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McCombs MBA students on an exchange in Bali

McCombs Makes Case that All Business Is International with Immersive Global Programs for MBAs

Studying abroad has been proven to help improve academic success, language learning and intercultural understanding. It also enhances employability and career skills and helps build an international network — things that, when it comes to graduate students, can provide a unique advantage.

Data from the Institute of International Education show that while 11 percent of all undergraduate students — and 16 percent of those earning a bachelor’s degree — study abroad, only 3 percent of graduate students do.

This, however, is where Consortium member school The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business shines.

Recognizing the clear benefits of global education, McCombs provides a range of international opportunities for students, from short-term and semester-long stays to immersive industry experiences. Senior Program Coordinator of MBA Exchange Programs Debbie Carney believes this is one thing that sets McCombs apart from other full-time MBA programs.

“For a program of our size, the number and variety of global programs we offer our students is unique,” Carney says. “At the start of their MBA experience, many students think that studying abroad may not be an option for them within the relatively short timeframe of a full-time MBA program. However, we are able to provide opportunities that range from as short as one-week to as immersive as a full year abroad, which allows our students to find a program that works best for them.”

Carney’s work involves coordinating semester-long exchange programs with McCombs 25-plus partner schools around the world, in places like London, Hong Kong and Cape Town, as well as short-term programs (of one to two weeks) that provide students a deep-dive into a specific industry, location or business-related topic.

Consortium student Korey Wallace participated in a recent trip to Chile and Patagonia focused on developing your “personal style of leadership and active followership under different types of environmental conditions,” he says. The experience instilled in him the importance of clear communication as the leader of a team, ensuring that every member is in alignment with the overall objective and is aware of his or her role.

Consortium MBA student Korey Wallace in the Andes Mountains in Chile
McCombs Consortium MBA student Korey Wallace in the Andes Mountains in Chile

But it was in planning and preparing for the trip that Wallace gained the most insight. “We spent a lot of time ensuring we had the right gear, developed our communication styles, planned our fuel and our debriefing activities,” he says. “When the trip was over, and we looked back at how much effort we had put in to accomplishing a goal which once seemed insurmountable, there was a tremendous … feeling of accomplishment — that with the right mentality I can do anything [I put] my energy toward.”

Wallace is one of many members of the McCombs Consortium class of 2020 to take advantage of these opportunities. In fact, 72 percent of students in the school’s Consortium cohort (28 out of 39) have participated or will participate in a global program offered by McCombs by the time they graduate this spring.

In spring 2020, MBAs have the option of learning about the automotive industry or energy economics in Germany; sustainability in Copenhagen, Denmark; innovation management in Vienna, Austria; or tech and entrepreneurship in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“The sustainability program in Copenhagen has been popular with our students. It’s a five-day intensive that offers an opportunity to see the circular economy in action and how the public and private sectors can work together using a net positive approach to business,” says Carney. “The students get a sense [for] how business is done in a city that’s very different, [where it’s] really all about the environment.”

On both Germany trips, students travel to a range of cities, including Cologne, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Munich and others. MBAs in the automotive and mobility program visit auto associations and car manufacturers like BMW, while those in the energy economics program gain a comprehensive overview of the German energy sector and its role in the EU.

“It’s a really interesting, unique look behind the scenes of these industries,” says Carney.

Another Consortium student, Kavita Koppa participated in a sustainability program in Bali in January that helped not only deepen her knowledge of this global issue but also alter her perspective.

“Bali was a fascinating destination to see how business, particularly the CPG industry, affects how non-Western countries develop and the environmental consequences thereof,” she says. “Not only did we see firsthand the effects of waste on tourism and tropical commodities, but my fellow ‘McCombies’ and I dug deep into the role of business in creating waste in countries that don’t have the resources to manage it to scale.”

McCombs MBA students on an exchange in Copenhagen, Denmark
McCombs MBA students, including Consortium alums David Reyes and Angela Yen, during a global experience in Copenhagen, Denmark

This exposure to different cultures, economies and perspectives is beneficial for these MBAs on both a personal and professional level.

