Tokyo: Culture & Corporate Governance

Jessie Ju made the journey to Tokyo this past spring break in order to experience the contrast between Chinese and Japanese culture, as well as provide future recommendations for traveling to Japan.

Japan, an island country that’s only one and a half hours flying from my home town, Shanghai. I have landed many times in Narita International Airport of Tokyo, yet I had never set foot in the country until this spring break. I was beyond excited to explore and get to know the Japanese culture.

Japanese culture and Chinese culture are very intertwined, yet distinct from one another. We kind of look similar, have something in common in parts of our languages, both eat rice and drink tea. What could be so different? And the answer is, everything!

Getting there and back
There are rarely any direct flights between San Diego and Tokyo. There are two major airlines in Japan, JAL and ANA, which both have frequent flights to the U.S. Both are great airlines with outstanding services. Most of the time, you will be connecting at LAX for your international leg when flying with them. You may also choose American airlines, such as United and Delta, or Asian airlines, such as China Eastern or Korean Air. It all depends on where you connect and the length of your layover. Total traveling time could vary from 12 to 36 hours. There are two airports in Tokyo, Narita (RNT) and Haneta (HND). Narita is larger and most international flights go through there, but it’s further away from the city (about 1 and a half hour by public transportation). Haneta is much closer to the city, but flight options are limited.
Tips:
– Bring a neck pillow and wear loose clothing, as well as comfortable shoes
– Get on Japan time as soon as you board and sleep as much as you can during the flight
– Stay hydrated!
– No matter how tired you are when you land, try staying up until normal bed time

image003

First Impression
Like most metropolitan cities in Asia, Tokyo has a huge population and very sophisticated public transportation systems. It’s busy, crowded, and exciting. However, it is also a society that prides itself on being highly organized and self-disciplined.

The best place to observe Japanese people is, without a doubt, in the subway. The Japanese subway lines are owned and operated by a few different companies. They virtually connect the entire city and it is the reason why Tokyo, being a highly populated city, does not suffer from traffic problems as a lot of other major cities do throughout the world.

So now, back to our observation of people in the subway. Japanese people all follow unwritten rules that have formed over time. For example, when riding the escalator up and down in the stations, the Japanese all stand on the left side of the stairs and leave the right side open for those who want to pass. When riding the train, people rarely talk with each other or on the phone, nor do they drink or eat inside the train.

Food
We had a survey of our class before going to Japan and the number one thing everyone was looking forward to was Japanese food. Japanese people are known for their seafood, from sashimi (raw fish), sushi, takoyaki (octopus balls), tempura (deep-fried seafood or vegetables) to teppanyaki (pan fried). Japanese food stresses the freshness of ingredients and the balance of subtle flavors.

image007

The first place we went to in Tokyo was a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. A conveyor belt sushi restaurant is where they place all the food on a long, moving belt that runs through the entire restaurant and the food plates are color-coded by their prices. Customers can just grab the food off the belt and at the end of their meals, the wait staff would calculate the total plates based on the empty plates of different colors. The sushi chefs work in the inner circle of the belt and replenish the food on the belt as needed.

image005

Another unique dining experience I had in Japan was at a ramen restaurant, where you start your experience by ordering on a vending machine placed outside of the restaurant by the door. Available items are listed with pictures and their prices. You can simply choose the items by pushing the button right next to the picture and a ticket with your order details will be printed at the end. The restaurant itself has stalls instead of tables, and each of these stalls has its own water tap, condiments, and menus. Each stall has a window that opens directly to the kitchen. Before you turn in the ticket from the vending machine, you will fill out a form with your preference of add-on ingredients (garlic, onions, etc.) and flavors (spiciness, saltiness, oil). These stalls can become larger per each customer’s preference. From my personal observation, most customers would rather enjoy their meals alone. It was quite an experience, one that you will never see anywhere else in the world.

