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Unraveling the intricacies of global connectivity

By Nicole Golston and J. Michael Moore

The challenges of global business go well beyond language barriers. To create lasting, authentic partnerships, one must embrace culture, history, and societal norms.

Even standing in line for a cup of coffee can offer the chance to learn.

“One of the most notable differences is ‘personal space,’” says Arturo Gonzalez Jr. 19MBA, who recently returned from a class trip to Brazil. “We take it for granted in the United States. In Brazil, it is not uncommon for a stranger to stand inches behind you in line or for a local pedestrian to sit right next to you. Our professors made us aware the culture was more intimate than it is the US, but it was still a surprise when it happened.”

Exposure like this brings a new level of awareness that is at the heart of an effective business education.

Sangjae Lee wanted complete immersion while in America. The family rented a home in Cumming, and he commuted 50 minutes to campus. Above, the Lee family during halftime of a soccer game at South Forsyth middle school. From left, Jiyoung, Sangjae, Won and soccer player Jun.

At Goizueta, gaining global perspective comes in many forms. Students in every degree program spend hours poring over cases, listening to lectures, and learning the skills necessary to navigate an increasingly complicated and ambiguous world. Additionally, there are more informal ways to gain cultural awareness, such as by gleaning insights from fellow students sitting beside you or on teams.

For instance, 17 percent of the current Class of 2021 at Emory University are international students representing 39 countries. Plus, each year Goizueta welcomes nearly 100 exchange students into the undergraduate program. More than 20 enter the MBA programs along with 31 international company-sponsored students, primarily from Japan, Korea, and Colombia. This type of multinational mix at a school that values team-based learning ensures a high level of interaction and exposure for the entire student body.

In the two years Sangjae Lee 18MBA has lived and studied in the United States, he’s been a member of several teams, taken his family to numerous American cities, navigated Atlanta traffic, and enjoyed having a yard—a luxury considering apartment life in Korea. Back home, Lee is a senior associate at Korea Deposit Insurance Corporation, the company that sponsors his graduate studies at Goizueta. After graduation and a return to Korea, Lee will surely reflect on the cultural norms he’s absorbed to inform his business knowledge moving forward.

“In Korea, getting a job or securing a business deal is done through quantitative aspects such as entry exams or public bidding,” notes Lee. “Here in the US, job interviews based on networking and selected bidding based on previous business relationships are very common. By living here, I have come to realize that paying attention to cementing business relationships is as important as working on capacities or credentials.”

Just as Lee has learned the beat of American commerce through immersion, so too are students who seek the adventure of international exchange. According to the 2017 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, study abroad for American students has tripled in the past two decades.

 A tradition of excellence

Nowhere is this growth and vibrancy more evident than in the undergraduate BBA program, which has a long and decorated history of semester-long study abroad opportunities. Students immerse themselves in the nooks and crannies of a country. Approximately 100 BBA students (36.3 percent of the 2016–2017 class) study abroad each year. To date, the program has partnerships with 45 schools in 29 countries, with the most popular areas to travel being Australia, UK, Czech Republic, Italy, and Singapore.

For undergraduate students who leave the states to study abroad, culture shock can quickly set in. Many supports provided by US schools, like housing or meals, are not offered at other schools.

“When I first arrived in Prague, our dorm room had no working outlets or Wi-Fi,” notes Hallie Mather 19BBA, who is studying at the University of Economics in Prague this spring. “We discovered there was no cafeteria and that we had to make all of our food in the dorm kitchen, which only has one hot plate and no oven. There are very few Americans in the program, and a lot of the students have a hard time communicating in English.”

[Read about Goizueta’s evolving global strategy]

Anna Gibbons, director of international programs for the BBA Office, is accustomed to hearing these types of concerns. It’s all part of students learning to gain independence, which begins before students leave for a trip. Participants have access to an online course through the Canvas platform, which walks them through assignments, from how to apply for a visa to cultural aspects of the country they will visit.

“We have a process that empowers students to realize they can figure out information on their own. They can understand the visa process, they can work with the school directly to figure out their coursework,” says Gibbons. “But, one of the big pieces is oftentimes the campuses abroad don’t have the same level of amenities and campus services that we do. Housing or a gym to work out in aren’t things the campus readily has for them, so they have to go find those resources.”

Mather and her roommates have since adjusted to their new surroundings and gained confidence with resolving their own issues. Says Mather, “Now I’m having a fabulous time! I have learned so much about the culture, its lingering communist influences, and what it means to be an American, especially as a female.”

For Raina Devrai 18BBA, her experience in Barcelona in 2016 was transformative.

