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Placing the World at Students' Fingertips

Global Opportunities scenesAfter just one semester on campus, Kristin Dumbeck decided it was time to take advantage of Susquehanna University’s student exchange program with the University of Macau near Hong Kong.

Living with a mainland Chinese student, the Pittsburgh resident played the flute in the university’s symphonic orchestra, tutored a fifth-grade South Korean girl in English, and bought groceries on the mainland. Traveling into the interior with a Chinese friend, she kayaked down a river past grazing yaks and stayed in a village where many homes had no electricity.

“I felt like I was on a different planet,” says the now-rising senior who is studying economics, finance and global management. “From the way I looked to the jeans I wore, how I ate and how I talked, I was different. On the mainland, people would just stare at me.”

But unlike some other Western students she encountered, who assumed the Chinese were too shy or not fun-loving, Dumbeck took the time to understand her Chinese classmates’ traditions. “Once you accepted them within the context of their culture, you could begin to get to know them as individuals,” Dumbeck says.

Dumbeck also spent last fall living with a French-speaking family while attending the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium. As a result of studying in both Europe and China, she says, “I feel like my frame of reference is totally different and really broadened.” For example, now when her classmates offer U.S. business examples, she’s thinking of Macau versus Hong Kong. “From management styles to world affairs,” says Dumbeck, who hopes to work on Wall Street, “I don’t just think in the context of the United States anymore.”

The Sigmund Weis School of Business is encouraging its students to follow Dumbeck’s example by thinking globally—and going global—more than ever before. That emphasis is the result of both the school’s current strategic plan and a university-wide curriculum mandate that, beginning with the Class of 2013, requires every student to have completed and reflected upon at least one significant cross-cultural experience before graduation.

“In the words of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the world is becoming flat,” explains Alicia J. Jackson, dean of the Sigmund Weis School of Business. “Our students are going to be engaging with individuals from multiple cultures throughout their business lives. They will either be traveling and working internationally or dealing in the United States with internationals from all over the world—either because they live here or have come here to conduct business.

“For our students to grow as both individuals and future business leaders, it is important for them to become more culturally sensitive.”

The Sigmund Weis School of Business Places the World at Students' FingertipsFactors helping to create such an environment include 

  • International faculty: As a result of active recruitment efforts, 43 percent of the business school’s full-time faculty is foreign-born.
  • GO (Global Opportunities) Long: More than 50 semester-long opportunities, including the business school’s London Program, are available.
  • GO Short: A rotating lineup of 18 two- to three-week programs, held over winter and summer breaks, offers students cross-cultural experiences on six continents.
  • Mandatory freshman Global Business Perspectives course: The course thrusts students into the global business world by dividing them into competitive teams that conduct business case studies of a publicly traded company.
  • Foreign-exchange students: This past spring, three of Susquehanna’s foreign-exchange students took business classes, bringing both Chinese and Russian perspectives to the classroom.

Since launching the London Program in 1995 (the largest and longest-running Susquehanna-sponsored study-abroad program), the business school has been an institutional leader in exposing its students to the broader world. About 20–25 juniors each semester combine extensive study of the European economy and culture with sponsored and self-initiated trips throughout the continent.

The newer GO Short programs have opened up another world of possibilities. Taught by Susquehanna faculty and staff, GO Short includes a preparatory class, an intense two- to three-week cross-cultural experience and a two-credit reflective seminar the following semester. Business school professors have led GO Short programs to Peru, Great Britain and northern Italy. They also are planning programs in Thailand and Botswana. This June, Professor of Accounting Rick Davis will co-direct British Law and Culture, a GO Short program he developed and led to London for the first time last year.

“It opens students’ eyes to the realization that the rest of this planet is not just like Selinsgrove or Pennsylvania or even the United States,” says Davis. “Just because in our culture we do things a particular way does not mean it is necessarily the only way or even the right way”—a sensibility that, he notes, in the business world can make the difference between coming home empty-handed or with millions of dollars’ worth of business.

International Business GraphicFor athletes such as basketball player Scott Marcinek ’13, the son of Susquehanna basketball coach Frank Marcinek, the GO Short format of Davis’ program was ideal. It allowed him to have a study-away experience while continuing his commitment to the basketball team.

