The "nazar boncuk," a stone or glass representation of the evil eye, hangs in houses and offices throughout Turkey, protecting people by absorbing any negative energy directed their way. Business travelers encounter it constantly, often misunderstanding its purpose. But in Cross-Cultural Management, a new course at the Robins School of Business, students learned its significance from a Turkish classmate as part of a discussion on cultural literacy.

Five of the nine students who enrolled in the course this spring represented countries other than the United States, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Scotland, Taiwan, and Turkey. "Part of our discussions involved their cultures," says Violet Ho, associate professor of management, who was impressed by the diversity of her class.

For business school graduates, increasing globalization means more opportunities to work internationally and in culturally diverse environments. But it also brings new challenges. Ho designed the course to address the challenges and opportunities associated with organizational management in cross-cultural environments.

Business administration major Lauren Fink, '10, enrolled because of the focus on understanding one's own cultural values and beliefs, as well as those of people from different cultural backgrounds.

"I realized that an understanding of different cultures in crucial in any career," says Fink, who starts working at Richmond-based marketing firm Royall and Company this month. "It's important to recognize and respect cultural differences, and really use perspectives of everyone in the group."

Students also learned about cultural dimensions that characterize different societies — like individualism and collectivism, and placing value on material things versus quality of life and relationships.

One of Ho's goals for the course was to teach students about the challenges of crossing cultures. But instead of reading about these challenges, she wanted her students to talk to people who live them day-to-day — minority students on UR's campus.

She collaborated with the Office of Multicultural Affairs to "see how they could help the class, and how the class could help them," she says. The office helped identify three minority groups to study, and a grant from Common Ground helped recruit focus group participants.

After a workshop with Human Resource Services' Valerie Wallen on effective focus group facilitation, each team conducted two to three focus groups with members of a particular minority population — African-American, Asian-American, or Latino. They shared their findings with the multicultural affairs staff.

Fink's team studied the Latino population, asking participants about their home cultures, U.S. culture, and the culture at the University. While she was surprised by the situations minorities face on campus, her teammate, Taiwan native Sherry Yeh, '11, recognized similarities between the Latino experience and her own. "It was really interesting to have someone confirm your experience," says Yeh.

Heading into the focus group sessions, Ho felt confident that her students grasped the differences in beliefs from one group to another. After their research, she says, "They better appreciated the challenges of minority groups at UR."

Many of the students, including Yeh, are international business majors. Awareness of these challenges — and solutions they can enact — will serve them well in management and other careers, Ho says. "Cultural intelligence and sensitivity help people deal with others in interpersonal interaction...one of the underpinnings of organizational behavior."