Professors at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business decided that it's not enough to teach graduate students about the globalization of commerce they need to showed them first-hand.
So all 249 students in the first-year MBA class spent a week in such destinations as Nanjing, Tokyo and Mexico City, studying the workings of foreign companies, financial markets and cultures.
The trips were part of USC's Pacific Rim Education, or PRIME, program now part of the required curriculum for all first-year full-time MBA students at the university.
"The future is globalization, so we need to teach our students to be global leaders," said Ravi Kumar, a USC professor heading up the program. "You can't teach what's happening in Shanghai or Mexico City by sitting here. You have to go there to actually feel it, see it (and) learn about the cultural, the history, the economy of the country."
The four-week course began in mid-April, with two weeks of classroom study at USC on the history, culture, politics and business environment of Pacific Rim nations in general and their selected country and city specifically.
Then on April 25, students fanned out to their selected destinations and began eight days of on-site projects, answering questions such as: How can a Korean company set up a management team with locals in Mexico and at the same time retain its distinctive Korean flavor? Or how should a Chinese manufacturer position itself to enter the U.S. market?
It was no vacation, say students.
"They kept us pretty busy," said Galit Feinriech a first-year MBA student who spent a week in Nanjing, China. "Our goal was to create a marketing program for LED display screens that were produced in China and marketed in the United States."
Once arriving in Nanjing, the general manager and marketing director of the Lopu Corp. met with the students, gave them a tour of the facilities and then got down to business, discussing the various ways the LED screens could be marketed outside of China.
"They are dealing with many issues in China right now," Feinriech said. "Not just the things you typically hear about like Tiananmen Square or the human rights abuses, but converting from a state-run to a free market economy and all the issues that go along with that."
The visit changed Feinriech's perception of China and helped solidify her career goal to work in the international marketplace.
"I have worked in Israel and now with this experience, I can say that there is a lot to be said for having international experience," she added.
The cost of the trip depended on the destination (those going to China paid $1,200) with regular tuition covering the balance. The student credit union offered loans to those students who didn't readily have the funds to cover the cost of the trip, said Irma Quintana, assistant director of administration for PRIME.
Education experts believe such programs are becoming increasingly important. "If you're providing a program that only focuses on local issues, you aren't adequately preparing students," said Dave Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. "Everything is now international. You don't get that until you immerse yourselves in it and see it."
Kumar is hoping the program evolves into more than a four-week course each year. "This is a much larger project than just a course," said Kumar. "It changes the culture of the business school to become more international. My vision five years from now is that USC's business school will be a knowledge center, serving the community as a source on how things are done in these countries and (providing) expertise to businesses who want to do business in these countries."
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