BY KEVIN MOE
Carlson School students are ambitious in seeking a wide array of learning opportunities in preparation for their future careers. To support students’ ability to customize their academic endeavors and meet their individual goals, many experiences are offered both inside and outside of the classroom that contribute to their comprehensive business education.
One example found in the curriculum is the inclusion of an international experience as a degree requirement for all students. Supplemental to the curriculum, most students desire internships to gain work experience in a real environment. It’s easy to see the value in both of these experiences separately, so how much more valuable could they be when combined?
The Learning Abroad Center at the University of Minnesota offers credit-bearing internship abroad programs for U undergraduate students in several different disciplines. “We were seeing a lot of students using these programs and noted that they were looking to fulfill their international experience by working, not just taking classes,” says Carlson Global Institute (CGI) Education Abroad Program Manager Kate Terry. “We wanted to fill that gap in our profile. We wanted to give Carlson School students more options with business-specific internships.”
In the summer of 2016, the Carlson School ran its first year of two new internship programs in both Hong Kong and Singapore. In these programs, students can fulfill their international experience by working full-time for eight weeks. Eight students signed up for the program—six in Hong Kong and two in Singapore.
In addition to the internships, students enroll in a one-credit course during the program. “It is meant to be an opportunity for students to reflect on the cultural experiences that they are having and receive feedback from their instructors,” Terry says. “The course allows them to debrief the interactions they are having in and outside of the workplace.”
A main goal of this program is for students to receive high-caliber experience working abroad. “We didn’t want students to be running around getting coffee and making copies,” Terry says. “We wanted this program and these internships to be meaningful for students. Meaningful and intense.”
The companies involved include PVH, Mazars, FedEx APAC, ACE Life, RR Donnelley, and Morningstar in Hong Kong, and KPMG and BBC Worldwide in Singapore. CGI worked with an Australian-based education services company which helped to secure the internship opportunities and provide on-the-ground support for students during their placements. CGI is open to exploring other internship locations around the globe, but will continue to run the programs in Hong Kong and Singapore in summer 2017.
“We were really pleased with the first year of the program,” Terry says. “It’s a huge resume booster and a good way for students to fulfill their international experience beyond typical study abroad academic experience and build their professional credentials in a unique way. We’re looking forward to the second year.”
After learning about what the new CGI internship program offered for students, Jackson Ridl realized immersing himself in a fully international business experience would allow him to have a unique way to differentiate himself from his peers.
The MIS and marketing double major interned at Mazars in Hong Kong. He redesigned his office’s intranet site to improve the user experience, remodeled the information architecture, and developed an event marketing strategy to leverage global publications to attract local clients. After the office’s French tutor returned home for the summer, Ridl also took time to teach a little French to his firm’s staff to improve communication between Mazars’ Hong Kong and Paris offices.
“The firm I worked at is headquartered in Paris and it had recently merged with a very large professional service firm from mainland China,” Ridl says. “It was very interesting learning about how even though the contract to merge had been agreed upon and signed eight months prior, our management team still focused heavily on building relationships and developing trust across the new China offices.”
In his office, 99 percent of the staff members were from mainland China or Hong Kong and the remaining 1 percent were managers from Europe. “Being so heavily immersed in two very different cultures allowed me to strengthen my communication skills, understand a completely different business landscape than Minneapolis’, and learn how my cultural background can work in harmony with others,” he says.
Ridl says one of the most valuable things he learned from the internship was how important it is for students to take initiative and invest in the companies they are interning at. “Most of the exciting projects that I worked on this past summer I received because I finished my assigned work and asked my manager and our managing director if there was anything I could help with that would further the objectives of our firm,” he says.
Adapting Your Communication Style
Grace Modl, a junior studying marketing and HRIR, took part in the Singapore program, where she worked as a marketing intern for BBC Worldwide.
She was initially drawn to Asia, and Singapore in particular, because she found its modernity, business expertise, and melting-pot-like culture intriguing. “I was interested in gaining experience in the types of strategies used to market to different cultures and consumer groups,” she says. “I place a lot of value on the education I’ve received while in the classroom, but I’ve learned that some of the best knowledge comes from skills gained working in the field. I know that an internship program would be the best fit for my international experience.”
BBC Worldwide is the commercial subsidiary of the British Broadcasting Corporation, responsible for producing brands like Top Gear, Planet Earth, and Doctor Who. In her marketing and media-focused role, Modl was tasked with executing a market research project aimed at uncovering Asian consumer attitudes and viewing habits toward British television programs.
“After analyzing results from a survey taken in seven countries in the region, I helped create social media content and promotional videos for the launch of a new on-demand digital streaming service called BBC Player,” she says. “It’s been exciting to watch my hard work come to life as the content has rolled out over the past few months.”
