Judith Barajas (’16) knew working and living abroad was something she wanted to do eventually after she traveled to Oxford with COBA as a student in the spring of 2014. She just didn’t expect to be back in England so soon.
Barajas, a marketing major with a minor in international business, became very involved at ACU through Ko Jo Kai and the ACU chapter of the American Marketing Association. She traveled abroad again in 2016 when she led a team of 10 students on a mission trip to Honduras with Mission Lazarus as an officer for the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
After graduation, Barajas moved to Dallas, Texas, and accepted a job as an account manager at PFSweb, an eCommerce fulfillment provider. During her three years with the company, she worked with multiple accounts that helped her learn about different business models. As she grew professionally, she knew she wanted to expand that knowledge. So, in the summer of 2019, she took a leap of faith, quit her job and moved to Barcelona, Spain, thanks to her love of different cultures and travel.
Barajas continued her education in Barcelona, receiving her master’s in international business from EAE Business School in the summer of 2020. With the uncertainty of world markets during the pandemic, it became almost impossible to find work abroad. However, her experience with PFS in Dallas had gone so well that the company reached out to her after graduation and offered her a job in its new office in the UK. Barajas moved to London in October 2020 and is contracted to work there for three years.
While the last few years have been a roller coaster, Barajas is extremely grateful for where she is right now and looks forward to more adventures ahead, noting that “God’s timing is simply the best. It was definitely a challenge, but I had faith it was the best time of my life to make such a decision. I am extremely happy to have had a great experience and learned so much about business in other countries, not only through school but also through my classmates. My graduate school class represented 28 nationalities!”
It is not lost on Barajas that she is living in a place where she once studied as an ACU student. “The craziest thing is that after I studied abroad in Oxford, I promised myself to move back one way or another. Oxford will always be in my heart. Little did I know it would happen this soon.”
Barajas continues to stay in touch with professors like Dr. Monty Lynn and Dr. Ryan Jessup to offer ways she can help educate and mentor COBA students who hope to live out their own adventures.
(Maddy Crockett, sophomore accounting major from Lubbock, Texas shares her experience of living in Oxford, England with ACU’s Study Abroad program this spring and what it was like when they were forced to return home due to the Coronavirus.)
Heartbroken – the moment we’d been dreading had come. We looked around at each other as they announced over the loud speaker on the bus that the Oxford program was forced to shut down. We were going home two months earlier than expected. President Trump had addressed the nation the night before, raising the travel restriction levels all throughout Europe, except for the UK. The other students in Leipzig were out of Germany when the news came, and they left immediately – without their belongings and without saying goodbye. The prospect of the Coronavirus interfering with our semester had been a topic of debate between the students for several weeks, but we were optimistic until the end. After that day, though, we began the dreaded process of saying goodbye.
Before I studied abroad, I might not have taken seriously how deeply one connects to the place they live. “Yes, they have to come home. So what? They just spent the last two months travelling and spending money. Surely it couldn’t have made that big of an impact, right?” And sadly, I make these assumptions for many activities I have no experience in. Yet, the past two months, while seemingly short, truly were life changing, and my heart ached at the prospect of leaving early and departing from that environment.
I really had no plans to study abroad. A friend convinced me to sign up freshman year, and thinking it would be a good way to push myself, I said yes and submitted my application. Yet, as the drop date steadily approached, I went back and forth, struggling over if it was something I truly wanted to commit to. Did I want to be gone for a whole semester? Would I regret the activities and people I’m missing on campus? What if I got over there and hated it? Was it even worth it? After almost backing out – twice, I might add – I decided to go through with it, and that was that. Fall semester flew by and Christmas break arrived, which led to packing, planning, and saying goodbye to friends and family in Texas.
The day we left for Oxford – a Wednesday morning after spring semester had started – we were teary-eyed and unsure what the next four months held. I had two close friends going abroad with me and others who I hoped to know better, but I was leaving many dear friends at ACU. ‘Why on earth am I leaving when I have so many good things right here?’ I thought as we all hugged each other goodbye. Then, we were whisked away on the bus, took several long flights, and arrived exhausted and unsure the next day in the city of Oxford. It was cloudy, cold, and completely foreign.