image013

Attractions
During the time we were in Japan, we visited a number of tourist attractions, including the famous fish market and the Tokyo Imperial Palace where the emperor lives. Among these places, the one that stands out is the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Built in 1926, the Meiji Jingu Shrine is considered a spiritual place for Japanese and foreign visitors. The man-made forest around the shrine is seen as the central park of Tokyo. Maybe it doesn’t serve as an accurate metaphor, but it certainly gives Tokyo a layer of balance between human and nature.

image019

We had the luxury to attend a Shinto blessing session that the shrine conducts for both Japanese families and foreign families. The blessing procedure involved praying, singing, dancing, and blessing. An interesting aspect of the Shinto is that there’s no humanized god type figure. Instead, they believe that every living creature has a “Kanji” (spirit) and that “Kanji” is what they worship and what gives them power. In my opinion, this belief is a religious interpretation of the relationship between human beings and nature.

image015

Shopping
Tokyo is a paradise of creative products for demanding shoppers. Some of the world’s most amazing innovations could only be found in Japan, such as the multi-functional toilet seats, skin care equipment, and much more. The most popular shopping areas are Ginza, Shibuya and Asakusa, representing three distinct shopping experiences, high-end, offbeat and traditional, respectively. Look out for the most bizarre items, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Class
The combination of corporate governance and Japanese culture is an interesting thought. Before the trip, I had always envisioned it as being a showcase of best practices, given Japan’s leading position in corporate establishment and the high degree of organization and discipline of the society. To my surprise, the corporate governance practice in Japan has been largely impacted by its culture of always taking the middle path, and explains a lot why Japan has not been able to lift itself out of the bubble and reboot its economy.

image031

We visited a number of great companies on this trip, including Toyota, KPMG, and the Carlyle Group. We also had a long fruitful meeting with Mr. Taro Kono, the Japanese Cabinet Minister & Chairman of Public Safety Commission, who is known to be very straightforward about his political and economic opinions. He pointed out a number of issues and challenges that the Japanese government and companies are facing due to Japan’s corporate culture and its corporate governance conduct.

image039

KPMG gave us a rather holistic view of the recently established Japanese corporate governance code and how it’s implemented by companies. They have also illustrated the roles of accounting firms and consulting firms, such as KPMG, in supporting and monitoring the execution and compliance of the code.

image043Toyota, on the other hand, gave us a thorough demonstration of their vision, innovative efforts, and more importantly, how these activities tie to their CSR commitments. We also had the privilege to experience some of their new technology in Toyota Mega Web, a showroom of Toyota’s latest products and innovations, where we got to learn how to ride the Toyota Winglet, a self-balancing two-wheeled scooter.

These company visits really enriched the content of the class and allowed us to deepen our understanding of corporate governance in a real business context.

image029

It was overall an extremely exciting and insightful week. The only regret of this trip was that we did not stay long enough for the sakura (cherry blossom) to reach its full blossom. I guess it serves as a perfect excuse to come visit Japan again 🙂

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Must-See’s and Must-Do’s in Shanghai

Joseph LaBarbera studied abroad this past intersession in Shanghai, China and provided us with some of the top things one must do while there. Enjoy!

Shanghai is one of the five largest cities in the world. There are so many things to do and places to see, it is quite overwhelming when trying to plan a trip to this multi-cultural metropolis. If you are anything like me, the best way to experience a city and its culture is to visit the local social spots, as well as try the typical food and drink. I wouldn’t want to spend the entire trip only looking at buildings and statues that you could just google an image of. To help you in your quest of finding a localized and beneficial experience in this wonderful city, I have created a list consisting mostly of some of my favorite bars, food spots, and activities. The best aspect about most of the places I have listed below is that you can enjoy them at night after all of the museums and tours have closed, allowing you to maximize your experience in Shanghai by truly embracing the Chinese culture through a local’s eyes.

