Innovation and Cooperation in Mondragón

This past summer, Jessica Kort traveled to Mondragón, Spain to learn about the role of the environment and community in innovation and entrepreneurship. Please enjoy reading her perspectives on the philosophy of business, leadership, and life.

“It is extraordinary that this course on Models of Participatory Leadership is offered in Mondragon. Beyond being a unique yet entirely enlightening topic for students of business, it is invaluable to learn about this style of leadership that is uncommon for us in the United States. Were Mondragon 2it not for the financial aid, I would have been unable to travel and study in Mondragon. I truly treasured the experience because being immersed in the culture that generated this philosophy of business and leadership added complex layers to my understanding of it.

It was one thing to read about Mondragon cooperatives’ competitive advantages and astounding success from campus in San Diego. It was another entirely to see where it all began, speak face-to-face with beneficiaries of this way of business and of life, experience the culture that inspired it and watch its creations in action. Visiting the headquarters of the cooperative umbrella corporation, the cooperative factory floors and cooperative university brought theMondragon 9 narratives to life. We digested the forces and motives that drove visionaries to create cooperatives in the Basque region while sharing traditional Basque meals with beneficiaries of their foresight. We studied the economic theory behind cooperatives and walked the halls of a stunning university later created to teach and embody that cooperative structure. We mulled over how Catholic Social Thought laid the foundation of values that inspired the cooperatives’ founders to construct something better for their community in the 1950s, and trekked to a symbolically designed basilica erected and dedicated to the community in that same decade. We learned about another people’s perspectives on wealth, happiness, progress, independence and fairness.
Mondragon 1The course content gave me much to consider as an entrepreneur, and the trip reminded me that our environment has as great a role in our creations as we do. We cannot design or innovate in isolation. We must observe our surroundings and take stock of other people’s needs and perspectives to generate workable solutions and community change. I am currently applying what I learned to my nonprofit work. I’m drawing useful comparisons between cooperatives’ growth in their cultural environment and collaborations in the San Diego social sector. I will remember what I heard from cooperative workers as I look for ways to incorporate qualities they cherish about their professional environment. It was so inspiring to witness their commitment to and belief in the cooperative model, and I hope to emulate those feelings of dedication to work and livelihood here.”

Mondragon 8

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

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

Accounting Program in Paris, London & Rome – Spencer Andrews

Spencer Andrews, USD accounting major, traveled to Paris, London and Rome to participate in the summer 2016 MACC/ACCT study abroad course on International Accounting Standards and European Accounting Business Environments.  Spencer discusses his international experience and its impact on his life:

“I would like to start by thanking the Ahlers Center for the scholarship I received. Without it, I may not have been able to go on this amazing journey to London, Rome and Paris. This trip was truly one of the best experiences of my entire life. I’m not going to lie, before this trip, I was probably one of the least cultured people I know. For that reason, I was eager to have the opportunity to go on this voyage.

ColoseoThe class leading up to the trip was great. It really prepared me for things that I might see and experience abroad, but there is nothing like learning from experience. As accounting majors, we all knew about the prestigious Big Four, we all had at least some semblance of an idea of how they functioned in the States, and some of us even had jobs with these firms. So, I was very excited to have the opportunity to meet with these firms overseas.

Obviously, there are many similarities to how businesses function in Europe, the UK and the US, but I was fascinated to learn about how the differences in culture are able to affect the operations of a business so dramatically. The speed at which work flows in Europe is substantially slower than the pace in the United States. In France, employees are more likely to constantly question why things are being done. This is not necessarily because the employees feel the work is being done incorrectly, rather the employees want to understand it more thoroughly, as well as think through other possible alternatives and find better solutions. Another issue of doing business in France is the education structure. Depending on what level of degree a person earns, their job will be very specific to that degree. For example, Larry Lemoine, a partner at KPMG in France, described the difficulty of asking his secretary to perform a task for him. All Mr. Lemoine needed to know was how to work the computer in the conference room, but he could not simply just ask her to go set it up for him. Mr. Lemoine came to her asking if she could do him a favor, rather than telling her to do something. In France, the people are very proud of their job positions and can be easily offended if they are asked to do work or tasks that fall outside their job description.

