When Katarina Danbrook visited Budapest, Hungary, with her MBA classmates last year, she felt as if she packed a whole year’s worth of learning into just 10 days.
Ms. Danbrook is a part-time MBA student at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. She’s also a human resources professional at a construction company based in Dartmouth, N.S. Ms. Danbrook says one of the big reasons she chose Sobey for her MBA was the international learning experience students get as part of the program.
“I thought, when am I ever going to get that experience to learn about a different culture and a different business environment in another country where everything is directed and planned for us?” she says. “If I were to travel to Budapest by myself, I wouldn’t get that experience.”
During the trip, Ms. Danbrook and her 40-odd MBA classmates took part in academic, business and recreational activities throughout the city. She says highlights included lectures about cross-cultural communication at the ESSCA School of Management in Budapest and interaction with Hungarian entrepreneurs at Impact Hub Budapest.
“The entrepreneurial mindset is really young there, and so it was interesting to hear about the entrepreneurs’ successes and their failures in the Hungarian business market,” she says.
During their downtime, the students took in the sights, from a river cruise on the Danube to the bustling city market to Hungary’s famed thermal baths.
“One day the whole group of us hiked up to see a castle and that was just stunning,” Ms. Danbrook says.
Margaret McKee is an associate professor and the program co-ordinator for Sobey’s MBA program, and she says the international learning experience is intended to help students learn about the business operating environment of an international destination while fostering an appreciation for the political, cultural and social sphere as well.
Dr. McKee says that, three years ago, Sobey redesigned its MBA program and made the international learning experience a requirement, building the cost of the trip into the tuition. She says this year’s trip to Budapest was arranged through Saint Mary’s partnership with ESSCA, which also has campuses in Shanghai and several cities in France.
“We wanted to take our students to a location that they wouldn’t likely have visited,” Dr. McKee says. “A place that’s a little off the beaten track where English or French isn’t the primary language. Budapest is in a region that is interesting because, having previously been under communist rule and having opened up their economy, it’s culturally very different [from Canada].”
Ms. Danbrook says one of the most valuable things she learned on the trip was how to approach conducting business internationally by getting to know a culture’s social norms and reading the signals potential business associates are sending.
“It’s easy in a classroom in Halifax to say, ‘I know that I need to research all of these things before I go do business in another country.’” Ms. Danbrook says. “But after the trip, I know I have the skills and confidence to do that. Being immersed in another culture and having to navigate through day-to-day life while learning about it at the same time is just so much more valuable than reading about it in a textbook.”
Dr. McKee says this year’s students will be visiting both Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia.
“Scandinavian countries are very advanced in terms of their thinking around sustainability, and we talk a lot about responsible leadership in our MBA program,” Dr. McKee says. “Estonia, like Hungary, is a country previously under communist rule. They’re very advanced in their thinking about e-commerce. And on the cultural side of things, Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage site.”
Dr. McKee says that this kind of immersion experience is valuable for students because when it comes to doing business, globalization is “here to stay” and rapidly increasing. This kind of travel is also a bonding experience for Sobey’s MBA students, many of whom are international students themselves.
Ms. Danbrook says having so many international students in her MBA class has been both interesting and enlightening. “Hearing them talk about their culture and their economic climate, you can learn about six or seven different business environments in the span of a class,” she says.
MBA students at Sobey have numerous opportunities for international exploration. Dr. McKee says the school has a memorandum of understanding with dozens of institutions around the world and students can choose to study for a portion of their MBA in places like France, China, Brazil, South Korea and Denmark.
As well, the Sobey MBA Society established a Net Impact group two years ago. Net Impact is a global network of student organizations focused on bringing positive change to the world’s most pressing challenges, from food insecurity to the future of energy. Each year, Net Impact hosts a conference where students and young professionals from around the world come together to network and exchange ideas.
Robert Forsythe is an MBA student and member of the school’s Net Impact chapter, and he says going to last year’s Net Impact conference in Phoenix was inspirational.
“It was so incredible to be with 1,500 like-minded people from around the world who care about things like climate change and sustainable finance,” he says. “The more perspectives and backgrounds we have at the table, the stronger our recommendations will be.”
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