1. KTV Karaoke
The most fun and entertaining nighttime activity in Shanghai. KTV Karaoke takes place in a spacious, designated area for just you and all your friends to enjoy! The atmosphere and singing create a fun environment and there definitely will be some quality laughs.

image001

2. Yang’s Dumplings
Yang’s dumplings are the best dumplings in Shanghai, and I’m not just saying that! They are fried in oil, making them extremely juicy! Be careful, they are also very hot and can be a bit messy 😉

image004

3. The Cool Docks
The docks are in a newer part of town with a good selection of restaurants both on and across the streets from the Shanghai River. They also have beautiful decorations in the winter!

image005

4. Bar Rouge
Grab a drink and get the best view of the Bund! This rooftop bar provides a great photo opportunity of the lights in the Pu Dong area of town.

image007

5. Knock Off Market
Just off the Shanghai Science and Technology metro shop, the knock-off market awaits, surrounding the entire station. Prepare to be aggressively approached and solicited to buy items that you most likely wouldn’t find a use for, but are still fun little trinkets anyways!

shanghai-science-and

6. Jazz Club
The Jazz Club has amazing music and also is a good place to sit back, relax, and enjoy a nice refreshment. The band consists of most of the original members since its opening and plays wonderful classics.

image010

7. Shanghai Beer Factory
One of the local breweries in Shanghai with refreshing and delicious beer, as well as has décor that is very hip and trendy! It has a convenient location, right by the Olympic stadium, which also is worth taking a peek at!

image011

8. Sky Bar in the Radisson
My personal favorite bar in Shanghai. The cover band is excellent and they take song requests, which creates a great opportunity to sing and dance along to the music.

image015

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

 

Overcoming Brazilian Stereotypes and Language Barriers

Alex Henley completed her practicum experience abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and was able to overcome her fear of the city’s stereotype as being unsafe, as well as her frustration with the local language, in order to enjoy Rio for the bright and vivacious city that it really is.

Before I left for Rio, everyone told me to be incredibly careful. I was very nervous about being mugged. I was told not to wear much jewelry, as people would come up and grab a necklace off of you. While I wore a watch to work during the day, I would only wear earrings out at night. I always kept my purse on me, with my hand holding the bag as well. That being said, I had no negative experiences in Rio and I was very cautious even when there were a lot of people around. I took the advice of not going anywhere alone and to take cabs instead of walk at night. During the day, I would go places alone, like to the store, pharmacy, shop, café, or an ATM. However, I also wish I did know more Portuguese. The language barrier was probably my biggest frustration. I know Spanish and English, but when I tried to explain this to the locals, they would just keep speaking in Portuguese. Fortunately, most restaurants have an English menu, so you kind of know what you are ordering.

image009

During the city tour, we saw Sugar Loaf, the Christ statue, the Cathedral, and the Santa Marta Favela. Taking a guided tour through the favela was life changing. Just like with Argentina, where I also partook in my practicum, the disparity between the rich and the poor in Rio is apparent. While walking through the favela, we were able to purchase art made by the locals in order to benefit the community. I would not recommend trying to navigate a favela alone. The Sugar Loaf was my favorite, as the views were absolutely incredible. We went on a rainy/cloudy day, but I still enjoyed every moment. We also went inside the Cathedral and the stained glass windows were absolutely beautiful, a site worth seeing for those that appreciate the timelessness of artwork.

image016

I probably had acai or a fresh juice once a day. The produce in Rio is so fresh, so I highly recommend that you take advantage of it while you are there. Rio is known for its steakhouses, known in Portuguese as churrascarias. I recommend you go to Churrascaria Palace. Although pretty expensive, the restaurant has exceptional service and side dishes. We also went to Pavao Azul and I ordered the bean stew, or feijoada, and was incredibly satisfied. It is a small, hole-in-the-wall type of place where the locals go, but it’s totally worth a try, even if there is a wait.image014

I also loved the beach in Rio, although it rained most of the time we were there. However, when you go to the beach, make sure you have cash, as everything you could possibly need you can find for sale at the beach. There are people carting around everything, from drinks to sunscreen, snacks to swim suits. Also, trying the street food is a must, even if you are not the biggest fan of fried foods!

