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Entrepreneurship of All Cultures

International students from 69 countries account for 27 percent of Babson College’s student population (pdf). More than 46 languages are spoken on campus. Cultures meet and mingle daily in classrooms, at lunch tables, and in dorm rooms.

By Doug Hardy

Culture is not something international students shed when they arrive on campus. The behaviors, attitudes and expectations of Entrepreneurial Thought and Action® are new enough to U.S. students; they are doubly novel to international students. Explore how three students’ overseas roots highlight the differences between life at Babson College and learning overseas.

Lei Wang M’13 worked for a consulting firm in Beijing before coming to Babson College to study entrepreneurship. He founded PhotoOil Arts, a service that creates handmade oil paintings based on customers’ favorite photographs. For him, the most dramatic difference is dialogue.

“Culturally, China and America are totally different,” he says. “In China, we rarely raise our hands and ask questions; we just listen to the professor. There is no teamwork among students, or discussion with a business owner. You always doubt what you do, wonder whether it is right or not. At Babson, it’s a two-way street. You can talk out ideas with a professor. Sometimes the professor will say, ‘No, it’s not a good idea, and I’ll tell you why.’ Sometimes he would say, ‘Wow! That’s amazing,’ and also tell you why. When your idea is confirmed by more experienced people, your confidence increases.”

For Abdulaziz Baroum M’13, the diversity he found at Babson broadened his view of opportunity. “In Saudi Arabia, almost everyone, almost 100 percent of times you meet a Muslim. Here, you could be sitting beside an atheist, an agnostic, a Jew, and [an American] lesbian. Open-mindedness, in terms of defying conventional wisdom, is encouraged here. Given the Saudi culture, there are some well-defined do’s and don’ts. Here people are more liberal, more open. So that affects the way students think and go about solving problems.”

He compares the resulting professional network with that of a Saudi-educated peer: “Assume I had a furniture business and through my Chinese classmates I might be able to tap into a more trusted alternative [supplier] … my network will definitely give me an edge.”

Matias Sevi ’12 was born in Argentina, but grew up in Chile, Brazil, and the U.S. His business, MandaSeguro, was inspired by a conversation in a Babson dining hall with a Latin American employee, who remarked how difficult it was to send money to her family back home. MandaSeguro enables immigrants to send money home in the form of purchasing power at retailers, often in the form of gift cards. MandaSeguro offers lower rates than alternative methods such as wiring funds or money transfers.

Sevi was educated at American schools overseas. “My education was always in English, so coming to Babson was an easy transition,” he says. The cultural differences he experienced had more to do with living than learning. “In the Latin culture, you live with your parents until you get married. It’s not common to leave home. I think that was the most difficult thing, not only for me but for my family, the distance itself.”

Lessons in living cut both ways, says Sevi. “I lived in a suite in the Map Hill dorm: An Argentine, an American, a Brazilian, and a Vietnamese. It was really unbelievable how we can all be from different countries, different cultures, and still really get along. I think the American was more in shock than the other three of us because of cultural differences. He was the one learning more from us,” rather than the other way around.

Thanks to Babson’s international diversity, students have a head start on learning and working with people of all different cultures, crucial in today’s global economy.