At the same time as global connections are increasing, Canada is strengthening its reputation for welcoming students from around the world. Leveraging the advantages of culturally diverse classrooms and international partnerships can enable students to gain “cultural fluency” – the knowledge and skills that come with international experience.
Jana Buchanan has experienced the benefits of studying with an international cohort at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University as well as travelling to an international destination as part of her MBA program. When Ms. Buchanan speaks about her trip to Budapest, Hungary, it becomes clear that the experience has been memorable as well as formative – leaving her with a new perspective on business practices in other parts of the world, on her classmates and on herself.
“We’re learning many skills in the classroom, but putting them into practice is a different matter,” she says. “As a woman in business, I sometimes found it hard to find my voice in professional settings. The international experience gave me a chance to flex those muscles in a safe and stimulating environment, and feel comfortable and confident interacting with the business community.”
Dr. Margaret McKee, academic director of the Sobey School’s MBA program, says, “Feedback shows that students see the international experience as an amazing opportunity and a significant value added to the program.”
For this mandatory course, the cost of which is included in the program’s tuition, students spent a 10-day period in Budapest, attending classes with instructors from Central and Eastern Europe as well as making company visits and interacting with trade organizations, like the German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, she explains, adding that the destination of Budapest was chosen in light of the new trade agreement between Canada and the E.U.
On the trip, Ms. Buchanan came to fully appreciate the advantages of belonging to a multicultural group of students. “In the classroom, we work on similar things and ask similar questions. But away from our routine, it was interesting to see the other students ask questions relating to their background and culture.”
Ms. Buchanan describes observing differences in business practices, such as customer service, industry regulations and communications, between Canada and Central Europe as “eye-opening.”
Yet the Budapest trip not only shaped her perspective on business interactions, it also woke her interest to pursue professional development with an international component. “Compared to some of my classmates, I haven’t travelled a lot. I went on the trip thinking about the challenges and expecting I’d have a hard time, but in fact, I was thriving,” she says.
Travelling to another country not only facilitated new connections – it also strengthened the bonds among the students. “We had great discussions and realized that, as a group, we are facing common challenges and we’re navigating our careers together,” she says. “This connection can help us support each other going forward.”
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