Short programs also work for students either unsure about or unable to make a semester-long commitment. “Even though it was just a short time, being thrown into the everyday life of London has changed me,” says Michael Svrcek, now a rising senior finance major from Pottsville, Pa. “Now I want to travel more and I’m open to many more job options.”

Or consider Morgan Klinger, a rising junior from rural Elizabethville, Pa. She had never used public transportation before boarding a London tube train. “It was definitely culture shock, but once I got used to it, I fell in love with the city,” says Klinger, who is now returning for the full-semester London Program.

Students also benefit from the extensive international experience of faculty members—both those who are foreign-born or educated and American-born professors active overseas. For example, Canadian-born Paul S. Dion, associate professor of management, co-developed a doctorate program in management studies for the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad. He also recruited Barbara McElroy, associate professor of accounting and chair of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems, to teach the doctoral candidates a qualitative research seminar.

She has since developed a forthcoming GO Short program in Thailand with Bangkok native Pat Polwitoon, associate professor of finance. “What I’m noticing more now among a lot of Susquehanna students is a willingness and an excitement, rather than a reluctance, to explore other cultures,” McElroy says.

Incorporating student service and business issues, the Thailand program will focus on sustainability questions by having students follow a watershed from its mountain headwaters—a now-thriving agricultural area once wracked by poppy and cocaine production—to a coastal resort. Says Polwitoon, who began his career with an investment bank in Bangkok: “I hope our students come to realize that you can be happy without so much material goods.”

Meanwhile, Zui Chih Lee, assistant professor of marketing and a native of Taiwan, first came to America to sell Taiwan-made lighters to Wal-Mart. “I help our students bridge their perceptions from western to eastern business cultures,” he says. For example, he offers students insights into how Costco successfully downsized its buildings to better meet the tastes of Taiwanese consumers. Yet another unique perspective is provided by Katarina Keller, associate professor of economics, a native of Sweden who has also studied in Germany, Russia and France.

Katarina Keller“You can see a big difference between those who have gone abroad and those who haven’t,” says Keller, who teaches an international political economy class. “They relate in a different way to what’s going on internationally, and they’re more interested in world affairs—both in where they’ve been and in parts of the world they haven’t visited. They contribute such intelligent comments about world events, and their anecdotes are often more memorable than just reading a textbook.”

Their experiences also inspire other students to go abroad. “The GO program,” she adds, “now makes you think more about where you want to go rather than if you want to go.”

Two years ago, Bobby Ries, then a rising sophomore, accompanied Associate Professor of Management David T. Bussard and Alicia Jackson on a GO Short program to Peru, where they built and installed clean-burning brick cooking stoves and chimneys in one-room huts high in the Andes. Working as a team, Ries and his partner, Chris Zimmerman ’13, installed more than 20 stoves to rid homes of smoke—a common breathing hazard for the people of this region.

“Installing stoves involves planning, organizing, directing, division of labor, inventories and preparation of materials,” says Bussard, director of the business school’s international programs. “So, although we didn’t teach it that way, a lot of business functions were involved. And Bobby exhibited outstanding leadership skills in working with and speaking with the people.”

SWSB Study-Abroad Locations

“At first it’s nerve-wracking because they don’t know any English and you’re in a different country,” says Ries, a finance and Spanish major who lived with a Peruvian family during the trip. “But after a while you begin to develop a relationship with them; you become comfortable speaking, and that’s when your conversational skills pick up.”

The Cherry Hill, N.J., resident improved his Spanish even more last fall living with a Spanish family while he bravely took accounting and bank and stock market management courses—in Spanish—at the Universidad de Alicante on Spain’s Costa Blanca.

Now, he says, “In my business classes at Susquehanna we’re pointing fingers across the ocean saying Europe’s the cause of the economic crisis. But in my classes in Spain the professors were pointing at me and saying my country is the source of the problem.

“That different perspective is valuable,” says Ries, who hopes to become an analyst focusing on Latin America for a capital firm.

“I really think I grew up a lot over there,” adds the rising senior. “You just get a broader understanding of how the world works when you’re forced out of your comfort zone, and you also really get to find out more about yourself.”

By Bruce E. Beans Published on June 28, 2012

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