The multi-cultural element of her internship allowed Modl the opportunity to understand what marketing strategies different cultures responded to and how to adapt her communication style to suit the needs of each market. “Working alongside a diverse team of individuals enhanced my ability to reach consumers more effectively on a global scale, which is a skill that can be transferred to future roles,” she says.
Modl notes that her internship was unique in that she was able to see the consumer marketplace through an international lens, and that was a revelation. “I’ve studied the role of culture in the workplace several times throughout my undergraduate career, but nothing compares to actually living it,” she says. “I wouldn’t say I experienced much culture shock, but differences in lifestyles impacted everything from how I connected with my team to what modes of communication we used when sending out marketing messages. I’m excited to apply the knowledge I’ve gained in different technology trends to a future role back in the U.S.”
The “people element” of another culture is also something that Modl was best able to appreciate first-hand. “Watching my studies of individualism versus collectivism come to life within a corporate culture proved to be very interesting,” she says. “In a collectivist-focused country like Singapore, the emphasis on working in teams and collaborating was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I learned that incentives were intrinsically motivated rather than rewards-based. Sometimes it was more important to spend two hours bonding with a colleague over a lunch break than it was to be the first one at the office ready to work.”
Small Cultural Differences Can Have Large Effects
As Christian Yonkoski was thinking about how to beef up his knowledge of international finance, he figured the best way would be to land an overseas internship. He had two internships in the past, but they were both in chemical engineering, and not out of the country. So this was going to be a new experience all around. For his international target, he found himself drawn to the energy and excitement of Hong Kong. A couple of his close friends previously had studied there and had many good things to say about the country.
As it happened, he managed to secure a position at Morningstar, where he interned as an equity research analyst. “I supported four analysts with day-to-day research tasks as they came up and worked on a couple of different projects,” he says. These projects included creating discounted cash flow models for companies in the telecommunications, consumer, and energy sectors as well as building from scratch an intricate model for an impending IPO of a Chinese cell phone tower company. “This was a joint venture among the three largest mobile phone carriers in China,” he says. Yonkoski also authored a section of a report on the Macau casino industry that was sent out to investors.
From his experience, Yonkoski gleaned much that would be common with in-country internships. “I learned a lot about managing deadlines and communicating with my analysts. It is important to let them know when you have too much on your plate and when you can handle more work so you can prioritize your time,” he says. “I also learned a lot of what kind of depth goes into research that is presented to clients. I ended up reading over 500 articles on a single issue for my section of a report.”
But being an international internship, this experience also gave Yonkoski some insights that are unique to the particular country. “I learned about how small cultural differences can make a big difference in your everyday life,” he says. “For instance, in Hong Kong, everyone goes into work around 10:00 a.m. and stays until 7:00 p.m. or so. It really altered my schedule and took some getting used to.”
He also found that you had to be careful about word choice while immersed in a new culture. “I ended up in a sticky situation for using the word ‘crazy’ in a positive way, when my supervisor thought I meant it in a negative way,” he says.
In all, this finance and accounting junior found the experience both illuminating and extremely valuable. “It is a great talking point on my resume,” he says. “It has really helped differentiate me in interviews and get my foot in the door at a lot of firms.”
Lauren Dwyer found her internship through the Learning Abroad Center. An accounting and MIS major, Dwyer is minoring in international business, so her experience was really a must-do. “I knew I wanted to study abroad in Sydney, Australia and my options were between taking four classes or taking two classes and a part-time internship,” she says. “I heard great things from other students who have interned abroad and I thought it would be a great way to diversify myself. I also saw it as a great way to gain experience if I want to work abroad in the future after college.”
She landed a position as a finance intern with the Australian Baseball League. One of her biggest projects was creating a cash flow spreadsheet for the upcoming fiscal year. The spreadsheet needed to be formulated to adjust cash flows based on changing assumptions to help the company understand how these variables may affect the company’s cash account.
Although she primarily worked in an office located in downtown Sydney, Dwyer had the opportunity to get out in the field, so to speak. “I was able to help out at the biggest baseball tournament Sydney has ever held,” she says. “This was the World Baseball Classic Qualifier where Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and South Africa played in a tournament with the winner going on to play in the World Baseball Classic.” Although this was only a weekend tournament, Dwyer says it was a memorable experience seeing baseball as an up-and-coming sport in other countries.
This wasn’t the only cultural difference she noted. “In general I think Australia is a lot more laid-back, which creates a very relaxed business environment,” she says. “Australian business culture, in my experience, values having close relationships with coworkers. They make time for leisurely lunches to get to know one another. The U.S. typically has a more fast-paced environment where people often work through lunch.”
Dwyer adds that one of her coworkers explained that in Australian business culture, people have what is called a “tall poppy syndrome,” meaning that no one employee likes to stand out above the rest because they really value and respect humility. “This causes their work environments to have a relatively flat hierarchy, meaning everyone across the organization is typically treated the same,” she says. “I thought this was very interesting and is something I would not have learned without this internship experience.”