The next few days held room assignments, walking tours, scavenger hunts, and exploration as we settled into our new environment. The cloudiness and cold slowly shifted to cozy and ideal; the foreign turned into curiosity and adventure. We found bakeries with beautifully decorated cakes, coffee shops with upstairs seating and rickety wooden floors, the grocery store to load up on a few days’ worth of groceries (and no more than that — it’s a mile walk home, and you carry what you buy). We began our classes in a little establishment off of Woodstock Road – The Quaker Meeting House – and got plugged into a church that many study abroad alums told us about, St. Aldates. We went running through the abundant parks and meadows Oxford holds, and we grew accustomed to walking at least a mile to get places. The days faded into weeks, and without even realizing it, I had forgotten to be nervous or to miss home. This adventure had captured my attention, and each new day brought eagerness and excitement – a rhythm was found.
While a foreign country itself is an incredible journey, it wouldn’t have been half of what it was without the people I experienced it with. Oxford holds the largest ACU group, with thirty-five students, two professors, and an on-site director, but it never hindered us from learning to know one another. These were people we saw day in, day out, from breakfast to class, to the common rooms and everywhere in between. We were all on the same schedule, all in a new place, and all wanting to make the most of our time here – which is the perfect environment for connection. Not only did I grow closer to the friends I already had, but our community grew abundantly as we created one-of-a-kind shared experiences with each other. Class devotionals on Monday nights, breakfast for dinner with a smaller group, college night at church (and going for ice cream once it ended), and eventually, travelling to different countries in our free weekends. An environment affect change so much in a person, but the people there with you make all of the difference.
It would be impossible to convey everything I learned or experienced in Oxford, but there are a few that stick out to me. Something I have noticed since being at home is that study abroad gives students the opportunity to step back from their commitments, their activities, the people they spend time with, and really see who they are outside of that. It can help you think about what’s important to you back home, and what you want the rest of your college career to look like. For me, these past two months helped me grow in proactivity and confidence. Whether it be volunteering to plan out all the details of our next trip, using Apple maps to navigate us through the streets of a city, or choosing excitement instead of intimidation when countless opportunities present themselves, the experiences I had helped make me a little more well-rounded (I hope, at least!).
The Coronavirus had been a topic of discussion, first jokingly back in February, then more seriously as other universities began to pull their programs. To us, it was something in China, then in Italy — but not Oxford, not where we were. The week before we left, our class was scheduled for a trip to Northern Spain. We were elated because we would all be together to explore that new place. As we packed and prepared to leave for it, we heard about more and more programs that were being called back home and that the numbers of the sick in Italy were growing exponentially. There was debate if we would be pulled, too, but the ACU Study Abroad office continually communicated with us that our program would continue as planned, as long as our area was safe and that the US deemed it so. Looking back, our time all together in Spain was one of the high points of our semester, and we could not have ended on a better note.
When we learned that we were going home early, we were blessed to have two whole days left to say goodbye to our temporary home. Souvenirs were bought, scones and pastries were consumed in unhealthy quantities, we had one last breakfast for dinner, and we ran through the parks and meadows that were slowly greeting spring. The last day held flurried packing, tearful conversations, and a bus ride to the airport that came all too soon. I thought back to that first bus ride, where I questioned why on earth I was wanting to do this. Now, I never wanted to leave. Life can be funny that way.
As I sit here at home, saddened by what these next two months could have held in Oxford, but even more so by the devastation and chaos that the Coronavirus has brought upon everyone, I am still grateful. Friends and family reaching out to see how we are holding up, class Zoom calls that feel a little more like reunions, a virtual breakfast for dinner, and time to sit and dwell on what the Lord has done in us since we left the US back in January. Study Abroad gave me the dearest friends, an abundant atmosphere and culture, and instilled a drive in me to go after and get done ideas that I have. I am so incredibly grateful for this opportunity, in the midst of its interruption, and I am curious to see what the rest of this year will look like. Still, I am eager for the day when I can return again to visit this temporary home.
In the fall of 2019, Dr. Mark and Dr. Laura Phillips embarked on a semester long journey with a group of students on a study abroad trip to Leipzig, Germany. If you are interested in studying abroad, or simply hearing about the adventures that happen abroad, Dr. Laura Phillips has given us a beautiful recap of what it looks like to immerse yourself in a different culture for an extended period of time. Thank you to Riley Simpson, junior management major from Dripping Springs, TX, who studied in Germany with the Phillips for the amazing photos in this blog post.
