An increasingly important part of Undergraduate Business education at UNC Kenan-Flagler is hands-on learning experience outside of the United States. Like an internship, the experiences and knowledge that students gain help them stand out in a competitive job market—and develop the tools to successfully navigate the global workplace.
Immersive global studies benefit UNC Kenan-Flagler graduates wherever and in whatever field they work, said Larry Chavis, a strategy and entrepreneurship professor. “Our objective is to help them understand the nature of international business and the interconnectedness of global markets.”
One way the School achieves that objective is through Global Immersion Electives (GIE), which are short-term immersive programs that combine robust pre-departure sessions with an intensive in-country experience. Students meet with local business leaders, alumni and students in countries such as South Africa, India, China, Costa Rica and the United Arab Emirates.
GIEs help students expand their world views, learn to better operate in team environments, analyze strategic situations and create value for companies, said Chavis, who led a GIE to Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei in May. “Whether students are on a path to work in North Carolina or elsewhere in the United States, global studies help their careers in a number of ways. We give them practical experiences and then help them think about how what they learned will help them in their careers and change the way that they engage the world.”
The learning continues back on campus. “Immersion participants return to UNC Kenan-Flagler with experiences that they then talk about in the classroom,” said Angela Bond, associate director of the Undergraduate Business Program. “They can discuss similarities and differences of doing business in China, India or South Africa as it relates to what they are learning at UNC Kenan-Flagler. Immersions help students start to realize the complexity of today’s business world – of how unintended cultural faux pas might compromise business deals, for example.”
Before attending a GIE, students take pre-departure classes to prepare for interacting in the destination country. Lawrence Mur’ray, director of the Undergraduate Business Program, takes students to India. They prepare by learning about Indian history, politics and religion. Some important dimensions of interacting in India include the diversity of language, the hierarchy of Indian society, communication etiquette and the importance of relationship building, he said.
Students focused on leadership during a South Africa GIE led by Mindy Storrie, director of leadership development at UNC Kenan-Flagler. Engaging with South African students and business leaders was powerful, she said. In Johannesburg, they visited the African Leadership Academy, which brings together teenagers from across Africa for a program designed to prepare them for a lifetime of leadership. They met with Segun Olagunju (BSBA’04), the head of entrepreneurial leadership, and the young leaders.
The high school students impressed Drew Schmitz (BSBA ’16), who wrote that when he was in high school “I was just trying to get into college; these kids are trying to save their continent."
Students learned first-hand about the economic, social and political challenges of doing business in South Africa, where unemployment is estimated to be 25 percent and 37 percent of the population lives on less than $40 a month, Bond said. “South African businesses seem to be especially committed to corporate social responsibility. This is a theme that we hear repeatedly when we visit companies. Businesses are engaged in communities where workers live, where potential consumers live – so it is important for businesses to meaningfully invest in the community.”
During GIEs students learn to understand diverse perspectives and innovative problem solving, important skills they can showcase to prospective employers as they compete for jobs.
“This is a differentiator to a potential employer who is looking for students that possess creative critical thinking skills,” Bond said. “Students also learn to be comfortable with ambiguity. Activities that are effortless in the United States are more difficult when operating in another environment where you might or might not speak the language and you do not immediately know how to navigate the political, social and cultural systems.”