image012

During the practicum, my patience was tested on many levels. Brazil, along with many other countries, is much slower paced than the United States. Nothing happens quickly, even in business. We spent a lot of time waiting for our client because they were behind schedule. I would say just be prepared to wait and don’t expect business transactions to happen overnight. I would also suggest checking in with your client and teammates regularly. I would say this is very important in order to stay on track and make sure that everyone understands what is expected of him or her. Also, because of the language barrier, we would sometimes misconstrue some of the things that the Brazilians said, because it wouldn’t translate into English in the intended way they wanted. Be comfortable with asking questions in order to clarify what is really meant.

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

The Pearl of the Orient: A Quick Overview

Clarence Wong studied abroad in Hong Kong for an intersession program that gave him a deeper understanding of the city itself through its differences in housing, public transportation system, and the services sector, in comparison to the United States.

For the first day of MSRE 509 intersession, our group took a city tour of Hong Kong, ending with a visit to ‘The Peak’ at the top of Hong Kong island, which featured a panoramic view of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong skyline is unlike any other skyline I’ve seen; it’s like combining skylines from multiple U.S. cities, such as New York, Chicago, etc., into one tightly packed skyline. This massive skyline comprises of not just commercial high-rise office buildings, but also hotels and many residential towers. According to Cushman & Wakefield, since much of Hong Kong has very hilly terrain that cannot be developed on, Hong Kong has unique geographical constraints and, therefore, limited available land for development, so developers must build upward rather than outward to accommodate the large population. As a result, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. This is quite a contrast to most areas in the U.S., where many people live in larger low-rise homes spread out in the suburbs, rather than live in smaller efficient spaces in high-rise residential towers within the city.

image001

Hong Kong’s public transportation system is one of the best in the world. As a result, most people in Hong Kong use public transportation rather than drive cars. I’ve never seen so many modes of public transportation before. Options include MTR (mass transit railway), taxi, double-decker bus, mini-bus, cable car, and ferry. The MTR, a type of subway system, is generally the quickest way to get around. One time, a group of us took the MTR to a company visit while another group took a taxi. Due to heavy road traffic, the MTR group arrived at the destination quicker than the taxi group. Another time, one group took the mini-bus while another group took the MTR. This time, the mini-bus group arrived at the destination, Happy Valley racecourse, quicker because the mini-bus had a direct stop to the destination, whereas the MTR group had to walk a few blocks after getting off at the nearest stop. So, it all just depends on the destination and proximity to the nearest MTR stop. In any case, since there are so many different public transportation options available, it is extremely convenient to get around the city. Compared to the U.S., Hong Kong is way ahead in terms of available public transportation. San Francisco, New York, & Washington D.C. are the closest U.S. cities to Hong Kong for also providing good modes of public transportation; however, we are still way behind.

image004

The Hong Kong International Terminal is a key container port operator in the Port of Hong Kong, one of the busiest ports in the world. The Port of Hong Kong serves the South-East and East Asian regions, and is also a key economic gateway to mainland China. Our tour guide for the city tour explained that Hong Kong used to be a manufacturing powerhouse years ago, but now China has taken over much of the manufacturing. As a result, the Hong Kong government assisted former manufacturing workers to get re-educated to work in service sectors, such as the hospitality industry. I learned from our Cushman & Wakefield visit that approximately 50% of the Hong Kong population is provided government-assisted housing, which seems high, but necessary given the relatively expensive cost of housing in Hong Kong. Furthermore, our tour guide explained that since most of the Hong Kong population is taken care of for jobs and housing, most people are generally content. Compared to the U.S., Hong Kong has less citizens to take care of, but we could learn from Hong Kong in terms of providing more career services and job-related skills training to unemployed and transitioning workers. For government housing assistance, although the U.S. offers Section 8 Housing and other types of subsidies, these services could be improved upon so more U.S. citizens in need of low-income housing could benefit.

image006

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

10 Must-Do’s in Tokyo

Acerney Yu studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan during spring break and gave her knowledgable suggestions on the best places to both visit and see! Enjoy!

