession?
How am I going to achieve it as a member of a group?
What is my role in the group?
After answering these questions carefully, I came up with some things I need to accomplish to consider my studies in Sheffield Hallam a success. All in all, they are four needs that I have to be conscious of and work to achieve. They are:
Technological Advancement: The technological systems used in Sheffield Hallam are amongst the best in the world. It is the future for many developing nations like Libya. I therefore think that it would be in my best interest to understand and feel comfortable in using those systems. It includes computer usage (online researching and presentation skills for example) as well as familiarity with universal standards like access and barcode technology.
Understanding of International Culture: The main component of International Management is about how to understand other cultures and how to work for the best results in different social environments. I will need to learn how to interact with people of other cultures right from Sheffield Hallam and build upon it in my future career.
Development of Leadership Skills: Management requires good leadership capabilities wherever I might find myself working. I therefore want to get a way of building leadership skills as a member of the teams and groups I would be put on.
Defining the best Learning Approach: I also need to identify my personality and find ways of getting the best results as a student in Sheffield Hallam. Although degrees are seen as equal in some parts of the world, I believe that if I am able to get good grades in my programme here, I would be able to present a more competitive CV that would not only enhance my image but open up opportunities to me and this can be done by having a good learning approach.
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN
"A personal development plan sets out the actions that people propose to take to learn and to develop themselves" (Armstrong, 2000).
To succeed and get the best from my studies at Sheffield Hallam University, I need to have a personal development plan that would incorporate the four key result areas that I have identified above.
To make my personal development plan as practical as possible, I will use the SMART plan, which provides a framework that guides people on how to plan and meet their objectives in life. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Result-Focused and Timely. I am going to apply it as it is outlined on the ALA/ACRL website.
Applying this model to my personality development needs, this is what I developed
Meaning the plan must be:
Use an action verb
Technology: I want to be able to type fast, prepare world-class presentation and understand the elements of usability in IT and electronic systems used around the world.
Culture: Know and understand the elements of culture and be able to apply them in the practical setting
Leadership: I want to be able to resolve stakeholder conflicts within groups
Learning: I want to define the best way I can learn to get the best grades possible and implement it.
Meaning the plan must be:
Numeric or descriptive
Evaluated in terms of cost in qualitative and quantitative formats
Technology: I want to be able to effectively use the internet as a source of data gathering, sharing and for data management in general which is very important in international business and management as would be dealing with people beyond boundaries. This would be achieved through regular presentation sessions on class assignments and group work with group colleagues in class.
Culture: I plan to buy and read many books of the main writers of culture in the business setting like Hofstede, Trompenaars, Schwartz and also gain access to journals and other documents. I also plan to apply them by taking active part in group work and also engage in conversations and activities with people of other cultures I might find here in the United Kingdom.
Leadership: I intend to observe how people of various ethnic, religious and social backgrounds interact in the UK without encountering conflicts. I plan to do this by visiting multi-cultural events and also read newspapers.
Learning: I plan to keep notes, a diary and a log of the various concepts and ideas I come across in the UK. I will note and document all the concepts and ideas I come into contact with from studies, lectures, group work, and social interactions. I also hope to ask my supervisors and lecturers questions about things I am not familiar with. Through this, I hope to put them together logically to get the abstract concept and idea of how to get the best of things and during assessments, I would try to put my thoughts and ideas together.
A good plan must be:
Appropriately limited in scope
Technology: It is possible to improve my typing speed by using a software like Mavis Beacon. However, for other things like presentations and the usage of all technologies possible, there are a few elements of subjectivity which makes it difficult to do successfully. The best way out of this, it seems would be to continue learning in these areas all my life.
Culture: There is a lot of literature available to learn about international cultures and there is also a lot of avenues through which I can interact here with people of different cultures. This is very much feasible and can be attained.
Leadership: Britain is the nation with the best diplomatic and stakeholder satisfaction system in the world. With this background, I am sure to get all I need to know about stakeholder satisfaction and other related leadership attributes like negotiation and diplomacy.
Learning: It is possible for me to grasp concepts and ideas that underline whatever we study here at Sheffield Hallam easily. However, my only limitation seems to be linked to my English language skills which need to be developed. This seems to be a stumbling block in my communication here in the United Kingdom.
A good plan must:
Have measurable outputs
Take cognisance of outputs and accomplishments
Technology: By the end of my course at Sheffield Hallam, I should be able to type 60 words per minute, prepare and make presentations that would not have too many questions (three at most), and also be comfortable to use all technologies around me without panicking or fearing.
Culture: By the time I complete the programme, I should be able to identify what I need to look out for in people who are from different cultures and work avoid upsetting them and also define a way of working with them to gain their favour.
Leadership: By the time I complete my studies in the UK, I should have all the skills and knowledge necessary to interact with people who have different goals and views in life, and help them to get the best results and simultaneously get greater results for the larger group we all belong to.
Learning: I should get a grade that is good and respectable.
There should be:
Interim steps and a plan to monitor progress
Generally, I plan to attain something worthwhile for all the key result areas outlined. However, I plan to complete them according to the following timelines:
Technology: To fully understand and know how to use the internet systems for research and presentations at seminars and conferences by the end of my first half of the course here.
Culture: I want to grasp all the concepts relating the culture and international management by the time I complete 40% of my course here. With these conceptual frameworks known, I want to use the next 30% of my time in the university to apply them and the last 30% of my time in the university to evaluate my outcomes.
Leadership: I want to get the concepts and ideas relating to stakeholder issues in the UK by the time I complete my course here. After my course, I hope to have a life-long contact with Britain to always learn more about how they resolve stakeholder issues and master it.
Learning: Since my time is limited in the university, I cannot afford not to have a complete learning plan by the end of my first months here. When it is defined, I will go ahead to apply it for the rest of my time here in the university.
In conclusion, my main aim is to get technological, cultural, leadership and learning skills and abilities at Sheffield Hallam University. With this, I hope to apply it to my career, which I want to be international and also build a personality that would give me a successful career.