Case spotlight: Uwa Ode: Embracing Life and Career Across Cultures

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This case was featured in the November 2022 issue of Connect.

Who - the protagonist

Uwa Ode, a Global Executive MBA programme graduate.

What?

Uwa grew up in Nigeria but moved to London aged 16 to begin their A-levels. Uwa joined their older sister who arrived in London two years earlier.

After completing their A-levels and earning a degree in engineering, Uwa took a job at a local engineering company in London, choosing to work in the oil industry like their father.

Uwa worked in London for eight years followed by a three year-stint in Northern Ireland, five years in Texas and a year in Louisiana. This location was supposed to be Uwa’s last non-permanent move.

Faces

Why?

Tired of making friends and establishing traditions in a place, only to leave again, Uwa was keen to put roots down somewhere and not just have their life revolve around work, an apartment and the gym.

Now, it was time to find out where long-term friendships could be made and a more permanent life, a home and a family could be created.

Embarking on the Global Executive MBA programme in Barcelona meant a return to Europe, and the opportunity for sufficient new experiences and time to explore the world. During this period, Uwa hoped to identify where to live and find the chance to relocate to a place that could be called home.

Where?

In their formative years, Uwa lived in the Netherlands twice, England, the United States, Singapore and several states in Nigeria, owing to their father’s work with a multinational company.

Uwa’s father began his career in Rivers State in Nigeria, which had a different culture from their state of origin. Uwa and their siblings often wondered why, as a family, they did not eat the same food or speak the same Nigerian language as their local friends that were from Rivers State.

That sense of displacement stayed with Uwa throughout their life.

When?

Uwa had now spent 17 years living away from their native Nigeria – over half their life.

Key quote

Where is home? Where am I from? Which culture should I identify with? Is home where I work – even though it is not permanent? Or is home where my parents’ house is? Because with all this moving I have not put down any roots anywhere, yet.
Uwa Ode.

What next?

Uwa faced three choices when it came to their future after graduating.

Would the experiences of the Global Executive MBA programme in a new country provide fresh inspiration even if they decided to stay with the current employer?

Maybe a nomadic life, the thrill of discovering new cultures, and the challenge of reinventing oneself remained enticing? While feeling rootless, there was still a fair share of restlessness.

Or Uwa could return to Nigeria as their parents decided to retire there and they’d always felt strangely attached to Africa. However, one sister moved back to the country and was unhappy due to not being understood and not sharing the views of Nigerian society.

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Multicultural case

Sebastian and Yih-Teen said: “The case is based on a multicultural student in our Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) programme whom both case authors taught. In one of the sessions, we introduced the concepts of a third culture kid (an individual who’s spent substantial time during their formative years in a culture different from their parents’ culture or origin) and a multicultural individual (someone who has internalised two or more cultural schemas, usually through a multicultural upbringing or extended experience in another cultural context).

“Uwa (their disguised name) was very emotional after class when they realised that there was a name and research on their own experience. Subsequently, Uwa agreed to have a case written on their experience and their career decisions as they completed the GEMBA programme.

“More broadly, we believe the case is both timely and important because an ever-increasing number of individuals have a multicultural upbringing, with important implications for how they feel, act and view the world. And there is increasing research (some of which is referenced in the teaching note) pointing to important benefits that multicultural individuals can provide to organisations and their members.”

Diversity world

Willing protagonist

Sebastian and Yih-Teen continued: “When we started writing the case, we were amazed at how self-reflective Uwa was about their multicultural life and experience, both personally and professionally. Uwa shared with us a poem they had written when first leaving Nigeria to study abroad. One of the learnings from the case is indeed the power of being self-reflective and Uwa’s own nature attests to this – and greatly helped us craft a compelling and interesting case.

“Ever since the case was written, Uwa still joins the graduating module of the GEMBA programme each year when we teach the case, so they can update the class on their subsequent career decisions and experiences. The case discussion and learning are hence evolving with Uwa’s ever-enriching life and cultural experiences over the years after the case was written.”

Identifying with Uwa’s experience

They added: “We have found that the case works best with a group of participants who have multicultural backgrounds themselves. Given the diversity of most MBA and Masters programmes, this is usually the case. As such, participants clearly identify with Uwa’s experience and for some students, the case triggers rich self-reflection, just as how Uwa’s own programme experience triggered the case and their own reflections. The case lends itself well to teasing out issues, not only about cross-cultural management, but also self-reflection in a diverse and intercultural context.

“The case also offers a rich foundation for developing student’s awareness about their own identity work, the fact that we all, in our human nature, juggle multiple identities which may or may not always neatly align, and the importance of considering one’s own desired and actual identities. Such reflection can bring clarity and value for participants with monocultural backgrounds, as they start to develop their international career and evolve their identities.”

Case writing tips

Sebastian and Yih-Teen concluded: “For us, crafting a great case requires a compelling decision dilemma, one which participants can identify with and that tends to split the class (i.e. that has good reasons for either decision path).

“The Uwa Ode case is a good example because Uwa needs to make a pivotal career decision and has identified three possible scenarios. Such a decision dilemma tends to open a rich discussion in class, which helps to open up key elements and decision criteria that help draw out possible actions and their likely implications.”

The case

Who - the protagonist

Uwa Ode, a Global Executive MBA programme graduate.