11a

1. Meiji Jingu (Shrine)
Located in Shibuya, Tokyo, Meiji Jingu is the Shindo Shrine, a symbol of the Japanese spirit. The Japanese go to Meiji Jingu in January in order to give a blessing for the following year. If you are lucky, you may see the traditional wedding holding in Meiji Jingu. Surrounded by many trees, Meiji Jingu is a forest in the middle of the busy concrete jungle that is Tokyo. You will be able to enjoy a sense of tranquility and peacefulness in Meiji Jingu.

2a    2

 

2. Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree is the tallest building in Japan. Just built in 2012, it has become the new symbol of Tokyo. There are 360 degree views of Tokyo from the top of the building, providing great opportunities for pictures both during the daytime  and nighttime.3a3

3. Tsukiji Market and Sushi
Tsukiji Market is a fish market with many sushi restaurants serving really yummy and fresh fish. There is also a fish auction that occurs around 3am most mornings. You definitely must try the sushi and sashimi, as it is some of the best in Tokyo!

4a4

4. Akihabara
Akihabara is famous for its animation-related products and themed restaurants, such as maid-cafés. This sub-culture plays an important role in current Japanese life.

55a

 

5. Sensō-ji (Temple)
Sensō-ji is located in Asakusa. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo. The Nakamise-dōri, a street on the walk to the temple, contains many shops that sell traditional Japanese food and souvenirs. The length of the street is approximately 250 meters and contains around 89 shops. Sensō-ji is also famous for Tokyo’s largest and most popular festival, Sanja Matsuri.

 

66. Shibuya
The most famous district in Tokyo. The crossing is one of the busiest in the world. There are many department stores that carry the latest fashionable goods, as well as delicate Japanese products.
77a

 

7. Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is a railway station in the Marunouchi business district of Chiyoda, Tokyo. It is one of the busiest stations in Japan. It serves 14 lines, including several Shinkansen (Japanese high-speed rail lines). Tokyo Station is very beautiful, and there many good restaurants and shops (Ekinaka) in the station.

 

image0158. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the largest parks in Tokyo. It was originally a residence of the Naitō family during the Edo period. There are traditional Japanese tea houses throughout the gardens and the park itself is very famous for its cherry blossoms that bloom in the springtime.

9

9a

9. Ichiran Ramen

Ichiran Ramen is a Japanese ramen chain from Fukuoka. What makes Ichiran Ramen so special is that you can customize your own ramen by choosing the flavor strength, richness of the soup, the noodle texture, etc.

 

10

10. Kaiseki ryōri
Kaiseki ryōri is the traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. It contains many different dishes which allows you to enjoy several different tastes of Japanese food, all at the same time!

 

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Tanda Extendida and the Dominican Republic

Tiffany Hynek completed her post-practicum reflection on her experience in the Dominican Republic and passionately describes the adverse situation that the private school system is facing there.

Tanda Extendida, the policy changes affecting the public school system in the Dominican Republic, have created a huge threat for the K-12 Christian private schools to which Edify and its microfinance partners, Esperanza and Aspire, provide loans. I was assigned to a team of University of San Diego graduate business students who were hired by Edify and its partners to travel to the Dominican Republic to help find solutions for these private schools. The schools were seeing high loss rates in their retention of students and teachers who were believed to be moving to public schools, due to the apparent rise in public school education levels and higher teacher salaries. The issue became apparent as we met with Edify, Esperanza and Aspire staff who shared their high levels of apprehension with us. They were concerned that with tuition beginning to leave the private schools, it would be increasingly more difficult for their clients to make loan payments and the availability of faith-based private education would decrease.