“The students all took 6 hours of German through a local language school that was about a 30-minute walk or a 20 minute tram ride from the villa. We had class in three hour blocks and class met either two or three times per week. The classes were taught by native German speakers, which was great. (I took the German classes with the students.) All the students also took the Global Studies class which covers German history and culture. Mark taught that class and the in-class materials were supplemented with guest speakers and field trips within Leipzig as well as trips to Berlin, Wittenburg (important in the story of Martin Luthur and the reformation), and Weimar (where we visited Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp).”
There were also several business classes offered, including: Principles of Marketing, International Business, and Life Design, a class taught by both Mark and Laura as an honors colloquium and one hour business course. Students were allowed to take any online classes they wanted to add to their schedule. Most classes were taught at the villa in Leipzig, but they would also occasionally meet for field trips. These included: Spin Lab, a startup business accelerator, Blüthner Pianos, and the BMW factory
I asked Mark and Laura to recap their semester abroad and this was Laura’s response:
”How do you recap an entire semester abroad? A few things I can share that may give you a flavor of the trip/experience.
- We went to Berlin as a group after the students had been in Leipzig one week. Our trip was three days and we were able to see and do some very interesting things. Even after having lived in Leipzig for only a week, at the end of our Berlin trip multiple students expressed how glad they were to get back “home.”
Founded in 1853, Blüthner Piano is one of a handful of ultra high-end piano makers on earth. We learned about the company, oddly enough, at church in Leipzig, where we met an American who worked for Blüthner in California and now heads their marketing efforts. An hour-long series of bus rides (including one stop where some of our people failed to get off) took us to the factory. There we had free access to walk through and see how deluxe pianos have been hand-built since the 1800’s. Today the company is seeing growth in demand from China, even as Europeans and Americans are less interested. It has also added a second line of less expensive pianos for those unwilling to pay the premium their brand can still charge.
As American companies and their customers battle back and forth over privacy, the European Union has moved much more quickly to protect consumers. And the demand for privacy is even more vocal in former East Germany, where for decades the government and a vast network of citizen spies kept tabs on everyone. At the height of the Cold War, 1 in 8 East Germans was spying on other East Germans for the secret police; part of the current resistance to Christianity there is because so many clergy were revealed to have been informing. Leipzigers are very uncomfortable having strangers take their pictures, and children are strictly protected (we hosted a group of children from a nearby school for a meal and only the school’s designated photographer was allowed to shoot pictures. American companies doing business here must move carefully in order not to offend.
- Over the course of the semester we all found some favorite cafés, restaurants, and parks.
- We became comfortable interacting with a city where all the signs are in German. Students who traveled outside of Germany for long weekends expressed how comforting it was to get back to the airport or train station in German and hear people speaking German again (even though we still couldn’t understand much of it).
- We had students who used their travel weekends and week to explore other regions of Germany as well as hit a number of other destinations in Europe, but it was cool because they didn’t just explore the normal destinations of London, Paris, Rome. They also went to Budapest, Vienna, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, Milan, Pisa, Florence, and some less well-known destinations in Switzerland and Norway. Several of the students even rented cars and took road trips!
- We had a good sized group of students who became very involved at ICF–the church to which Lindsay (who lives on site at the villa) belongs. They became involved and connected even though the services were in German!
- We experienced true German culture by attending a Red Bull soccer game and participating in the crowd chant that occurs after every goal. We had numerous chances to practice the chant because Leipzig won 8-0! We also attended an orchestra concert (the Leipzig orchestra has been a performing group for over 200 years!) and a handball match. Over the course of the semester groups of students attended concerts and/or the ballet (Nutcracker) on their own.
- At one point some students from the Oxford group came to Leipzig to visit. Our students were surprised at how tentative the visitors were because of the language difference (which they hadn’t experienced in Oxford). Until then I don’t think our students realized how much they had grown because of the difference in languages and how comfortable they had become in spite of it. Knowing they can live and thrive in a country that speaks a different language gave them more confidence as they headed out to
explore other destinations.”
