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"This class taught me to connect with the people I need for a brighter future."

Coming Out of Your Comfort Zone: Erzhan Wang, MSF '17

Erzhan Wang, MSF '17

Finance student looks to expand his professional presence as a result of Professor Andy Molinsky's course
February 16, 2017

In an age when social media is considered essential, Erzhan Wang, MSF ’17 has always felt isolated from his peers when it comes to interacting on popular platforms. Wang, who grew up in Shanghai, entered Brandeis International Business School (IBS) with the goal of broadening his knowledge and job prospects in the finance industry. 

“I’ve just never been into using social media, and that wasn’t a problem at home in Shanghai, because I already had solid networks there between classmates and colleagues,” he said. “Now that I’m in the U.S., however, it’s a problem.” 

Erzhan knew his avoidance of social media might cost him opportunities, not only to meet people and socialize, but also to get a good job in the finance industry. And he’d seen the importance of social networking first-hand from his mentor, a former colleague at Adidas who was also attending graduate school in Boston. She was an extrovert who worked in marketing, whereas Erzhan calls himself more of a “back office” type of guy. But, he saw how her active social media accounts paid off in the real world. 

“She found job opportunities through these online social networks, and even had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand for a half-year program,” he said. “That was a really powerful example, so I tried to learn from her.” 

Erzhan sought out his former colleague as a mentor on the advice of Professor Andy Molinsky, who teaches a course on global dexterity at Brandeis IBS. It was in that class, where students are asked to evaluate their cultural code against American behaviors to better understand where they need to adapt, that Erzhan decided to tackle his fear of social networking. And in order to maintain Erzhan’s personal authenticity, Professor Molinsky suggested he start small. 

“I began by focusing only on professional social networks, because I don’t even have an updated LinkedIn account,” Erzhan noted during the semester. “It makes me uncomfortable to think that anyone out there can see what I’ve done and what my goals are, but I know it’s important for universities and companies to be able to find me online and learn about my background.” 

So, he forced himself to turn over a new leaf and began creating new accounts on professional networking sites. It was a bit of trial and error – he reached out to one alumnus he’d seen as a guest speaker, but Erzhan found the interaction uncomfortable. Still, he didn’t give up hope. 

“It wasn’t a good conversation, but I know I can improve,” he reflected. “If I practice a few more times, this whole process will start to feel more natural.” 

Molinsky’s class concludes with an interactive show-and-tell where students share their final cultural adaptation projects in a museum-style environment. Students use a wide variety of presentations to illustrate how they confront a behavior that was critical to their future success – including theatrical re-enactments, animations, slideshows and more. 

Erzhan narrated a video and made a poster that outlined the series of steps he took to enable his social media “rebirth” (see photo above): opening the necessary accounts (which meant putting away his previous misconceptions about social media), following more people online (thus broadening his network),commenting on posts and sending LinkedIn InMails (and even receiving some friendly feedback!). But even after all that, networking online is still a struggle for Erzhan. Molinsky’s class sets the expectation that students don’t complete their work when they finish the semester. The practice and patience required to turn these skills into natural behavioral reflexes goes on longer than any one course. 

“Even when I’m engaging with close friends on social media, I still worry about offending people,” said Erzhan at the end of the semester. “I haven’t made it to posting my own stuff yet because I’m afraid of alienating those with different opinions. But I hope one day when my voice is louder, I’ll feel more comfortable posting on social media. This project has been a blessing; it’s taught me to connect with the people I need for a brighter future.”