Raina Devrai 18BBA spent time at ESADE Business & Law School in Barcelona. Devrai, far right, with other exchange students at Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain.

“By studying abroad, I realized the importance of being adaptive and flexible when interacting with individuals from around the world. There are significantly different ways of conducting business in the United States and conducting business in Spain. Allowing myself to become more flexible in a dynamic environment is a byproduct of my study abroad experience,” she says

In addition, Devrai says the experience has provided a new level of awareness. “When I meet new people now, I actively seek to learn their history, roots, and way of thinking,” she says. “By taking the extra step to learn more about where someone comes from, whether it be from another background, state, country, or continent, I open the door to learn something new.”

This immersion for BBAs is a cornerstone of the program. With Emory’s international student body along with exchange students, there is a blend of cultures that ensures exposure for every student, whether they travel abroad or not.

“Much of the cultural exchange happens almost naturally. In our curriculum, there is so much group work and there is a lot of team-based learning in the business school, so connections between the students happen automatically,” says Gibbons.

For students coming to the US or Goizueta for the first time, Gibbons is the point person.

“While they’re here, I am their point of contact for everything, from helping them to secure housing to navigating campus,” she notes. “I usually become their as-they-need-it one-stop shop” for advice on getting a doctor if sick, to ensuring they are taking the right classes, or even meeting with them if they are having adjustment problems.

Gibbons can relate to students because she lived abroad for a time as well. Her father was in the military, so as a teenager, her family was stationed in South Korea. She soon learned her preconceptions were misconceptions and found her language skills increasing as she melded into the culture.

It’s an experience she shares with students in her role. “Living abroad definitely gave me a knowledge base for the Korean experience,” notes Gibbons. “So when I meet Korean American or Korean students here, I can relate to them because I was immersed in their culture.”

Expedited experiences

While the traditional form of international immersion comes with built-in cultural experiences, both undergraduate and graduate students are taking shorter ventures to explore certain segments of industry.

Wesley Longhofer, assistant professor of organization & management, took 18 BBA students to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic over spring break. For six years this trip has exposed students to the many development challenges faced in Central America and the Caribbean. The trip engages students in discussions related to how business principles and market-based solutions can be applied to achieve meaningful societal impacts.

“The social enterprise owners we met, like Tio Antonio, were so inspiring, and meeting them really put the whole class into perspective,” says Jill Vijaykumar Diwankatera 18BBA. “I could have spent the whole semester learning about social enterprise, but nothing beats actually going down to Nicaragua and meeting people whose entire lives revolve around making the world a better place.

“I would go back in a heartbeat.”

BBA students, Professor Wes Longhofer, and a grower pose at a coffee cooperative facility in Nicaragua.

With trips built into classes, students may have multiple opportunities to travel.

Full study abroad opportunities exist for Full-Time MBA students as well, but most gain international experience through 7- to 10-day trips led by members of the faculty. The program introduced “Lead Week” Modules in 1998 that included organized travel, guest faculty, and courses focused on particular industries and regions, management, or professional development topics.

The model, though expanded to include working professional programs, remains largely intact.

“Just as global business has moved to the forefront of business, forcing change and innovation, so too are the programming efforts at Goizueta,” says Harriet Ruskin 90MBA, director of international and joint degree programs for Full-Time MBA students.

“In the last three years, we have added a post-summer travel option for One-Year MBA students. We are always changing locations, and in the past two years we have moved to rotation schedule for some destinations, with others added more on an ad hoc basis.”

The reason? Meet increasing and changing demand from students who want more international experience before graduation.

Faculty continue to shape the agenda for travel and international exposure inside and outside the classroom. Ed Leonard, senior associate dean for graduate programs, has led more than 20 international trips, exposing students to business in Europe, Asia, South America, and South Africa.

“For each country to which we will travel, the students do a market analysis,” he says. “For example, 18MEMBAs (executive MBAs) did projects on companies including The Home Depot, Chick-fil-A, Tapestry, and Tesla. The students have to determine if and how the company’s business model would need to change to successfully operate in the country.”

Personal experience also plays a role.

Ray Hill, senior lecturer in finance, has lived in Hong Kong, Portugal, and Switzerland. He now leads trips to London, Paris, Istanbul, Colombia, and Portugal.

“We discuss how to think about corruption generally, including behavior that is not illegal but still should be avoided,” Hill says when asked about working international topics into coursework. “I share examples from my own business experiences. One general theme I try to emphasize is that good business practices and good personal relationships really don’t vary across countries. Politeness and listening succeed no matter what the local ‘idiosyncrasies’ are.”

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