In their time abroad, the Phillips made sure to build time in to go on interesting excursions to different countries and experience different culture, one of these being Greece. “Greece was amazing. It came at a great time in the semester. We had just finished our first “semester” of German and the weather was getting cooler in Germany. It was awesome to take a break from classes and spend 10 amazing warm, sunny days in Greece! We saw super cool archaeological sites like the Acropolis, ancient Corinth, the ancient Olympic stadium in Olympia, the oracle of Delphi, etc. We had very knowledgeable tour guides that helped make each of these sites interesting and meaningful. We had a free day in each destination so we were able to explore the towns, hike, go to the beach, rent a boat, and so on.”
“Whatever we did during the day, whether it was together or on our own, we regrouped for a meal together each evening. It was a good time to reconnect and share stories from the day.” Next, they adventured to Prague and integrated what they had learned to what they were seeing. “We took a four day group trip to Prague late in the semester. For this trip the students served as tour guides for the different sites we visited. They prepared their research and then delivered their information to the rest of the group as we took a walking tour around the city. At one site a couple of women from Italy were sitting on a bench nearby. As our student went through her spiel, they held up numbers on their phones, rating her presentation. It was fun to interact with other people who were seeing the same cool sites that we were. In Prague we had our family meal at a Mexican restaurant! It was fun to have some “familiar” food in a far away place!”
(Picture by Laura Phillips
As with anything, there are always cool, funny, interesting, and strange stories to tell. Halloween was no exception to for the bunch. “We planned to have a pumpkin carving activity on October 30th so that afternoon we headed to the store as a very large group to pick out pumpkins. Lindsay said there were plenty in a big box outside the store but when we arrived, there were no pumpkins. We went to two other stores (as a very large group) but no luck. We ended up having to go back to the first store and the students picked out various things, such as small cooking pumpkins, butternut squash, and in one case two cabbages! Needless to say the carvings were interesting and unique and the students did an awesome job of improvising. Halloween isn’t as big of a deal in Germany but the students wanted to trick or treat at the villa. To make this feasible, students could volunteer to be a ‘host’ or they could choose to trick-or-treat or do both or nothing. Everyone who wanted to trick-or-treat had to dress up and then the hosts spread out around the villa. Since just visiting five or six rooms and getting candy would take about 10 minutes, it became a trick-and-treat activity. There was an activity at each ‘house.’ Some of the activities included solving riddles, playing MarioKart, playing pictionary, writing and then reading a Halloween poem, and doing a TikTok. Two of the students dressed up as us!”
And it is no surprise that a few travel issues were involved:
- “On one of the early weekends, a group of girls made their hostel reservations for the wrong nights and ended up having to sleep in the common room of the hostel the first night.
- A group of guys took a camping trip in Norway. Two of the guys slept outside in hammocks and it was a bit chillier than they were prepared for.
- Coming back from a small German town by myself (with my bicycle) the train I was on split into two pieces. Only one half want back to Leipzig and I was on the wrong half. I discovered this when we arrived at a city I knew was the wrong direction from where I wanted to go. I had to get on another train back to where I started and try again!”
To end their time in Germany, there was a closing ceremony in which many of the students demonstrated their musical talents. “One of the students spoke and then at the end, four of them went up for the closing number and unexpectedly busted out with a very energetic version of ‘I Will Survive’. It caught us all off-guard but was hilarious and so awesome! The students could give you many more funny moments.”
Phillips ended with, ”It was a great semester of exploration, bonding with the group, game nights, devos, group meals, getting lost, being confused…”
-Laura Phillips + a ditto from Mark
COBA sends students and professors across the world every summer. It’s an initiative that ACU and the College of Business feel strongly about and one that always leaves the professor and the student changed. During the summer of 2019, COBA had two student groups in Asia and Oxford. While the classes offered and excursions were different, one thing is the same. Students unanimously endorse studying abroad.
MGMT 419: Global Entrepreneur was the two-week class that sent eight students to Asia – specifically China, Thailand, and Hong Kong SAR – and was led by professors Andy Little and Jim Litton. To make the most of the group’s short time on the continent, classes were held on campus during the spring semester, with some of the work being completed ahead of time online. While in Asia, students and faculty gathered for several academic class discussion sessions. The trip also included a day spent in the Thai mountains visiting coffee farms and a visit with a group of “digital nomads” in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Among the unique experiences that students had in Asia, they climbed the Great Wall of China, spent two days in the mountains of Thailand visiting Karen hill tribe villages and hiking through the jungle, had a fun session learning about Muay Thai (Thai boxing), explored Hong Kong, and visited numerous religious sites in Thailand and Hong Kong.
