Tag Archives: Ahlers

Political and Economic Developments in Europe – Heather Thomas

I am in my first year at the University of San Diego in the Professional MBA program. My undergraduate studies concentrated on cultural anthropology, specifically linguistics. Inspired by the desire to capture dying languages as relics of human expression, I have always been thrilled by the human experience. Taking a plunge into a new field, I see the same themes arise in the inherent social nature of business. The unavoidable road towards a global era is intertwining industries and firms on a level never before seen. Political and social happenings worldwide are changing the world we live in every day with exciting new technologies and a beautiful immersion of cultures. In my quest to discover more about the global changes taking place, and the interconnectivity of it all, I am determined to take my learning experiences abroad as often as possible.

The first, of many more, began in Lisbon and ended in Madrid.

Europe has lived through some incredibly noteworthy changes in recent years. As part of the European Union, in both Portugal and Spain I encountered a significant amount of concern, or at least a prevalent curiosity, about the future of the EU post-Brexit. Will it impact future global trends in trade relations? Will it prompt other European member nations to take action for separation from the union?

The economic union is currently the most robust integration of nations and has succeeded in making Europe a major international power. Lecturers, Francisco Torres and Mario Weitz Schneir, appeared not to fear Brexit and suggest it may be more of a loss for the UK than the remaining nation states. It does, however, bring into question the need to confront the rise of populist movements, a result of economic uncertainty and increasing concerns of globalization.

Another topic of significant impact in the last 10 years is the global financial crisis of 2008. Both Portugal and Spain have not fully recovered and also suffered a severe economic blow during the European debt crisis in 2009. Unemployment rates remain high but are on a steady inline, at just under 19% in Spain and 10% in Portugal compared to 4.3% in the US. The economic systems in both countries are seemingly in repair and investment in technology, education and energy appear promising. With so much transformation, it will be interesting see how things develop.

There are three main things I learned on this program. First, I learned to examine business in a more holistic manner, taking in cultural and historical aspects and exploring their implications. I learned that although Portugal is moving away from tourism as a major industry and into more lucrative sectors, there is no denying the appeal of the city of Lisbon. And finally, for anyone afraid of drinking up an appetite in Spain, you will never be short of Tapas.

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

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

European Accounting Experience – Karinn Uppal

Introduction

I am a first generation American. As a child of immigrants who came to this country with a strong drive to succeed, it was only natural for me to be taught the value of hard work, commitment and, above all, education at a very early age. Because of my strong desire to achieve and excel I choose to take on challenges that will better my knowledge and perspective. The most recent challenge I have taken on is to pursue my Bachelors and Masters Degree simultaneously. I believe that the Accounting Program and the Masters Program here at the University of San Diego will do just that.

Traveling and being a well-cultured individual has taught and shown me many different aspects of the world and given me a global perspective from a young age. I am a very lucky individual who has been given many opportunities to explore out of my home. From traveling alone abroad, to visiting my parent’s motherland, I have seen so many different sides of the globe. Places as diverse as an impoverished village in India, to the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France, both very different settings, with different stories to witness and experiences to have. In cities such as London, Paris, and Rome, I hoped not only for an incredible travel experience, but an opportunity to expand both my professional and personal aspirations, and I received just that. This program helped me excel and take a step further towards my goals.

The International Accounting Experience

On this trip, I expected there to be many office visits, including both accounting firms and companies. In addition to these professional trips, I also expected us to partake in typical tourist activities, such as being on a tour bus in London to visiting the Vatican. In my free time I was able to explore the city in a new light, interact with different people, and find hidden places in the city I did not know about prior to the visit.

The company visits were centered on the differences between what we are accustomed to in the United States versus the international guidelines and standards found in other places. Specifically, I was able to see how this played a role during our visit to the IASB. At this particular visit, we met David Ji, an employee who presented us with a lot of information on accounting standards and what they hope the future looks like. His presentation was of value to me because it helped me understand how subsidiaries and companies have to deal with standards globally, something I will have to do once I start working.

Prior to the trip I was intrigued to see how the culture plays a part in the work environment and how the professionals act with each other versus our cultural norms. I definitely saw this culture difference in France. The hierarchy at the Amada visit was very prominent, and it was shown that those who have a higher standard job do not like to do work that is “beneath them.”

The tourist activities and exploration helped me grow personally. Through the other activities I was able to come across students I was not close to before the trip had started. I created new relationships with Austin Andrews and Andrew Taggart, two people I did not know at all prior to the trip. In addition, I went to the Colosseum with Carolyn, Cheng Cheng, Veronica, and Cecilia, four other students I had not known prior to this trip. Building relationships with these girls exposed met to a culture I had not been exposed to before. I realized how different the Chinese culture is by having conversations with them about home.

