The coronavirus has disrupted much of the traditional executive MBA experience. Group chats turned into Zoom calls. Networking events have been reduced to WhatsApp chats. But the biggest loss for many students has been not traveling abroad to visit companies, meet famous business leaders and experience different work cultures.
International study travel is at the heart of many Executive MBA programs. For foreigners, such tours can seem like a joyous escape for students. But tutors insist that they are important for teaching leadership.
âIt’s a bit like learning to swim,â says Susan Hart, associate director of the European Foundation for Management Development’s Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) accreditation body and executive dean of the European Foundation for Management Development. Durham Business School in the UK. âIt’s easy to explain what you need to do to move through the water in a classroom, but it’s very different from getting wet. “
Study trips are seen as so essential that attendance often counts for final credits, so business schools have had to develop alternatives to travel for students to graduate.
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Jonathan Doh, Associate Dean for Research and Global Engagement at Villanova School of Business (VSB), near Philadelphia, has developed alternative international experiences with “Integrative Virtual Global Consulting Projects” for on-time MBA programs. full and MBA for executives.
Last fall, VSB students completed an online consulting project with Totto, a Colombia-based designer, manufacturer and distributor of backpacks, travel bags, clothing and accessories. Together, they developed strategies to support the business in light of the pandemic.
âIt was our experience,â says Prof. Doh. “We made it much more of an applied internship, working on a project, rather than just an immersive experience.”
This model was extended to the current Executive MBA International Immersion course, where students worked with Knorr-Bremse, a German manufacturer of brake systems, on an expansion project in the Chinese electric mobility market.
Caitlin Ganley, senior manager of government and regulatory affairs at Comcast Cable, had to complete the overseas online project with Knorr-Bremse to earn enough credits.
âI love to travel,â she said, adding that it was âvery disappointingâ to hear that the overseas visit was being replaced. “I wouldn’t say travel was the main reason I got my MBA, but it was a big reason.”
However, having had alternate experiences, Ganley sees benefits to interactions with foreign companies that were, in some ways, more realistic. His online consultation projects ran from January to May, providing more detailed understanding than a 10-day study tour.
“[Communicating online] It meant that in some ways it felt more like a reality, a chance to do business with a client, âshe says. âDon’t get me wrong, I really would have liked to go to Germany. But I don’t think I would have had the same depth of experience on a 10 day trip.
While MBA students such as Ganley can graduate without visiting other countries, many schools offer those who missed out on overseas trips the opportunity to travel with other MBA cohorts once the restrictions apply. travel waivers, or take more local tours.
The Spanish Esade has offered trips to Berlin and Milan for its Executive MBA students, if the students follow the travel rules set by Germany and Italy.
Oxford University’s Said Business School is allowing its pandemic students to join trips over the next three years.
âWe were fortunate enough to be able to visit Mumbai in November 2019, before the lockdown,â says Manshuk Bekbolat, one of the EMBA graduates this fall, who missed three more trips, to China, South Africa and in Silicon Valley.
âI was disappointed that I didn’t visit more places during my course,â Bekbolat adds. âI chose SaÃ¯d because he offered more international study trips than other peer universities.
Born in Kazakhstan, Bekbolat feels lucky to have traveled a lot already, having moved to the Netherlands after earning her first degree and a full-time MBA in her native country. She is now financial director of the North European management consulting center Lee Hecht Harrison, a subsidiary of the Adecco group, based in Amsterdam.
âOne of the reasons for choosing Oxford was that the networking aspect was so rich because you have classmates from all over the world,â she says. âOn a trip like Mumbai, you learn about the different ways of doing business, but you also learn from the perspective of those classmates who travel with you.â
During the 2020-2021 academic year, 118 EMBA students from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia took virtual study trips to Finland, Estonia, India, Japan, and Argentina.
It was not the same as the global immersion courses that Professors Darden Marc and Shizuka Modica conducted in Japan for several years. However, they say the virtual tours have added something new: making traditional Japanese dishes; or try out local customs with their families.
âPeople got really involved emotionally and intellectually,â says Shizuka Modica.
Among the participating students was Crystal Farmer, a program manager at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, near Washington. She researched the Japanese art of kite-making as part of the two-week virtual tour, building and decorating her own four-legged version using traditional materials ordered from Amazon, which she she attempted to fly in a Washington park. “Flying would be a kind description of what we have accomplished!” Â»She admits.
Farmer started the course in 2019 and took a study trip to Brazil before the pandemic hit. She was days away from a visit to China when the U.S. capital went into custody in March 2020.
âI wanted to get my MBA since I left college, and travel was one of the biggest factors, in part because I haven’t been able to travel much in my life,â says the 35-year-old Floridan. .
There has been talk within Farmer’s MBA cohort of joining future overseas trips led by Darden, although she is not sure if that will happen.
âI plan to visit some of the places I could have gone as part of my MBA program, particularly Japan,â Farmer said. “Once you decide to travel to these places, I don’t think the travel bug will ever stop biting you.”