Litton and Little are not strangers to China but no matter how many times they go abroad; they learn something new during each trip as well. Dr. Little said, “I learned a lot about eight great students and four distinct cultures (traditional Chinese, Thai, Karen hill tribe, and Hong Kong). It was interesting to compare and contrast the Confucian values and culture of China with the predominantly Buddhist values and culture of Thailand.”
Emily Goulet, junior accounting major from Austin, Texas reflected on the trip. “Assessing this program in the literal sense is something that I have found hard to do because the benefits and knowledge that this trip has allowed for me to gain have an immeasurable value that doesn’t align with any quantitative scale in my mind. Travel allows for a certain intrinsic value to be added to one’s knowledge and perspective and these are how we end up having a new shape to our worldview. One way that I feel able to begin to understand and measure the impact of this program is within the amount of time I have spent in reflection after I returned home from the trip.”
Katie Norris, sophomore marketing major from Texas City, Texas said that Study Abroad gave her an opportunity to get to know her professors in a different setting. “It was really cool to have professors that I have not yet had in a traditional setting believe in me. I was the youngest one on the trip, but the professors did not make me feel like I was any less knowledgeable. I was also glad to pick their brain a bit about their journey and what they learned on their way to their current position in life.”
One of Katie’s favorite experiences was traveling to a small village in the Thailand mountains where students were greeted and taught to roast their own coffee. “This experience showed us how simple life could be when separated from the consumerism food chain. It also showed us the simple and pure joy that comes from creating something you are passionate about with your own hands and how important that is to take into a successful business as an entrepreneur.” She advises any student thinking about studying abroad to, “Choose a trip that is a culture you would be least likely to visit in the future.”
Professors Phil Vardiman and David Perkins took 27 students to Oxford, England with a side trip to Leipzig and Berlin, Germany. Students were able to earn up to 6 hours of course credit in International Business and a choice between Operations Management or Leadership in Organizations.
As part of the Operations Management course, the group visited the BMW and Porsche production plants in Leipzig, Germany. They learned about the automation innovations that have taken place at BMW and the craftsmanship approach that Porsche boasts in the assembly line at their facility. The group also visited Oxford Analytica. Oxford Analytica helps their clients “actively manage the impact of geopolitical, macroeconomic and global social factors on their performance.” One of the highlights of the trip for all involved was a project that the students completed with Asda, a British supermarket retailer whose parent company is Walmart. Students visited an Asda superstore and an Asda dark store as part of the International Business course to see first-hand the technological revolution happening overseas in the grocery industry. Students were asked to analyze Asda after visiting different store locations, give feedback about what they saw, and provide ideas for improvement in various areas. Near the end of the trip, student teams then gave professional presentations and recommendations to some of the corporate managers at Asda’s corporate auditorium.
Dr. Perkins and Dr. Vardiman were impressed with the students’ presentations and extremely proud of the way in which they represented COBA. They said that many of the recommendations were things that Asda was beginning to consider or would now look into considering because of the students’ findings. Vardiman also said that many of the Asda corporate managers encouraged the students to connect with them on LinkedIn and reflected, “You never know what kind of doors these presentations have opened for you and your career.”
Ben Fridge, sophomore financial management major from Sugar Land, Texas, enjoyed the experience that the Asda presentation gave to him. “Asda allowed us to visit some stores and examine the production and check-out systems they had. Towards the end of the month, after weeks of preparation, we came back together for a “Ted Talk-esque” presentation of innovations and plans that we had developed since visiting the store.” Ben said that the most unique experience of the trip involved the time spent at Asda. “Being courted by the division heads at Asda Superstores was an experience that I was beyond blessed to encounter as we were ushered into their facilities to tell them what we saw that could be improved in their stores. They allowed us to consult for them and offer multiple paradigm shifts that could benefit their company as a whole. The experience was nearly surreal as a group of (some still teen) college students offered ideas and innovations that were seriously considered and discussed by adults in executive positions.”
Allie Sorrells, junior management major from Waco, Texas said, “I think the Asda project was probably one of the most beneficial learning experiences I have ever had. We had to work together with our teams to come up with some really solid and creative ideas and learn how to professionally relay those to the managers at Asda. The presentation was very nerve-racking for me, but it was an excellent opportunity to grow in that area and learn how to express to others the ideas that our group worked so hard on. The Asda employees were so helpful and encouraging throughout the entire process and provided a lot of helpful feedback on our presentations. It was definitely an experience I will never forget.”
