The Schmid Center for International Business hosted the 2015 Spring Break international travel class to Vietnam. Students had an opportunity to strengthen their business resume with an international focus, visiting local Vietnamese and foreign invested companies in Hanoi and Saigon. They listened to firsthand accounts from senior executives in government, garment manufacturing, business consulting, entrepreneurship, steel fabrication, quick service restaurants and advertising and public relations, on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in one of Asia’s fastest growing emerging markets. The Business Across Cultures course was made possible, in large part, by a generous grant of twenty $2,000 scholarships provided by the Schmid family.

It was not all work however for the group; an intriguing roster of cultural events was also scheduled, including a day-long trip to one of the most revered religious sites in Vietnam, the Perfume Pagoda, nestled in the spectacular highlands south of Hanoi.  Students also had the opportunity to navigate one of the world’s great rivers, the Mekong. A critical source of nutrients for farming in the Mekong Delta, the Mekong also serves as vital mode of transportation for the replenishment of Saigon’s growing need for fresh fruit, vegetables and produce. Students also got to experience local handicraft manufacturing of sugar cane candy while trekking through the depths of the Mekong jungle. Back in Saigon, all had a sobering opportunity to reflect on the consequences of the Vietnam War with a visit to the War Remnants Museum.

For many in the group the trip was a life changing event, an opportunity to expose themselves to experiences they would not have otherwise done on their own. Kaleigh Poole, a business student, spoke of how the course gave her “an important insight needed for my career in the business world. Growing up in the United States can make you oblivious to conditions in the rest of the world. With a global perspective you can react to opportunities and challenges in a more productive fashion.”

Lauren Flynn, an economics student, spoke of “The most important take-away I have from this course is to not underestimate the importance of cultural and local expertise when expanding business abroad. International business offers many opportunities for growth and success, but also represents huge risks of failure if not done correctly. By successfully combining the best of both cultures and leveraging these strengths in emerging markets, firms can achieve great success as they expand globally.”

Summer Bradbury, who is taking a double emphasis in international business and entrepreneurship, spoke of specific memories, “In Saigon, I was touched by the War Museum, the pictures I witnessed, and the people I met who currently suffer from the consequences of Agent Orange. On my plane to Vietnam, I was touched by the story I was told of a man sitting next to me who escaped from Vietnam and lost all of his family and friends. I enjoyed the entrepreneurial spirit of the Ben Thanh marketplace….A sense of mindfulness is vital. This was a significant take-away for me, especially as I am beginning to look towards outsourcing manufacturing for my garment business.”

Catherine Perugachi, an international student from Ecuador, who is taking an emphasis in international business, noted that “having experienced cultural differences as an international student, I always wondered how I would feel inside an Asian culture… I never imagined Vietnamese people being so open to foreigners, from the warm welcomes at their corporate visits to how well they treated us in stores and restaurants.

Some students focused on similarities between themselves and the Vietnamese they met. Lauren Fox, who is taking an emphasis in management, recalled from the Gami Foods corporate visit. “ I was fortunate enough to speak to and get to know one of the interns for about forty minutes. Her English name is Victoria, and she is in her senior year in University as well. Once we realized we were the same age, we then both shared our worries and excitement about graduating soon. It was eye opening to me that a woman in an emerging market more than 7,000 miles away from me is essentially experiencing than same feelings I am about gradating. It just goes to show how amidst all the cultural differences, we can be so similar across the globe.”

Similarly, Dylan Cox, an international emphasis student, concluded that “realizing the similarities in business mentalities between East and West was my most significant educational take-away. While there may be differences in per capita income, political regimes, and cultural norms, everybody I encountered in a business setting seemed to share a common trait. They were all working to do their best, and all working to make a living. Whether it was a Vietnamese tour guide, an American expat, the owner of a handicraft shop, they all seemed to be striving to better themselves and their situations. This is a universal human element that pervades all of the cultural and political differences we experienced.”

Professor Noel Murray, Director of the Schmid Center for International Business, believes that international business travel courses can play a transformational role in the educational experience, as students are jolted out of their comfort zones and must learn to cope with values and environments quite different from those experienced on the home campus. “At a certain point,” Dr. Murray said “you have to close the textbook and experience the reality of emerging market cultures in person.”

The Business Across Cultures travel course will be offered again in 2015 during the Spring.