I have always wanted to study abroad. I always loved the idea of travel but my family could not afford to do much of it when I was a kid. In college, I watched in envy as my friends took awesome trips over spring breaks, summer vacations and the winter holidays. Meanwhile, I stayed here in Baltimore working to pay my undergraduate tuition. I knew I and would have to wait for the right opportunity to explore the world.
In the winter of 2009, while pursuing my undergraduate degree in marketing, the Merrick School of Business offered a three-week global field study to Cuernavaca, Mexico. Here was my chance to travel! Naturally, I did what any other ambitious 23-year-old would do: I signed up for the class, applied for the Wright Global Scholarship and proudly ordered a passport. That trip to Mexico was a wonderful experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am so grateful the school had a scholarship to help cover the cost or I could not have had the experience.
In fall 2010, I enrolled in the UB/Towson M.B.A. program and decided to pursue the international business specialization. I knew that if the school offered another opportunity to study and travel internationally I would take it. To be competitive in today’s global economy I’ll need all of the international experience I can get. For 2011, the school promoted three global field study opportunities, in Chile, France and China. For me, the only problem was deciding which country to explore.
We students don’t make these choices in a vacuum—reviews about international study opportunities are posted online by student travelers. The year before, Merrick had sent a student group to Chile, and the reviews were great. Then, when I learned that Dennis Pitta, chair of the department of marketing, was going to be the professor for the trip, I quickly enrolled in the graduate course, called Doing Business in South America.
Our class left for Santiago last January for eight days of intense study. There was no time to enjoy the South American summer weather. Our days were filled with visits to a wide range of Chilean companies, while classroom sessions gave us insights into the country’s troubled economic past. At night, we were on our own for dinner and relaxation. That’s where you get a real feel for a country’s culture.
Although our schedule was packed, we squeezed in trips to Santiago’s landmarks such as the Plaza de Armas, the La Moneda presidential palace, San Cristóbal Hill, the Nobel Prize-winning author Pablo Neruda’s home, and Patio Bellavisita – where several of us sampled a Pisco Sour, the Chilean national drink.
But the obvious question is what we learned about Chilean business. Well, much like American companies we determined that many firms do not offer a good work/life balance. Some companies, like SAP, the German software producer, are trying to change that part of the country’s culture. In our meeting with Carola Rubia, industry marketing manager for SAP’s South American operations, we learned that the company’s work environment cultivates engagement and collaboration among its employees so that every person in the operation can influence the way the business runs. It seems to be working: A recent SAP employee survey shows that 82 percent of employees are proud to work there, and 75 percent of the workers recommend SAP as a great place to have a job.
Can this level of employee satisfaction be achieved in the United States? It seems possible, maybe even likely, as all kinds of business becomes more globally connected and professional relationships cross international boundaries.
Indeed, as America’s business relationship grow stronger with countries throughout Latin America, it is vital that we understand the continent’s business and culture. The trip to Chile provided me with all kinds of insights into their business practices and culture. Now, back at home, I appreciate even more the University of Baltimore’s promotion of a first-hand global experience. The field study opportunities that UB offers truly prepare students to be ready to join the global workforce. I place the experience quite high on my list of educational achievements, and I know that I will continue to draw upon the lessons I learned from my trip to Chile.