Wednesday, April 8, 2009

  • Talk untangles cultural confusion
  • Celebrating Ottawa's millions for IQC
  • Professors on sabbatical this term
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Talk untangles cultural confusion

by Barbara Elve, Communications and Public Affairs

“You can imagine how confused international students can be by how the University of Waterloo operates,” Lionel Larochetold the audience attending his talk yesterday, on the second day of the UW Staff Conference, "2 More Full Days Just for You.”

For those who couldn’t imagine, his keynote address, “Understanding the Impact of Cultural Differences in Canadian Universities,” provided some valuable insights.

Lionel LarocheLaroche (left) is principal and founder of Multicultural Business Solutions in Toronto, and co-author of Recruiting, Retaining, and Promoting Culturally Different Employees.

“People coming to Waterloo are very successful, very high on the social scale in their home country,” he explained. Such a student arrives on campus and has an interaction with an administrative assistant who has worked here for 20 years. In the mind of the student, said Laroche, there is a huge social gap with the student occupying a much higher status; in the mind of the staff person, the opposite is true.

In this brief encounter, the student asks the staff member for 20 copies of a document; she directs him to a photocopier down the hall. “The breakdown that occurs in those 10 seconds leaves both offended, and may take them a year and a half to get over.”

The relative social position of the professional in society is just one example of the kinds of reflexes we develop based on the environment in which we were brought up, said Laroche. While the average salary in Canada is roughly the same as the average starting salary for professionals, in India the average starting salary for professionals is more than ten times the average salary, he added. “The social position of professionals in developing countries is much higher than their position in developed countries.”

Smiling 101: Many reflexes, like looking to the left before we step from the curb, are deeply ingrained, he added. Students newly arrived in Canada have to relearn a whole pile of reflexes.

The task of speaking a second language all day long can take its toll. Laroche gave the audience a task that required slowing down speech and thinking more carefully about the words they used to create a similar scenario. Struggling to find the right word, people found themselves breaking eye contact with their partner — a response that is often considered being evasive.

Failure to understand what a non-native English speaker says may cause the listener to tune out. The typical Canadian response, while nodding knowingly: “I have no idea what you said, but I’m too polite to ask you to repeat it.” A better strategy, said Laroche, would be to ask the speaker to rephrase (rather than repeat) what was said, or to ask questions that will lead to more details.

Gestures are another potential minefield. Giving someone the thumbs up for a great job done would be horrifying for a student from Iran, where the same gesture is equivalent to flashing the middle finger.

Even a smile is never just a smile. In Canada, a smile means, “I want you to think of me as a friendly person.” In Mexico, said Laroche, it means, “I want to be your friend.” Smile at someone of the same gender in Paris, he added, and it could mean you have a mental disability or you’re a con artist.

Paris calling: Another puzzling and annoying custom of international students is phoning three or four people in the same office to ask the same question. Laroche had a simple explanation. “Back home in France, where rules are far more complicated, I’ll call five different people to find a person who best understands how the rules apply in my case, or to see if I can reach a consensus. The behaviour made me very effective back home — and a pain in the neck here, where the rules are very simple, much simpler than in France.”

As well, in the home country of many students, if you are high enough in the organization, rules will change for you. “From the student’s perspective, ‘no’ just means you don’t have enough power to make it happen.

“When we move countries, we lose both the ability to see ourselves as others see us, and the ability to influence others,” he said. “Students often underestimate the difference in unwritten rules between their country and here.” For staff working with those students, “having an awareness helps eliminate blame.”

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[IQC announcement]
Celebrating Ottawa's millions for IQC

Gary Goodyear, federal minister of state for science and technology, came to campus yesterday (above) to celebrate the $50 million government contribution to UW's Institute for Quantum Computing that was announced in the federal budget in January. The event was held at IQC's temporary quarters at 475 Wes Graham Way on the north campus.

"The investment," said a news release, "furthers the Government of Canada's long-term commitment to fostering excellence in science and technology through its national S&T Strategy."

It quoted Goodyear: "This strategic investment will help make Canada a global leader in the field of quantum technology and attract some of the best and brightest researchers and students from Canada and around the world. With this investment, the IQC will be better positioned to build on existing successes and contribute to Canada's global advantage by helping to create jobs, improve the quality of life for all Canadians and strengthen the economy for future generations."

More from the federal news release: "The IQC, already a symbol of Canada's achievement in information and communication technology, will now be in a better position to strengthen Canada's reputation as a pioneer in the field of quantum information. The IQC's plans include developing applications and devices for commercialization that will, for example, replace the present generation of computers with devices that may factor large numbers 10,000 times faster than today's computers.

"Through this $50-million investment, the IQC will be able to build, purchase and recruit the resources needed to lead the world towards the next generation of computer technology. As an integrated centre for research, the Institute will support the training of highly qualified personnel and the development of new knowledge. The IQC will foster a multi-disciplinary approach and promote collaboration among scientists as well as industry and government partners, an approach that could yield profound discoveries."

Said the centre's director, Ray Laflamme: "IQC is proud of the recognition both from the Government of Canada and the international research community in quantum information science. We are determined to be at the forefront on the leading edge of research in a field of tremendous potential for the future of Canada."

In May 2007, the release noted, the prime minister issued the federal government's national S&T Strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage, "setting out a multi-year framework to improve Canada's long-term competitiveness and quality of life. The Strategy includes a commitment to attract and retain talent, support world-leading research and ensure that research discoveries are transformed into practical applications.