Along with gaining real world work experience, Allie and Ben grew as individuals and made life-long friends. Ben loved getting to know his professors outside of the classroom. He said, “I loved the ways our professors poured into us through intimate conversations about our plans and big vision items, encouraging us through what they had seen thus far on the trip. Two on ones (the two professors sitting down with each student individually) were incorporated at least once during the experience to dig deep into the things we’d seen, plans we had coming home and reflections on our growth and team bonding.”
Allie really appreciated the time and attention that Dr. Perkins and Dr. Vardiman gave to each student. “I really enjoyed that they were dedicated to spending time with the students outside of the classroom. Those 2-on-1 conversations allowed for the professors and students to learn more about each other and provide encouragement to each other. It was a favorite memory for me as well as for lot of other students. Their wives were also so great and kind and made an effort to get to know the students and provide encouragement for us whether that be in the form of homemade pastries one morning or endlessly praying for us as we took tests and embarked on journeys in smaller groups.”
Allie would encourage other students to study abroad. “DO IT! You won’t regret it. There are so many opportunities abroad for growth intellectually, socially, and spiritually. Even if you don’t know anyone else going, just go for it. It is so easy to make friends abroad because you are all going through the same culture shock and newness. You will make so many memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life, and you will get to see so many places you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. So yes, 100% do it!”
Ben is also a big proponent of Study Abroad. “Absolutely take on this journey. You will grow in obvious and non-obvious ways due to the cultural, environmental, social and academic ways that you are tested. I cannot recommend seeing the world in this way enough. I would recommend, for the bold, jumping into Study Abroad not knowing anyone or bringing close friends along, as I did. Going in, I planned to make connections that will last with every member of my team by the time we had finished. Coming out of the experience, I have twenty-six new best friends who I have crossed the globe with and made specific, diverse memories with that I will hold onto for longer than just these next few years in school.”
Over spring break, a group of students led by Dr. Laura Phillips and Dr. Sarah Easter traveled to Costa Rica for the first ever Social Enterprise Consulting (MGMT 440) class. This project-based course is designed to give students hands-on experience dealing with a real and substantial issue faced by a socially-minded organization. Students spent six weeks prior to spring break learning about the basics of consulting and learning about the cultural context of the country and organizations they would visit. They were challenged to complete research on the industry and market and received training from the Rotary International campus in Denton, who were also training the entrepreneurs in Costa Rica. “We wanted the students to be prepared in diverse capacities,” said Dr. Easter “That way, when we traveled to Costa Rica, they were as effective as possible in the one-week in-country visit.”
In Costa Rica, the class worked with the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), which is a regional center in Costa Rica dedicated to research and graduate education in agriculture, and the management, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. In collaboration with CATIE, Red de Emprendedoras del Turismo Sostenible de Turrialba (RETUS) is a network of female entrepreneurs focused on experiential rural tourism offerings as a means to help provide sustainable livelihoods to the three involved communities in Central Costa Rica – Santa Cruz, Guavabo and Mollejones. CATIE and RETUS are interested in better understanding the US market for sustainable rural tourism in Costa Rica as well as the development of a promotional marketing plan to successfully reach identified markets in order to grow and develop RETUS further. The class stayed in a small town called Turrialba on the CATIE campus. Over the course of three days, they visited the three communities and observed experiential tourism offerings in each location.
The consulting nature of the course was focused on students engaging with the women entrepreneurs in terms of ecotourism, which means that tourists engage in local culture when on vacation rather than staying within the confines of a resort or hotel for the duration of their stay. Students evaluated the offerings of each entrepreneur from a US – and specifically Texas – tourist perspective. They spent time in each community taking detailed field notes and giving preliminary recommendations and then spent a full day with the class debriefing and identifying weaknesses and opportunities of the offerings in consideration of US customers.