What?

Uwa grew up in Nigeria but moved to London aged 16 to begin their A-levels. Uwa joined their older sister who arrived in London two years earlier.

After completing their A-levels and earning a degree in engineering, Uwa took a job at a local engineering company in London, choosing to work in the oil industry like their father.

Uwa worked in London for eight years followed by a three year-stint in Northern Ireland, five years in Texas and a year in Louisiana. This location was supposed to be Uwa’s last non-permanent move.

Faces

Why?

Tired of making friends and establishing traditions in a place, only to leave again, Uwa was keen to put roots down somewhere and not just have their life revolve around work, an apartment and the gym.

Now, it was time to find out where long-term friendships could be made and a more permanent life, a home and a family could be created.

Embarking on the Global Executive MBA programme in Barcelona meant a return to Europe, and the opportunity for sufficient new experiences and time to explore the world. During this period, Uwa hoped to identify where to live and find the chance to relocate to a place that could be called home.

Where?

In their formative years, Uwa lived in the Netherlands twice, England, the United States, Singapore and several states in Nigeria, owing to their father’s work with a multinational company.

Uwa’s father began his career in Rivers State in Nigeria, which had a different culture from their state of origin. Uwa and their siblings often wondered why, as a family, they did not eat the same food or speak the same Nigerian language as their local friends that were from Rivers State.

That sense of displacement stayed with Uwa throughout their life.

When?

Uwa had now spent 17 years living away from their native Nigeria – over half their life.

Key quote

Where is home? Where am I from? Which culture should I identify with? Is home where I work – even though it is not permanent? Or is home where my parents’ house is? Because with all this moving I have not put down any roots anywhere, yet.
Uwa Ode.

What next?

Uwa faced three choices when it came to their future after graduating.

Would the experiences of the Global Executive MBA programme in a new country provide fresh inspiration even if they decided to stay with the current employer?

Maybe a nomadic life, the thrill of discovering new cultures, and the challenge of reinventing oneself remained enticing? While feeling rootless, there was still a fair share of restlessness.

Or Uwa could return to Nigeria as their parents decided to retire there and they’d always felt strangely attached to Africa. However, one sister moved back to the country and was unhappy due to not being understood and not sharing the views of Nigerian society.

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Author perspective

Multicultural case

Sebastian and Yih-Teen said: “The case is based on a multicultural student in our Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) programme whom both case authors taught. In one of the sessions, we introduced the concepts of a third culture kid (an individual who’s spent substantial time during their formative years in a culture different from their parents’ culture or origin) and a multicultural individual (someone who has internalised two or more cultural schemas, usually through a multicultural upbringing or extended experience in another cultural context).

“Uwa (their disguised name) was very emotional after class when they realised that there was a name and research on their own experience. Subsequently, Uwa agreed to have a case written on their experience and their career decisions as they completed the GEMBA programme.

“More broadly, we believe the case is both timely and important because an ever-increasing number of individuals have a multicultural upbringing, with important implications for how they feel, act and view the world. And there is increasing research (some of which is referenced in the teaching note) pointing to important benefits that multicultural individuals can provide to organisations and their members.”

Diversity world

Willing protagonist

Sebastian and Yih-Teen continued: “When we started writing the case, we were amazed at how self-reflective Uwa was about their multicultural life and experience, both personally and professionally. Uwa shared with us a poem they had written when first leaving Nigeria to study abroad. One of the learnings from the case is indeed the power of being self-reflective and Uwa’s own nature attests to this – and greatly helped us craft a compelling and interesting case.

“Ever since the case was written, Uwa still joins the graduating module of the GEMBA programme each year when we teach the case, so they can update the class on their subsequent career decisions and experiences. The case discussion and learning are hence evolving with Uwa’s ever-enriching life and cultural experiences over the years after the case was written.”

Identifying with Uwa’s experience

They added: “We have found that the case works best with a group of participants who have multicultural backgrounds themselves. Given the diversity of most MBA and Masters programmes, this is usually the case. As such, participants clearly identify with Uwa’s experience and for some students, the case triggers rich self-reflection, just as how Uwa’s own programme experience triggered the case and their own reflections. The case lends itself well to teasing out issues, not only about cross-cultural management, but also self-reflection in a diverse and intercultural context.

“The case also offers a rich foundation for developing student’s awareness about their own identity work, the fact that we all, in our human nature, juggle multiple identities which may or may not always neatly align, and the importance of considering one’s own desired and actual identities. Such reflection can bring clarity and value for participants with monocultural backgrounds, as they start to develop their international career and evolve their identities.”

Case writing tips

Sebastian and Yih-Teen concluded: “For us, crafting a great case requires a compelling decision dilemma, one which participants can identify with and that tends to split the class (i.e. that has good reasons for either decision path).

“The Uwa Ode case is a good example because Uwa needs to make a pivotal career decision and has identified three possible scenarios. Such a decision dilemma tends to open a rich discussion in class, which helps to open up key elements and decision criteria that help draw out possible actions and their likely implications.”

The authors

Sebastian Reiche
Professor of Managing People in Organisations
Yih-Teen Lee
Professor of Managing People in Organisations
Read the case

Educators can login to view a free educator preview copy of this case and its accompanying teaching note.

TEACHING NOTE - Reference no. DPOT-0121-E
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