“I think that can be a really powerful lesson and something that they can apply both with recruiting and interacting with different businesses and executives, as well as in beginning to understand different business cultures,” says Thomas “Tommy” Ward, director of MBA Global Connections, another international education program at McCombs.

Similar to Carney’s programs, Global Connections provides opportunities for students to immerse themselves in an industry on short trips abroad led by a McCombs professor. These take place the week before and the week of spring break.

“We try to combine a faculty member’s area of expertise with what’s happening in that region,” says Ward. “So, for example, we have a supply chain course in Southeast Asia that’s taught by a professor who’s looking into sustainability in supply chain, specifically in Southeast Asia.”

Some themes and locations remain constant year after year — like Southeast Asia and China — while others vary. During the experience, MBAs often travel to multiple cities and countries. In 2020, students have the option of doing a deep dive into energy in China, non-market strategy in Chile and Argentina, public health innovation and sustainability in Rwanda and Kenya and CSR in supply chain management in Vietnam and Thailand.

“[In China,] the students visit state-run oil companies. They also visit solar panel manufacturers and wind turbine manufacturers. So they get a very broad mix,” says Ward. “There’s a portion of [the Rwanda/Kenya] program where students spend a night in a rural Rwandan community in a homestay, [where] the hosts are public health workers.” The latter, he notes has been quite popular among Consortium students.

A significant component of Global Connections is the pre-travel class. These two- to three-hour classes begin at the start of the spring semester and meet weekly up until the point of travel. They are broken up into two sections.

“One of the sections [focuses on] what’s relevant in the specialty industry within the location they’re going to, so really getting in depth into any issues surrounding supply chain or energy, for example,” Ward explains. “Then, there’s another section of the program that’s dedicated to cultural analysis, so understanding how culture can be characterized and analyzed both within their own backgrounds and applied to international settings.”

While there is no language requirement to participate in Global Connections or any of McCombs’ exchange programs, Ward notes that the cultural analysis component helps give students a baseline knowledge and prepares them for interactions in the various locations.

McCombs MBA students on an exchange in Bali
McCombs MBA students, including Koppa, in Bali

Participation in all of McCombs’ Global Connections and short-term study abroad programs is highly competitive as students must “bid” for a spot. MBAs have a certain number of points they can put toward registration for elective courses, which includes these programs, and only a select number of students are chosen. According to Ward, anywhere from 120 to 150 students bid for Global Connections programs, and approximately 33 are placed in each one.

“All MBA students can essentially enter the lottery process to get into any of these,” he says. “The most popular ones generally require the largest number of points.”

One of the benefits of these programs is that students don’t know who will be going on these trips when they bid, Carney notes. Not only will they have the opportunity to meet and get to know new students from their own class but also, occasionally, those from other participating institutions — including other Consortium member schools.

“We send five students to Vienna for two weeks and so do several other business schools,” says Carney. “These are the kinds of programs that allow students to interact with their classmates and students from other schools in the U.S. and elsewhere. I think that’s a huge benefit.”

Ward believes that the Global Connections class in particular offers MBAs a unique opportunity to get acquainted with one another. “Students really get to know each other in the class in a way that they don’t necessarily get to in other classes — both [during] the pre-travel experience and while they’re abroad,” he says. “They have this shared experience; they’re all learning and experiencing a different culture together.”

For Koppa, traveling to another country with her Consortium peers only added to the experience.

“I was lucky to experience Bali with several members of my ‘C-fam’ class, which added a whole new layer of understanding to what it means to be a person of color abroad,” she says. “We were able to lend a different perspective to our classmates on culture, management and historical context. [I was] so grateful to have them with me for this ride.”

McCombs’ global education programs are diverse and vast, but Carney acknowledges that they don’t cover every industry or specialty. In spite of this, she says, all MBAs walk away with knowledge and insights that make them better business leaders long term.

“I have students who participate, for example, in a program in Germany on energy, and maybe energy isn’t their chosen industry focus, but they know they’re going to come back knowing a lot about this particular industry — and, at some point, that’s going to be relevant,” says Carney. “It makes them a better, more well-rounded and global-minded person.”

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