Imagine a German businessman who just landed a Chinese client. To solidify their new working relationship, he breaks the bank purchasing an expensive watch as a thank-you gift, sure his client will be impressed. Over in Beijing, however, the client opens the box and is filled with an overwhelming sense of doom when he sees the fateful hands of the watch staring back at him. Receiving a gift of a watch, for him, is being told that he is “running out of time” on this mortal coil. While he may understand that his European colleague did not intend to remind him of his imminent death, the negative emotions brought up by the gift might forever color the interactions between the two.
This is one small example of how cultural differences can impact relationships between the East and the West. Many studies have analyzed the different styles of thinking that seem to be predominant in the two cultures. The East is known for holistic thinking, the West more analytical. While the East considers all aspects of a situation and the impact on every member of the group, the West places more emphasis on individual success.
These murky generalizations don’t begin to scratch the surface of the ways in which Asian and European cultures think and act differently, and the problems than can arise because of these differences. Thus has been created the new Master’s Elite Graduate Program: Standards of Decision-Making Across Cultures. I had the pleasure of having a chat with Anna Schneider, the program’s coordinator, and Professor Philip Balsiger, to get some further details.
The program is a colorful patchwork of different fields, combining elements of history, philosophy, economics, religious studies, Sinology, and social and cultural anthropology; all the while being heavily rooted in the area of Chinese culture. The program boasts that students will “acquire profound academic and methodological knowledge” as well as “insights into the process of decision-making […] in entrepreneurial, political, and cultural situations.” It aims to prepare students for careers in intercultural working environments related to politics, business, or culture, including leadership roles; or for postgraduate studies toward a PhD.
Students will choose their focus as either linguistic/cultural, comparative/philosophical, or cultural/religious. They will spend their first two semesters developing a philosophical basis at FAU, before journeying to the European Center for Chinese Studies at Peking University in Beijing for a more practical third semester, where they will also have the option to study the Chinese language. (Followed of course by the fourth semester Master’s thesis.)
The program has a very close relationship with the International Consortium for Research in the Humanities at FAU (IKGF) and will also make connections with the Max-Planck Institute in Berlin. Students will have many opportunities to network with guest scientists and researchers from around the world. The program is also hoping to establish internships for students at companies in both Germany and China in the near future.
The university is looking for students from diverse backgrounds to begin the program’s inaugural semester this winter. Applications are being accepted until July 15th, after which a pool of candidates will be narrowed down to attend in-person interviews. (Applicants from abroad are welcome to interview via Skype!)
All courses for the program are taught entirely in English, making it particularly attractive to foreign applicants. The status of being an “Elite” Master’s means that applicants are held to higher standards for admission than for normal M.A. programs, but Schneider and Balsiger are quick to emphasize that students interested in the program should not be intimidated by those higher standards.
Above all, the program emphasizes its interdisciplinary nature and cultural diversity. Students, both German and foreign, with interesting backgrounds in research, science, history, culture, medicine, religion, and so on, are all encouraged to apply, as they may bring a unique voice to the program despite perhaps having B.A. grades in the higher range. (Although grades above 2.5 are not accepted for Elite programs.)
As Balsiger says, “Be courageous!”