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A graduate business education allows you to study issues and opportunities currently impacting industries and corporations. But when given the opportunity to explore firsthand the market forces affecting global business, the learning experience is even greater.
Delivering programs with a strong experiential learning component has long been the mission of Auburn graduate business programs in the Harbert College of Business. Providing students a global business experience addresses that mission goal and provides students with an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Being on the ground abroad enhances the overall learning process, said Danny Butler, PhD, assistant dean of International Programs. Although students are required to research their destinations and the companies they will visit, the typical response is, “It is not what I expected.” Having the opportunity to meet face-to-face with business leaders and government officials brings the challenges and reality of world events to a personal level.
“Aside from understanding the business challenges and opportunities unique to a country, students also meet the people and experience the culture —sights, sounds, and tastes—and that experience forever changes the manner in which our graduates view the global world they must compete in,” Butler said.
“Being able to have this experience and meet with so many great speakers from all sectors of business was the best way to bring all aspects of the curriculum into one cumulative experience,” said Executive MBA student Cory Singler. “And in true Auburn fashion, it embodied the land grant university mantra of research, instruction, and extension in the best way possible.”
Nearly 100 graduate business students flew to different parts of the world last week to meet with corporate leaders, tour businesses, and immerse themselves in foreign cultures. Seventy-two graduate executive students traveled to Barcelona, Spain, while 14 Full-Time MBA students were gaining a better understanding of business dynamics in Puerto Rico.
“Getting to travel to a place with my MBA cohort not only brought us together as friends but taught us things we could never learn in the classroom,” said Hannah Lovik, a second-year Auburn Full-Time MBA candidate. “Getting to spend our class time before the trip researching Puerto Rico does not compare to getting to be on the ground there, speaking to and learning from people we would not have met otherwise. The trip changed my perspectives in many ways, and I am glad that I got to experience something I likely would not have experienced if I had not come to Auburn to pursue my MBA.”
“We focus on providing an enriched student experience in the classroom, certainly, but a great deal of thought and effort is given to delivering unique and highly valued learning experiences outside of the class,” said Jim Parrish, executive director of Graduate Business Programs. “It’s not enough to simply tour a manufacturing plant in another country. We want our students to engage in meaningful conversations with business leaders to better understand the economic forces driving growth and change in that country.”
Lovik said one of her most memorable experiences was traveling to the nonprofit Hungercorp to meet its president and founder, Steven Feliciano, who later led a walking tour through part of the La Hormiga community in Dorado, where they are rebuilding homes with residents and empowering them through educational, economic, and social development.
“Steven shared his story about how he had planned on becoming an engineer to make money for his family but was called to serve his community by starting an organization that used the residents' current resources to kickstart small businesses, schools, and gave them reliable homes,” Lovik said. “While Steven talked with us, we were able to walk through the neighborhood and see the houses they have built with the residents and hear from the people they serve and work with about all the positive outcomes they have seen.”
This marked the first time all three graduate executive cohorts traveled together, making it Harbert College’s largest international excursion of graduate business students.
While Full-Time MBA students toured Puerto Rico, Executive (EMBA) and Physician Executive MBA (PEMBA) students and Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) students were visiting Spain.
Each cohort had its own itinerary. For EMBA, engagements ranged from touring the Port of Barcelona to an introduction of sports marketing innovation with representatives of La Liga, one of the world’s most popular professional football (soccer) leagues. PEMBA students focused on Spain’s healthcare systems and its challenges, meeting with a variety of physicians and faculty, including the Medical Director Teladoc Health International Spain and the therapeutical area head of neuroscience for Novartis. MRED students explored topics such as policies, methodology, and objectives in Spain’s social housing, but most memorable were the tours of construction projects and historic architecture, including visits to the iconic Basilica de la Sagrada Familia and the Camp Nou football stadium, Europe’s largest stadium with a capacity nearing 100,000.
“I especially enjoyed some of the tours of the surrounding areas of Barcelona that I would never have thought to do if I was traveling on my own,” said Singler. “The experience of touring Santa Maria de Montserrat, a catholic monastery in the mountains outside of Barcelona, was breathtaking, to say the least.”
MRED student Merrill Fung said, “With the opportunity to visit another country and meet other peers in the real estate industry, it broadens our perspective on a global level. Learning their culture, and how they manage their projects, we can reflect and share our insights of process and methodology.”
It is perhaps as intriguing to discover similarities in foreign business practices as it is their differences, according to these executive students who bring years of professional experience to their graduate program studies.
“Some of the highlights of this trip were getting to meet other professionals in our industry in another country and hearing about how similar some practices and procedures are but how different others can be,” said MRED student Haden Smith. “For example, real estate brokerage is essentially the same, but housing is vastly different. Construction design is similar, but the materials used are different due to costs. Concrete structures are cheaper than wood in Spain which is not the case at all in North America.”
The planning and coordination needed to travel internationally with large student cohorts is daunting at the best of times. But when flying while COVID-19 travel protocols—which vary from country to country—are in place, it adds another layer of complication and concerns. In addition to the usual coordination of air travel, lodging, business tours, executive meetings, and tours of historical and cultural sites, organizers must arrange travel insurance for students and prepare contingency plans should a student test positive for COVID, which happened to one student before the return flight from Spain. Spain’s air travel protocols require a seven-day quarantine period following a positive test. In this case, both the student and an accompanying faculty member remained behind and in quarantine an additional seven days before returning home.
“Traveling internationally with a large group presents unique challenges in normal circumstances—but even more so at this time in the world where COVID protocols and restrictions differ from country and country,” said Kim Kuerten, executive director of Graduate Executive Programs. “Student safety is paramount, and we constantly assess those concerns while staying focused on providing students an impactful learning experience. This year, even with all of the constraints and barriers that we faced, it was just a blessing to be able to travel again. It was a wonderful gift for our graduating students.”
World events can also impact global immersion trips. EMBA students were scheduled to meet Omar Medina, economic advisor to the consulate general of the United States at the World Trade Center Barcelona Sala, but meetings were canceled as the Russian invasion of Ukraine required the attention of consulate personnel.
The Harbert College of Business is a nationally ranked hub of undergraduate, graduate, and continuing business education that is inspiring the next generation of business leaders. Our world-class faculty deliver unparalleled academic rigor in the classroom, while our research-driven scholarship advances thought leadership and best practice in emerging business disciplines. Our alumni and industry partners actively engage our faculty and students to integrate business theory with practical experience and to instill the level of proficiency and integrity demanded by employers around the globe. https://harbert.auburn.edu/