image001

Lunch meeting with Esperanza’s CEO

After hearing about the issues concerning our clients, we headed out into the field to visit thirteen private schools and hear the concerns of the principals and directors of these schools. These individuals largely echoed the concerns voiced by our client’s staff members: students were rapidly withdrawing from the private schools in order to access free education at the public schools, teachers were leaving in order to gain higher paying jobs at the public schools, and loan payments were going to be harder to make with less tuition coming into the private schools.

image004

Visiting K-12 Private Christian Schools

At this point, our team decided it was important for us to meet with the private school parents to find out their opinions on education, as they were the major decision makers in this situation. We were able to meet with a number of parents who shared their concerns about safety, nutrition, and discipline. Many of the parents had attended public schools as children themselves, but were concerned with the level of safety in the public schools where there were often 50 to 60 children for each teacher to both watch and educate. They were also concerned that the teacher to student ratio in the public schools made it impossible for teachers to discipline their students. However, due to the Tanda Extendida regulations, the public schools were now offering free breakfast and lunch programs for the children, which was very enticing for many of the parents whom we were able to speak with.

image006

Fernando Silva interviewing private school parents

At this point, our team recognized the importance of the situation and we needed a solution. We realized that the public schools had a huge benefit that the private schools were missing out on: economies of scale. For example, the public schools were able to purchase cheap meals from suppliers for their students because they were purchasing thousands of meals per day. However, the private schools would only be able to purchase a couple hundred meals per day, therefore losing out on bulk discounts. We realized that in order to compete with the government supported public school system, the private schools needed to work together to form a trade association.

Through this trade organization, they could work together to create benefits of economies of scale, learn from each other’s best practices, and create large scale marketing campaigns. We were able to contact food suppliers who were interested in working with a trade organization of private schools to supply affordable meals to a number of private schools. At this point, we were able to develop the beginnings of a food program for interested schools. This would not only help them remain competitive in the new market conditions, but it would also help to provide the much needed nutrition to their children. We presented our idea of the trade association and accompanying programs to CEOs and staff members of Edify, Esperanza, and Aspire, who loved the idea and wanted to move forward with the creation of the trade association as soon as possible. Our team is looking forward to also presenting our findings and recommendations to the CEO of Edify, and longtime supporter of USD, Chris Crane.

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Can Greek Youth Overcome Generations of Failed Social Norms and Save Their Economy?

Joe Bird visited both Germany and Greece as part of his study abroad experience and chose to focus on the Greek crisis, including its implications for future generations of Greek youth.

Although both located in Europe, my visit to Germany and Greece this summer unearthed a stark contrast between these two respective countries. My European adventure began in Munich, Germany where my classmates and I experienced firsthand the efficiency and productivity the Germans are known for. From its omnipresent public transit to its factory floors, we got to see why Germany is experiencing both economic and social growth. Germans are highly educated and have invested heavily into infrastructure and health services. We toured the BMW factory where luxury vehicles are created to the exact specifications of a demanding and loyal global customer base, and this deep understanding of both global business and value creation was put on display. image008

The picture in Greece is quite different from Germany. Athens is a city rich in history and culture, but contains little else. The Greek economic crisis is well known, and highly visible once you leave the tourist areas near the Acropolis. The Greeks’ long-held attitudes toward job security, guaranteed pensions, and state benefits are no longer sustainable in practice. Restauranteurs actively compete on the street for patrons, each making every effort to lure you into his establishment. Proprietors of stores do the same. At one restaurant, the host gave our dining group the first round of drinks on the house as an enticement. (It worked!) However, all this demonstrates that business is not thriving in Greece.

image010
While the attitude of many that the state owes them a living is prevalent, we saw some incredible and inspiring examples of entrepreneurs in Greece who are working hard to improve things for themselves and their country. We met Niki Koutisanas, a co-founder of APIVITA cosmetics, whose company develops natural products for the skin and hair. The company is innovative in its approach to business and society by thinking of itself as a living organism—like the bees for which it’s named—continuously creating value through its industriousness. With companies like APIVITA growing and thriving in Greece, there is hope.

