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CBE students in shanghai

Shanghai in the Spring

University of Idaho business students, fresh from an international business education trip to Shanghai, China, think international experience should be added to the list of graduation requirements.

Eleven students from the Graue Scholars Program for the University of Idaho College of Business and Economics' top academic achievers, made the trip abroad during their spring break. Instead of soaking up sun, trip participants focused solely on an international business education program. The students attended morning classes at Shanghai University, lunched with business students and faculty, and made afternoon visits to businesses and cultural sites.

The students brought back 11 different, very personal, cultural experiences, something Joey Burchard, chair of the Graue Scholars, said is in line with the purpose of Graue Scholars. “Being a Graue Scholar has more meaning than receiving a scholarship. It’s about expanding the amount of culture you have and pushing learning outside of the classroom into the real world,” he said.

“Shanghai was an excellent opportunity to accomplish the goal of real-world learning,” said Burchard, a sophomore in human resources management and production/operations management from Lewiston. “The culture, language barriers, bargaining in the street, and just the discrepancies that are very visible in someone else’s culture allow you to begin to understand your own culture a lot better.”

“It was a transformational business experience,” said Kristin Boyd, a senior in finance from Boise. “You learn a lot about yourself when traveling outside of the U.S.”

One of the trip’s most fascinating insights to Chris Youderian, a senior in finance and economics from Idaho Falls, was the overwhelming lack of English spoken in Shanghai. “We think of English as the international language, but very few people on the streets of Shanghai speak it. It was enlightening to see that U.S. influence on the world has its limitations,” he said.

Youderian said that spending more time immersed in the culture is the only way to understand all its intricacies. A short lecture on China’s limits on human reproduction provided Youderian with the big picture of a long-term economic impact. “One child is responsible for taking care of four grandparents. There is a small and shrinking percentage of young people taking care of the elderly. It is going to cause problems down the road,” he said.

“In-person experiences – like this trip to Shanghai – bring to life a lot of the concepts we learn in class,” said Youderian.

“It provided me a new way of looking at world economics.”

“It’s such a global economy,” said Boyd. “A great education will help students realize that U.S. culture is not world culture. An international experience helps students be more open and receptive to other cultures, their mannerisms, and their ways of

doing business.”

Burchard said an eye-opening experience for him was the Chinese perspective of development. “Our Chinese professor mentioned that there are parts of America that are not very developed, just like there are parts of China that are not very developed. Her perception of development was just in how many buildings there are,” he said.

“She didn’t really seem to acquiesce to the idea that farmland can be on the cutting edge of technology, like it is in America,” said Burchard. “She seemed to think that only the big cities – like Chicago and New York – were developed and other areas needed a lot of improving.”

In addition to the cultural immersion, the group was able to learn the power of business relationships. “After learning about our plans to visit China, one of our alumni living in Shanghai – Eliot Bailey – contacted us. A senior software engineer for Hewlett-Packard, Eliot provided our students with great insight as to why he chose to relocate to China,” said College of Business and Economics Dean Jack Morris. “Some of the University’s other alumni in Shanghai were able to provide us with intimate, management-led tours. It was a great opportunity for our students to see the inside view of business in China.”

Jen Nelson, a senior in accounting from Blackfoot, said the visit with Bailey was eye-opening. “It certainly is beneficial to have international experience before graduating. Eliot is a recent graduate, and he realized that moving to China would further his career. That world knowledge – looking at things from another culture’s perspective – can provide students with an edge up when entering the business field.”

“I’ve always been amazed at the focus the University of Idaho has on creating diversity across the campus,” said Bailey, a 2002 University of Idaho graduate in information systems. “My recent travels and corporate experience have helped me to realize why the university has this emphasis. People involved in all aspects of business and development are starting to understand what it means to live in a global economy. Those students that understand this are going to have a definite competitive advantage in the current global work force.”

Bailey is originally from the small town of Paul, in the Magic Valley region of Idaho. He said international experience is something that companies look for when hiring. “Nearly every current HP employee works with team members or vendors from another country. I currently have projects going on in Israel, China and Russia,” he said. “Understanding the customs and culture of these countries is a constant concern. Had I been able to take advantage of a trip such as the Graue Scholars did, I think it would have really given me some needed insight into how the current business world is structured.”

Nelson serves on a college committee that is establishing goals for the next accreditation period. She said the group is looking to require transformational experiences, including some international education experience.

She admits finances may hold some students back from international travel, but said it shouldn’t prevent an international experience.

“Students can still gain knowledge and experience from participating in cultural organizations on campus and interacting with exchange students,” said Nelson.

Kelsey Pilch, a freshman in economics from Palmer, AK, agrees with Nelson, but said to truly incorporate a global perspective, one needs to have an in-person international experience. “People react so differently to the same situations. Rather than learning about a country from a group of people, you need to experience it yourself. You just don’t know the reality of the culture until you’re there,” she said. “For example, we all have heard about China’s huge population, but you won’t realize just how big it is until you’ve seen it.”

Pilch learned firsthand about not neglecting personal business before embarking on an international experience. Prior to the group’s departure, she’d caught a small cold. Caught up in final trip preparations and mid-term exams, she didn’t give it much thought – a decision that ultimately landed her in a Shanghai hospital.

“I was scared,” Pilch admitted. “I’ve never been admitted to a U.S. hospital, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect in a Chinese hospital.” Between the doctor’s basic English skills and a translator, she was able to obtain medicine and proper care instructions. Her experience provided invaluable insight for future trips; she “learned to take care of the small stuff.”

“Our faculty is committed to developing a palette of international experiences for our students that will provide them with choices for engaging the world outside of the U.S.,” said Morris. “Our next study group will visit Japan for a three-week stay during the summer session. These experiences develop an understanding of other cultures and business practices in ways that are far superior to the standard classroom experience.”

The Graue Scholars Program is named after former College of Business and Economics professor Erwin Graue. To students in the college, his name is synonymous with quality education. “The Good Doctor” was known as a rigorous teacher, as demanding of himself as he was of his students. He served his students not only as a catalyst for intellectual achievement, but also as a standard of professional and ethical behavior. During his 37-year career at the University of Idaho as a specialist in economic statistics, business and agricultural economics, Graue impacted numerous students, many of whom went on to hold top positions in businesses and corporations in Idaho and elsewhere.

To honor his legacy, college alumni established the Graue Scholars Program in the College of Business and Economics that embodies “what Graue is all about” – honoring the top academic achievers in the college at all academic levels – freshmen through seniors. Graue Scholars are awarded a stipend and charged with administering the program. Each year, Graue Scholars must participate in some scholarly program. Previous programs have included sponsoring an entrepreneurial lecture series and traveling to the financial district of Manhattan. To learn more about giving to the Graue Scholar Program or the College of Business and Economics, contact Diane Lugar at (208) 885-7148 or visit www.cbehome.uidaho.edu.