LouvreHaving the ability to experience these cultures firsthand, not only in the business aspect, but also in everyday life, was huge to my growth as a business person and as a member of society. If I am ever fortunate enough to be able to work abroad or do business with a foreign company, this trip really gave me the tools to be successful. Regardless of whether I were to do business in Paris, London, Rome, or elsewhere, I learned some very valuable lessons in doing business outside of my home country. One thing I learned was do not expect other cultures to operate as people in the US do. In order to be successful, one must come in with an open mind and the willingness to adapt. As I mentioned earlier, things tend move more slowly in Europe, so you need to be prepared for that and get things rolling earlier than you might be accustomed to. The biggest thing, though, is to go in prepared. Research whichever culture you are doing business with before you begin business. It is important to understand people’s tendencies and to align yourself accordingly, rather than expecting them to accommodate the American way. Other cultures will greatly appreciate the effort, if they notice that you are trying to adopt some of their work habits.

I can truly say that I had a life changing experience on this trip. The opportunity to visit these beautiful cities, not only to see the sites, but immerse myself in the culture from a business perspective, is something that is very unique about this study abroad program. It is a fantastic experience that may lead to the opportunity to work abroad for a couple of years or the rest of your life. I could not be happier with my experience, and I thank the Ahlers Center again, for helping to make this possible! Merci!”Big Ben

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 Madrid

During May and June of 2016, USD afforded students from the MBA and MSGL programs the opportunity to study abroad in Lisboa, Portugal and Madrid, España. Both cities were absolutely breathtaking and are highly recommended destinations. In Madrid, there are 10 Must-Do’s that left a lasting impression on me and will enhance your culture experience:

  1. Watch a soccer (fútbol) game with the locals. Soccer, or fútbol, is like a religion in Europe. If one really wants to get immersed in the culture, find a local pub, and enjoy the festivities. Some of the best soccer in the world is played in Spain, as Spain won the World Cup in 2010, and Real Madrid won the Champions League Championships in 2016. Puerto del sol has great restaurants to enjoy the games!
    2. Plaza de Cibeles
  2. After the match. Spaniards are very passionate people. When something good happens, everybody gets together in the streets and celebrates. If there’s a concert, soccer game, or national holiday, Plaza de Cibeles is a great location where everybody conglomerates to rejoice in the moment. It’s an amazing cultural experience, and the atmosphere cannot be replicated.
  3. Flamenco. The performance originates from Spain. The presentation involves singing, guitar, dance, and more. It is a classy experience, and one really gains an appreciation for the talent, fitness, and rehearsal that these performers undergo in preparing themselves for the performance. A great venue for this is Corral de la Moreria.
    4. Plaza del Callao
  4. Reach out! Had one asked me at the time if I knew anybody in Madrid, I would have said no. However after passing the word along, my friend’s, friend’s, brother, from Zamora was in Madrid at the time. Reach out to your friends, find some local connections, and hang out in a few of the local spots. There are great local spots around Plaza del Callao.
    5. Viejo Madrid
  5. Tapas. Tapas are a wide variety of snacks, or appetizers, of Spanish cuisine. These are edibles that are synonymous with Spanish culture. There is lots of finger food that can be served both hot and cold. A great restaurant for tapas is Viejo Madrid – highly recommended.
    6. La Paella Real
  6. Paella. Paella is a type of food that’s unique to Spain. It’s a rice dish that originates from Valencia. There are many different types of paella which one could have to include vegetarian, seafood, mixed, and more – and goes great with tapas. La Paella Real is a great location with well-recommended Paella should one have a hankering for some good Spanish ham.
    7. Restaurante Alabaster
  7. Iberico Ham. This tapa is so good that it gets its own caption. Cured from the black Iberian pig, found only in Portugal and Spain, it’s the best I’ve ever had. Restaurante Alabaster had the best!
    8. La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas del Espíritu Santo, Las Ventas
  8. Bullfighting. This bloodsport is strongly tied to Spanish culture and masculinity…not for the fainthearted. The roots can be traced back to Mesopotamia where bulls were worshipped, and sacrificed, as entailed in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Eventually this killing ritual became sacred.  A venue to view this ritual is La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas del Espíritu Santo, or more simply, Las Ventas.9. Hotel Urban Madrid
  9. Rooftop restaurants. These are great locations to come after supper and reflect on the day. It provides one with a great vantage point to take in the beautiful city and digest the cultural experiences with friends. One such rooftop location that’s recommended is Hotel Urban Madrid.10. Jardines del Buen Retiro
  10. Row boats. Though the Spanish are known for being arguably the most influential sailors in the world, Madrid is unfortunately landlocked. However, one is able to enjoy the great outdoors on the water by renting a rowboat at Jadines del Buen Retiro. This is a popular place for the locals to come and enjoy their time off work.