But ultimately, change will need to come from the Greek youth. They need to buck the old way of thinking that has led to this crisis. Greece will need to liberalize its education system, a problem outlined by the Dean of the ALBA Graduate Business School, Nickolaos Travlos, during his presentation to our group. Greece is an economy dominated by small and mid-sized businesses, many of which are unable to find the skilled labor they require, which hurts efficiency and growth.

It occurred to me that Greece could benefit from an organization that is devoted to the direct placement of young workers who possess the skills needed by these companies. Employment agencies exist in Greece to service specialized professions, much like in the rest of the developed world; however, my concept is to partner with companies, learn their specific needs, provide training specific to roles, and place applicants in apprenticeships, or internships, for more comprehensive on-the-job training that will lead to permanent employment. It would help to bridge the gap that currently exists in the higher education system that isn’t preparing Greek youth for employment.image004 It also alleviates the stigma against vocational education held by many Greek youth, because it involves a direct link between training/education and the employer.

No business education could be complete without opportunities such as those provided by the Ahler’s Center, to instill a global and social perspective on each participant. I’ll always be grateful, not just for the chance to see cool, new places, but for the insights I received through seeing businesses operate outside my home country. We live in a global marketplace, and it is imperative to understand all the segments of this expansive market. Studying abroad is the perfect way to develop an understanding of how we are all interconnected, which, in turn, will help you succeed in your future endeavors.

image006

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Mondragon Cooperatives Can Teach American Firms How to Conduct Business

Betty Trinh went to Mondragon, Spain for a short study abroad program that gave her insight into how cooperatives work together and share resources, in order to conduct business competently.

image005The study abroad program in Mondragon gave me the ability to see firsthand how a cooperative model works. Going overseas to Spain and learning from the locals in the Mondragon cooperatives was the best way to see how a business with a purpose can succeed globally. It was eye-opening to see the strides that Mondragon has made with its employee-centered initiatives. It was even better to learn that they have become successful enough to expand globally and now                                                                                have operations located all over the world.

image003

The Mondragon model is an interesting one, because it is embedded into the fabric of the entire community. Mondragon is not just one company, but an entire network of cooperatives working together to achieve the same goal. The overarching mission of the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation is to create and retain jobs. All of their strategies and developments center around this one mission. They achieve this by forming a strong network of cooperatives that support one another. It is both the interlocking of dependency and cooperation that gives Mondragon cooperatives their resiliency. If one cooperative is struggling, there are resources available from the others that can keep it afloat. If one factory closes, workers can be relocated to other cooperatives.

image007

The concept of pooling and sharing resources should be the main takeaway for American businesses. Not only is it a great way to weather downturns, but it can be a powerful tool for sharing best practices and creating benefits for the entire community.

image010 It helps an organization to become more resilient and also, has the potential to extend the reach of an organization. Each organization’s impact is limited to its individual capacity. However, when organizations team up, the collective impact will always be bigger than each individual member’s impact alone. The power of pooling is an amazing phenomenon that Mondragon has mastered well, and American organizations can try to borrow some of the same ideas in order to become more efficient.

image011

If you want to learn more about Mondragon’s cooperatives, here’s the link to an article from the Guardian that provides some more details on what is going on in Spain currently:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/07/mondragon-spains-giant-cooperative

Enjoy!