With the focus on ecotourism consulting, the students got to experience Costa Rica in special ways that emphasized interactions with the local culture. “The most eye-opening thing about this trip was the cultural immersion. To actively participate in activities with the locals gave me a unique perspective into who they are,” said Luke Stevens, a junior marketing major from Montgomery, TX. “Instead of feeling like an outsider looking in, I felt more like I was a part of them. Overall, I think I got more out of this trip because it had a focus and purpose as opposed to a regular spring break trip. I would rather have that type of experience than a relaxing week on the beach.” Among other things, the class toured the remains of a Pre-Colombian ruin, visited a butterfly farm, and even learned how to salsa dance. On their final day, they got to go zip lining through the jungle and rappel down waterfalls. “Since I come from a Central American country, I was really impressed by the ‘Tico culture,’ which is what Costa Ricans often call themselves, and how important it is to them that they grow as a community instead of as individuals,” noted Mafer Hernandez, a junior finance major from Guatemala City, Guatemala. They were also really invested in reducing contamination, their roads were clean and they also had several recycle bins.”
Now that they have returned from Costa Rica, students are working on a full report and marketing assessment that gives promotional and placement considerations for the women entrepreneurs. The project-based experience has been invaluable for students as they have gotten a chance to apply what they have been learning in class to real life – and in a meaningful, purpose-driven way. Dr. Easter’s favorite part of the trip was twofold; “I loved watching how passionate the women entrepreneurs are about their businesses and communities and how driven they were in their desire to share that passion with outsiders,” she said. “I also enjoyed watching the students in that international setting. It was neat seeing them interact with people in the community and dive into the experience fully. Traveling with students and watching how much they learn and grow in a short time frame is always incredible”
A grant from Southwest Airlines for plane tickets and scholarships from COBA, as well as the partnerships with Rotary International, CATIE, and RETUS made this trip possible and effective for the students and faculty that attended. We are extremely proud of our students for choosing to spend their spring break applying their business skills to serve others in a global context. We look forward to watching how this class grows in the future and other opportunities our students will have to affect change.
Our last installment in our COBA Study Abroad series highlights the MAcc (Master in Accountancy) trip to Australia and New Zealand, led by Dr. Curtis Clements and Dr. Kyle Tippens. MAcc students received credit for International Accounting and Financial Reporting and International Financial Markets. We can’t think of a better way to learn about global business than being immersed in it! We asked Dr. Clements to tell us what it’s like to learn in the land down under.
What made your destination a unique place to study?
We didn’t really have a home city. Instead, we traveled to three cities: Sydney and Melbourne in Australia and Auckland in New Zealand. We chose Australia and New Zealand because we had business contacts there and for their diverse cultures.
What businesses were you able to visit?
We visited a number of companies and organizations. These include PWC, KPMG, EY, the Sydney Wool Exchange, The Australian Accounting Standards Board, The Australian Auditing Standards Board, ANZ Bank, Australia-New Zealand Chartered Accountants, and Xerox.
Did you take the students on any sight seeing tours?
In Sydney we went to Taronga Zoo. Taronga is a world-class zoo with many different animals from around the world. We also took a nighttime harbor cruise during the Vivid Sydney festival, which was outstanding. In Melbourne, we took a trip outside the city on a train powered by a steam engine. In New Zealand, we toured Hobbiton where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed as well as the Hobbit movies. We also went to the Te Puia Maori Village cultural center in Rotorua. On their own, the students also traveled to the Blue Mountains, Manly Beach, and Bondi Beach in Sydney. They attended an Aussie Rules football game, went to Brighton Beach, and watched the penguins come ashore in Melbourne. In New Zealand, the students traveled to several locations outside of Auckland.
What is it like to be able to spend so much time with students in another country? How does it differ than being in a classroom setting in Abilene?
The experience was outstanding! You get to know the students so well and they get to know you beyond what they see in the classroom. It allows you to speak into their lives on a much deeper level. We learned so much about the students and, hopefully, they know us and our families better.
What were your favorite moments/experiences of the trip?
Two things stood out for me. First, my wife and I were able to renew friendships with people we haven’t seen in 27 years. As far as the academic part of the trip, there are so many things that were enjoyable and informative. I don’t think we had a bad visit and it is really hard to point to one thing. It was interesting as I was reading the students’ journals as they would say, “This is the best thing on the trip!” And then just a day or two later, they would say the same thing! As far as the sightseeing, I would have to say the trip to Hobbiton was the best thing we did.
If students could only learn one thing, what do you hope they learned?
That we live in an interconnected world. This is especially true in business. As an aside, I also hope they learned that what we teach and tell them in class really matters!
Anything else I’ve forgotten to mention that you would like to talk about?
We have some outstanding students!