Bethel MBA students cover a lot in their two-year program. They learn how to manage change and conflict, develop teams, navigate managerial accounting challenges, reach marketing goals, and more. And while many of Bethel’s business courses touch on developing sensitivity to cultural differences, there are just some things textbooks can’t communicate.
Steven Droll is an international business leader who joined Bethel’s MBA faculty in spring 2017. During his career, he and his family have called several different countries home, and when he came to Bethel, it was natural for him to begin teaching global business courses. In January, he joined eight Bethel students and groups from two other universities on a trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. It’s a spot that’s increasingly vital to the global business landscape—yet situated within a predominately Muslim, conservative culture. In short, the destination offered an excellent opportunity for the group to tour top offices and get a feel for the work that’s done there, but also experience a completely different way of life.
“It’s very interesting to take students—some who’ve never been out of the country—to experience business in other countries. It really helps students and business leaders to understand cultural differences and how those play into business relationships,” Droll says. By this point in the program, he says, students have done significant learning from textbooks and case studies on international business. But just as it took him years of living overseas to learn how to properly present a business card in Asian cultures (with two hands, formally, with a slight bow) or the best way to address leaders of a higher rank or engage with women in the workplace, which varies from place to place—students learn more about a new culture in a weeklong trip than they would through months of classroom conversation.
On this trip, the group was amazed to witness the intricate social seating orders and protocol of dining with a Sheikh. They ate what they thought was mashed potatoes, only to find out it was boiled calf liver and milk. Small rooms in the back of grocery stores in Muslim countries, they learned, were for “foreigners,” a code word meaning pork could be found there. “This is simply the best way to truly learn how to be a global leader, not just a Minnesota leader,” says Droll.
Manufacturing engineer Leslie Kampf GS’18 chose the global management concentration specifically because of the global reach of her company. She has over 90,000 3M colleagues worldwide—not to mention international vendors and business partners—and she works on increasingly diverse teams even here in the U.S.
“Leveraging all five senses to take in and embrace another culture fosters one’s ability to quickly grow their cultural intelligence,” Kampf says. “When you can connect with a person in their own environment and broaden your thinking based on their surroundings and way of living, you build trust and rapport much more quickly. Submerging yourself in another culture broadens your understanding and helps you form your own opinions and ideas about a foreign region and culture.”
The group appreciated how welcoming locals were toward Americans, and especially toward Christians. Droll adds that he was also struck by how metropolitan and globalized Dubai has become, with 40% of the local economy supported by tourism. The Mall of America, he says with a chuckle, “looks like an outlet mall compared to what’s there. And I felt safer there than I have felt in New York or Chicago at times. The goal with these trips is to expose students to realities of culture and business that simply can’t be taught in a classroom—and sometimes that has to do with undoing the impressions they’ve gotten from social media and the news.”
John Griffith GS’19 is a perioperative territory manager for 3M and also went along on the trip. He arranged for the group to visit the 3M facility in downtown Dubai, something that was especially powerful to he and Kampf as employees of the company. “It was great to learn about the global impact 3M has around the world,” says Griffith. “Being able to speak with locals and learn about what it is really like to live and work in a place like Dubai was very insightful and changed my perceptions of the Middle East. We experienced a beautiful city with people from all over the world who have migrated to live and work in Dubai with an economy that is growing faster than many think is even possible.”
He has always considered the possibility of a global assignment with 3M, and he says that this experience and the MBA as a whole have given him valuable business acumen that he will be able to apply as he steps into greater, more globally focused leadership roles.
There are currently 112 students enrolled in Bethel’s MBA program, with 14 pursuing the Global Management Concentration. Trips like this one are offered annually, with a January 2019 trip planned to Hong Kong and China.
Materials byBethel University. Original article “Students Explore Dubai and Abu Dhabi on International Business Trip” by Monique Kleinhuizen appeared March 23, 2018. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.