Developing global knowledge and skills through experiential learning is a hallmark of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. In the full-time MBA Program, Global Immersion Electives (GIEs) are key to understanding how business is conducted around the world.
These faculty-led courses develop intercultural competencies: Empathy and the ability to see issues from different perspectives, deeper knowledge of a region’s business and people, and cross-cultural communication skills. Students interact with leaders of companies and organizations in different regions, learn about business practices and experience challenges, and participate in cultural and community experiences.
In 2019, students focused on general management in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe; healthcare in China and Japan; entrepreneurship and innovation in Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore; and sustainability and social enterprise in Bolivia and Ecuador.
Mike Heffez, Grace Yook and James Richardson (all MBA ’20) joined classmates to explore the dynamic entrepreneurship environment of three of the most important economies in the region: Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore. They interacted with business leaders in venture capital, online retailing, blockchain, tech and education startups, government and an NGO.
The GIE had a big impact on Heffez, who was no stranger to international travel: He had traveled extensively across India, the Mediterranean and Central America.
“Entrepreneurs we met in Southeast Asia provided valuable insights into their professional journeys,” he says. “I’d always been interested in learning about entrepreneurship, but I hadn’t thought of it as a feasible career path. While talking with founders and chief technology officers at startups, I got the exposure I needed to bring a future in entrepreneurship closer to reality. I went on to intern as a startup consultant and associate in a local angel investment network.”
Building relationships is another benefit of GIEs. “Business school can and should be a transformative experience – it’s filled with opportunities to actively reflect and to find personal growth,” Heffez says. “The GIE to Southeast Asia was a key personal development experience, and while traveling with 25 classmates I got to know them better and build lifelong friendships.”
The knowledge and perspective provided by the professor who led the GIE – Arv Malhotra, H. Allen Andrew Professor of Entrepreneurial Education and professor of strategy and entrepreneurship – was invaluable, says Richardson.
“Arv incorporated real-time assessments to evaluate how cultural differences, geographic location and government structure influence business decisions in Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore,” he says. “Learning outside of my comfort zone and being immersed in new cultures changed the way I view and understand the world.”
Grace Yook, a dual-degree student in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, also benefited from Malhotra’s guidance. “Through my conversations with Arv I began to understand how the GIE could shape my overall MBA experience,” she says. “I was eager to understand how the business of healthcare works in emerging markets, and he encouraged me to research companies that I would be interested in visiting.”
Matthew Srygler and Maya Anderson (both MBA ’20) headed with classmates to Bolivia and Ecuador to examined the opportunities and challenges of sustainability and social enterprise.
Alumni and classmates had told Anderson that if she didn’t study abroad she would regret it.“And so, in spite of the fact that I was running low on funds, I took a leap of faith that a learning experience with my classmates – in two countries I’d never thought about traveling to – would be a life-changing experience,” she says, “and it certainly was.”
Students met with a mission-driven restaurant owner, a doctor who invented a medical device made using local weaving techniques, a top producer of Bolivian quinoa, and leaders from an indigenous-run ecolodge in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, tech start-ups, a renewable energy company, startup hubs, government entities, an MNC committed to supporting local communities and an Ecuadorian chocolate company.
The GIE was eye-opening, demanding and fun, says Anderson. “I visited tens of local businesses, made friends with classmates I barely knew, and learned how to incorporate sustainability into my future career. I saw first-hand what a burgeoning modern economy looks like and imagined all of the amazing possibilities based on what already has been built.”
“It adds an important level of global neighborliness to our education that embodies the community culture we stand for. Introducing us to the world, and the world to UNC Kenan-Flagler, is a win-win investment in my eyes,” she says.
When Srygler was researching business schools, he knew he wanted an immersive experience to learn different perspectives on sustainable practices and how fiscal decisions can have an impact on the environment. The GIE provided an avenue to pursue his passion for sustainable development and engage in conversations with leaders across the globe.
“I am grateful for the learning experiences, thoughtful mentorship from faculty and staff, and collaborative learning environment fostered by the students I would soon call some of my closest friends, he says. “What I did not realize was the impact that the GIE would have in shaping me to be a better leader in the classroom and beyond,” he says.
Srygler returned to Chapel Hill with a refined mission statement, stronger connections and a deeper awareness of global business and the complexities of creating value in an international system. “Overall, this made my MBA experience significantly better by giving me an alternate paradigm to view the fundamental constructs that shape the way we live,” he says.
His advice to students: “Take advantage of every experience that allows you to gain perspective and become a better listener and, in turn, a better leader. Keep an open mind, look for hope, and take advantage of the opportunities like the GIE that are available at UNC Kenan-Flagler.
In 2020 GIEs will examine Healthcare in China and Japan, innovation and entrepreneurship in Russia and Estonia, real estate in Ecuador and Peru, and strategy and sustainability in South Africa and Zimbabwe