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Abroad With Carlson: Who Do You Know in China?

I have more T-shirts than I know what to do with, but I think the last time I had to pay for one was probably in the 1990s. Out of all the stacks of free shirts I've gotten as an employee, alumni, rec league participant, runner, blood donor, and even as a lucky person at an event featuring t-shirt cannons, I think I have a new favorite. It features the Carlson School logo, the Chinese symbol for friendship, and the logo of Tsinghua University - a highly prestigious institution in China. It was a surprise gift designed by a group of 13 Part-Time and 2 Full-Time Carlson MBA students with whom I recently traveled on a Carlson Global Institute program to Beijing, China. Aside from those students and myself, there is also a Carlson faculty member and about 20 Tsinghua MBA students with the same shirt in their closets.

The point of this post is not to brag about my free and stylish wardrobe (although it is a nice bonus); I just think the shirt nicely represents what is special and unique about the study abroad opportunities for Carlson MBA students. In only two weeks, the students on this program visited a new country, developed lasting friendships with fellow Carlson students, worked on a live project for a major international corporation, and did so in close partnership with some of the best and brightest business students from across the world.

This particular trip marked my second time in China, and the experience was a far richer one. Although my previous trip was for work, its format more closely resembled the type of travel I would do on a personal vacation: I spent a little over a week being led through the country and seeing famous site. It was certainly a wonderful experience, but I lived and saw the life of a tourist, not that of a Chinese citizen. This program offered a global experience that was far more educational and authentic than any I could have had on my own. The Carlson students on the program spoke intimately with Chinese business executives about their work and the Chinese consumer market, they were invited to meals at local restaurants, karaoke, and even an end-of-year social exclusive to MBA students at Tsinghua University and their friends.

One participant on this program captured the symbiotic relationship between business and cultural competence nicely: "It is important as aspiring future business leaders to have a baseline knowledge of cultures other than one's own. It also helps to understand how dynamic and complex doing business is around the world." You can see the Great Wall without Carlson's help. But it would be much harder to independently build meaningful and authentic friendships with 20 future business leaders in China. For the rest of their careers, the students on this trip will know they can navigate the challenges of cross-cultural project management. Even more importantly, they will have talented colleagues across the world that they can call on for insights, assistance, and partnerships in a field where the borders between countries are becoming less and less relevant every year. This network, sealed with a red T-shirt and built on midnight strategy sessions, drinks in Beijing nightclubs, and long rides on a bullet train, will have a formative influence on these students' careers that will persist long after their Tiananmen Square photos are taken down from their Facebook profiles.

Every Full-Time MBA student at Carlson spends two weeks studying abroad for credit on a Global Discovery program taught and led by Carlson faculty. Every Part-Time student has the option to do the same on a Global Enrichment program. Although there is some variety in the format of Carlson's programs abroad, each offers the valuable opportunity to see business outside of the American lens and to build closer friendships and business connections than you ever could in a classroom. Business is both a global endeavor and a communal one, and the Carlson Global Institute will prepare you to succeed in both areas. As one of the participants put it afterwards "It is the best international experience you will find that relates to business. It's a live business case study with the top university in China and a Fortune 500 company. Pretty hard to top that."

Besides, you might even get a free T-shirt out of the deal.

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