Many cultures, one Olin: Passport attendees prepare for life in the U.S.

  • July 25, 2018
  • By Molly Cruitt
  • 4 minute read

I’m an American. But when I return to China, I snap right back into the culture. I want you to know: just because you assimilate to a new culture doesn’t mean you’ll lose your old one.

—Consultant Judy Shen-Filerman

It’s the start of the day. Over 300 students file into the seats of Emerson Auditorium, looking for an open spot — looking for someone they know or someone who could become a friend. They are tired, overwhelmed — but there is an air of excitement, of hope.

Consultant Judy Shen-Filerman addresses the students — most of whom, she finds out, are from China. Some come from Japan, one from Chile, and one from India.

“I’m an American,” she tells them. “But when I return to China, I snap right back into the culture. I want you to know: just because you assimilate to a new culture doesn’t mean you’ll lose your old one.”

Shen-Filerman, a Chinese-American woman who migrated to the United States with her family as a child, connects with these students from the start. She’s been in their seats — she understands what it means to leave one’s friends, family and culture behind, starting anew for a new opportunity. And the students can tell — so they take her advice seriously.

Shen-Filerman’s presentation is one of several these students will attend over the next few weeks. All incoming international students to the specialized master’s program at Olin Business School experience the Passport program, a three-week immersive cultural experience meant to help them acclimate to American life and culture.

Passport and its accompanying Career Stamp – open to all specialized master’s program students — are new this year, springing from a recognized need to adequately prepare incoming students for the recruiting season. While Passport is specifically catered to international students, Career Stamp includes opportunities for both international and native students entering their SMP and hones in on preparing students for their career search.

Given the arrival of companies on campus as early as September, Olin graduate program staff realized their students — particularly those coming from cultures outside of the U.S. — needed to jump-start their career preparations more quickly than the traditional school year can accommodate.

Enter Passport: an immersive experience that is designed to prepare students for professional and personal life in a new culture. An advising team including several members of Olin’s graduate programs staff, including Laura Hollabaugh, Nate Quest, and Ashley Macrander, dreamed up the program as a way of bridging the cultural divide and making the transition to graduate school —  and American culture — a bit smoother.

Over the course of three weeks, students encounter every aspect of American life — from the most basic to the complex and nuanced. They practice shaking hands, prepare for small talk, and learn the importance of eye contact. They also discuss American power cultures, practice writing and vocabulary and create resumes. Students define their professional goals, make friends, and even take a trip to the St. Louis Zoo.

Though this is the first year Passport has been implemented, hopes for its success are high. “My expectation is that once our students complete Passport and Career Stamp, they feel like they have a rhetorical and professional toolkit at their disposal that will help them to succeed in their coursework, during the job search, and throughout their career,” said Ashley Macrander, assistant dean and director of graduate programs student affairs.

Weston Career Center staff members, who are leading the educational charge and leading classrooms, already see those hopes coming to fruition. “Our new incoming class of SMP students has arrived and we are ready to help them get off on the right foot. Classes have started, relationships are building, and they are folding into the American culture beautifully,” said Mark Schlafly, adjunct career advisor and lecturer. “We really are fortunate to have a customized program laid out to bring out the best in them.”

For Macrander, Passport is about more than learning a new language or showing new students the practicalities of life in America. It’s about learning a new perspective, understanding other ways of experiencing life — for the participants and the leaders. “We have so much to gain from interacting with one another,” said Macrander. “I learn something new from all of our students, just as they are learning from each other.”

Macrander hopes this experience will be part of a larger journey as an Olin community —  one of learning from each other, defining and uplifting our strengths while making an undeniable impact on the world around us.

“Together we are Olin, and our school, our culture, and our city is enhanced from each of our contributions — because we are greater than the sum of our parts.”

About the Author


Molly Cruitt

Molly Cruitt

Molly Cruitt was WashU Olin's digital content specialist for nearly three years until late 2020. She is passionate about telling great stories and showing the lesser-known side of things. Molly holds a master of arts in communication from Saint Louis University and loves dogs, food, and crafting.

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