"As a part of its ongoing support for this strategy, the government has pledged over $2.2 billion in new S&T funding. Canada's Economic Action Plan provides more than $5.1 billion toward S&T initiatives. This measure will contribute to the creation of a stronger, more innovative economy and a more prosperous Canada."

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Professors on sabbatical this term

Here’s the latest list of UW faculty members who are on sabbatical leaves that started January 1. For each of them, the sabbatical plans are as reported to the university’s board of governors, which has to approve all leaves ahead of time.

Tara Collington, French studies (six months): “I am requesting a leave to pursue work on my SSHRC-funded research project, ‘Crossing Space, Crossing Time: A Bakhtinian Approach to Adaptation Studies’. This project entails the examination of the theory and practice of adaptation — the transposition of a source text into different media, genre and cultural contexts.”

Elizabeth Irving, optometry (twelve months): “I have a backlog of data which needs to be written up and published. I also have nearing completion a 7,000-individual database of ocular parameters which needs to be analyzed. Finally, in collaboration with R. Allison at York University Center for Vision Research, I plan to work on a project to come up with defensible vision standards for driving.”

Robert Feick, planning and geography: “During this six-month leave, I will continue development and testing of spatial decision support tools that are designed to aid public involvement in community planning processes. The field work for this research will be conducted in Smithers, B.C., and the Upper Taieri river district in New Zealand.”

Guy Guillemette, chemistry (six months): “Perform fundamental research on enzyme structure and function in the lab at UW and Duke University, attend workshops, give conferences and begin new scientific research projects.”

Tarek Hegazi, civil and environmental enginering: “Sabbatical leave for one year to interact with the construction industry and conduct research related to developing decision support systems that facilitate efficient planning, scheduling and project control for construction projects. I will also conduct collaborative research with the Toronto District School Board and Ain-Shams University in Cairo, Egypt, on asset management for school buildings.”

Debbie Leung, combinatorics and optimization (six months): “While on my leave, I will be conducting research at various institutes such as Caltech, IBM, MIT and the University of Bristol where my collaborators (J. Smolin, G. Smith, A. Winter, A. Harrow and P. Shor) are based. The topic will be on quantum communication and information theory.”

Jacob Sivak, optometry (six months): “The leave requested will be used to interact with collaborators in Israel (Technion-Israel Institute of Technology) and the U.S. (Rochester, New York); and for writing and summarizing the results of several years of research activity.”


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Link of the day


When and where

Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing competitions: Fryer (grade 9), Galois (grade 10) and Hypatia (grade 11) contests today. Details.

Columbia Lake Health Club open house till Thursday, 340 Hagey Boulevard. Details.

K-W Little Theatre auditions for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (performances in July) continue today 7 to 10 p.m., Arts Lecture Hall room 116. Details.

Winter term examinations April 8-24. Unofficial winter term grades appear in Quest beginning April 27. Grades become official May 25.

Centre for Family Business, based at Conrad Grebel UC, full day workshop, “Transition with All Family Members”, today, St. Jacobs. Details.

Easter luncheon buffet at University Club April 8 and 9, 11:30 to 2:00, reservations ext. 33801.

Heritage Resources Centre lunch-and-learn series: Kayla Jonas, Heritage Conservation District Study, and Martha Fallis, Historic Places Initiative Team, “Exploring the Link Between Heritage and Sustainability,” noon, Environment I room 354.

German-Russian author Alina Bronsky reads from her novel Scherbenpark in German and English, 2:30, Tatham Centre room 2218. Details.

Town hall meeting with the president, provost and vice-president (external relations) for faculty and staff members 3 p.m., Humanities Theatre. Details.

T’art technology art exhibition: end-of-term show of technology-mediated sculptural works from Fine ARts 392. Public opening 4 to 7, show continues Thursday and Friday noon to 7, Student Life Centre multipurpose room.

Waterloo YMCA unveiling of plans for new building on Fischer-Hallman Road and recognition of major gift, 5 p.m., University Club, by invitation.

Beyond Borders education and service experience program at St. Jerome’s University, information night, 7 p.m., St. Jerome’s cafeteria.

Good Friday holiday April 10: UW offices and most services will be closed.

Senate long-range planning committee Monday, 3:00, Needles Hall room 3004.

Senate undergraduate council Tuesday, noon, Needles Hall room 3004.

Bridging the Gap pre-retirement workshops. Six weekly sessions Tuesday, April 14 through Tuesday, May 19, 7 to 9 p.m., Rockway Centre, 1405 King Street East, Kitchener. $60 plus GST. Details.

Pharmacy building community open house Saturday, April 18, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 10 Victoria Street South, all welcome. (Official opening ceremony, by invitation, April 17.)

Friends of the Library Lecture by Prem Watsa, chancellor-designate of the university, April 20, 12:00 noon, Theatre of the Arts.

UW Senate meets April 20, 4:30 p.m., Needles Hall room 3001.

Bike for AIDS fund-raiser sponsored by World University Services of Canada, April 26, 12 to 4, Columbia Icefield. Details.

Graduate Student Research Conference April 27-30, Davis Centre. Details.

Fee payment deadline for the spring term: April 27 (cheque, money order or fee arrangements), April 30 (bank transfer). Details.

‘Permanent Residency: What You Need to Have to Prepare for It.’ Presentation by Canadian consulate in Buffalo, aimed at new UW faculty members, April 27, 9:00 or 2:00, Arts Lecture Hall room 113. Details.

Positions available

On this week's list from the human resources department:

• Residence Life Co-ordinator (CLV), Housing and Residences, USG7. Internal secondment opportunity

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