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Ahlers Fellow Catharina Nilsson: Tijuana Service Immersion

You never know the circumstances another person deals with on a daily basis, unless you take the time to walk a day in their shoes. The Tijuana Service Immersion Trip that I took on Saturday, March 12th was staggering, disheartening, and awe-inspiring all at once. I learned that, just in a short distance from my comfortable home in San Diego, there is a community that lives with virtually nothing on the outskirts of a landfill in Tijuana, Mexico. I am very grateful to have been able to take part in this experience and want to inform others of the atrocious conditions that this community lives in, not only to educate, but also to instill a sense of initiative in order to take action in any way possible, to help others who aren’t as fortunate.IMG_9839

To start, I will give a brief overview of what the trip encompassed. The first activity, that my volunteer group and I engaged in, included getting involved with the Tijuana community by visiting a local “Scouts” group, much like Boys and Girls Scouts in the United States. We participated in many activities with the Scouts, such as listening to their ritual chants and watching some of the younger members receive honors, in the form of ribbons and sashes, for their achievements. It was a very joyous celebration as all of the Scouts would serenade each member as they received an award. We also sought to educate them more about renewable energy sources and helped them to distinguish between non-renewable, semi-renewable, and renewable. The Scouts split up according to age group, elementary school, middle school, and high school, in order to complete the task. The Scouts used magazines, markers, and other arts and crafts items to showcase their knowledge of these sources. At the end of the activity, two members from each group presented their posters and explained why they thought certain resources were better than others to utilize, in order to improve the sustainability of our planet. The Scouts were very cooperative throughout the activity and were also very curious about how our lives differed from theirs across the border. It was interesting to hear their opinions and views, as well as see the similarities between our interests and activities we enjoy. It was impressive to see that the Scouts were so committed, especially the younger ones still in elementary school, to being a part of a voluntary group that is both caring for their well-being and furthering their education.

The Tijuana trip also contained another component, where we traveled to a landfill on the far outskirts of Tijuana. Driving up to the site at first was astonishing, as it was so far from civilization and we were in a community that barely resembled what I would consider to be a normal “town”. My first thoughts were “Where are we?” and “I can’t believe that people live here”. It was beyond my scope of imagination to think of what life would be like residing next to a large pile of trash.IMG_9842 My volunteer group and I exited the van, taking in our surroundings, and then started to help organize and distribute clothing donated by a local organization to the impoverished community that lived around this landfill. After the community members chose their articles of clothing, we went on a tour of the “town”. We quickly found out that the community had no running water, no electricity, and only small little shacks to protect themselves from the sun, wind, and cold weather. Many of the children living in the community do not have birth certificates and have not had access to a formal education system, so they do not have any opportunity to engage in the real world, nevertheless are they even recognized as real citizens.IMG_9841 The community’s main function is to sort and burn trash that is deposited there by the other citizens of Tijuana. It was beyond saddening to see the conditions that they live in. Also, some group members and I witnessed a dog, who was on the brink of death, suffering on a dirt path while walking around the community. It was so difficult having to walk away, especially being an animal lover, knowing that there was absolutely nothing that we could do to help quell the dog’s pain. The dog’s suffering, however, was a wake up call, in the way that it sort of represents the incurable situation that all of the community members are in right now. I was glad that there is already an organization, the one we paired up with for this component of the trip, set up that was trying to find ways to help the community. The organization’s main goal is to spread the word about the community, and hopefully, get more people involved in its mission to help the community members live a better existence.

Reflecting back on the experience, I believe that the activities I participated in while on the trip were very eye-opening and gave me a better understanding of what other citizens of this world are going through, such as living in simultaneously depressing and mind-boggling conditions, and not having access to what I think are basic human rights, such as running water and an education.IMG_9844

I am very passionate about promoting sustainable practices and ethics, as I want to be able to give future generations the same opportunities that our current generations have, by helping to maintain a healthy planet that we will be able to live on for many years to come. I will always have the Scouts and the community living around the landfill in mind when trying to come up with better ways to combat our ever prominent issue of creating too much waste. I will also continue to brainstorm ways to increase impoverished communities chances of elevating their status by supplying jobs that require more than, in this case, just burning trash. It would be amazing to give the community members the opportunity to receive an education and to gain skills that are vital to use renewable energy sources that are beneficial for our planet and for their well-being. I believe in the power of word-of-mouth, and will continue to spread the message in order for others to see the major issue of creating too much waste, that is occurring not only in Tijuana, but also worldwide.

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.