Professional Growth

With the International Accounting Program, I enjoyed meeting with our European colleagues and counterparts during the planned company visits. I exchanged ideas and had thought-provoking discussions based off the many questions I had asked. Specifically, it was very helpful to meet expatriates in the Big 4 where they would answer all of our questions. As someone who wants to enter a public accounting firm and work internationally, it was very helpful to meet someone who is currently living my future goals. At PwC I met two expatriates who were on their international rotations. I continuously asked if there was a culture shock moving and if they would want to go back to the states. It was interesting to see two different perspectives and different answers towards this question. One PwC employee said she would and will eventually move back to Southern California no matter what, where as another employee said he was there for the long-term and wants to permanently move there.

Someday, I may want to pursue career opportunities in Europe, and therefore having professional relationships with people that live and work there could be immensely rewarding. I met Claire Beng, a partner at KPMG that stepped in at the end to answer our questions. Claire and I bonded over our similar view towards a company we had both previously worked for, Accenture. After having a conversation with Claire she gave me her business card and said, “Stay in touch. I look forward to speaking with you.” After hearing that I added her on LinkedIn and she remembered exactly who I was. This connection will be beneficial and helpful to have back in the states and its very exciting to have made a connection through this trip.

Conclusion

This program was fast paced, with a full and busy schedule. It provided me with a good view and keen insight into what I could expect life to be like in the “real” world past the academic life at USD. I will constantly be busy in the public accounting field, with new clients, becoming certified, and building good work relationships; I will not have much free time in my day. I have further developed two critical skills that I need prior to entering the professional world: to be able to prioritize tasks and have excellent time management skills.

I believe that traveling abroad while in the process of obtaining my masters was an extremely enriching experience. I gained a new set of skills that will add to my professional career and personal life. This experience connected me to a whole new world of people, may it be students or professionals, many of whom I hope to have lifelong meaningful relationships.

Prior to being an Accounting Major, I was a Biology Major. But now that I have developed this passion for business and accounting; the idea of traveling and receiving credits towards my Master’s degree that once appeared as a dream has become reality. This international program advanced my persona and character in more ways than one and I am so appreciative that I was able to partake in it.

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

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

A Cultural Journey – Jennifer Syed

As an Indian, going back to India through our university for a study abroad session was a very fulfilling and emotional experience. To learn about the contrast of business environments made it fulfilling, whereas noticing the cultural difference between the US and India made it emotional. Our study abroad course, “Innovation in Emerging Markets,” headed by Dr. Rangapriya Narasimhan was the perfect course to understand the business differences and approaches used across the US and India. As our cohort consisted of students from different parts of the world. like Germany, China, Turkey, Spain, United States, and Italy, seeing them adjust to the culture difference showed the major cultural variances between India and the US.

Students enjoying some leisure time after company visit day in the traditional attire of India: “Salvar Kameez” and “Bindi”

Coming to the difference in business environment, India in many business ways runs on “jugaad,” that is where different things are cobbled together to make it work somehow. Whereas in the United States, due to the detailed processes, every business transaction follows a proper and similar structure. In business terms, the presence of institutional voids in India makes it challenging to enter a market and makes it an emerging economy, whereas the structure that follows most of the business practices in the United States makes it more organized with less of risks.

Students enjoying traditional Indian vegetarian food called “thali”

Moving on to the cultural difference between India and the US, without a doubt, India and US are culturally pretty different, in terms of languages, eating habits, clothing, religious beliefs and many more to count on. Seeing the students adapt to the difference in the culture was remarkable, as being an Indian, I can sense it would have been a roller coaster ride for most of them! But coming to the commonalities in the differences, both the countries have amazing people to help you and smile at you and that was what led most of the students to thrive through the cultural differences.

Company visit at the Indian Oil Corporation in rural India, Bhiwandi

India being home has always given me a very patriotic feel to it as the culture and life there symbolizes courage, tolerance, love, family and kindness. The US is becoming a second home to me with the kind of opportunities, growth and motivation it gives out as a country to people from different parts of the world. Having the opportunity to experience both the countries in a business and cultural context has given me a deeper understanding of the intricacies of culture that drives the business in both the countries.

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

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

Tips for Traveling to Lisbon and Madrid

Shreyas Sreekanth visited two locations, Madrid and Lisbon, and gave us some tips for what to do and see in both locations. Read on to find out more!

Since this was the first time I was visiting Europe, my excitement before leaving was overwhelming. We had a large group of people from different programs joining us in these wonderful locations, which made it even better to meet new people and hang out together. The pre-departure session that my classmates and I had with the Ahler’s Center was very helpful to prepare ourselves for the locations we would be traveling to, as we had speakers present who are from Lisbon as well as a person from the US currently studying in Madrid. They were kind of enough to give us a broad picture of what the locations are like, safety tips, appropriate traveling means, as well as suggestions of different restaurants and places to visit.

Lisbon is a great city in terms of the people, locations, food, and places to visit. The opening dinner on the first day was a great opportunity to meet everyone in the program. The authentic Portuguese cuisine was to die for, as I had the best sea food and wine. Our class was held in Catolica School of Business and Economics, which was a 10-minute cab ride from our hotel. The professors and students from the school were very receptive and catered to our needs in the best way they could, which made us feel more comfortable in our new environment. The class schedule was perfectly balanced between attending class and completing school work before we went out to explore the city.

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The city tour that the Ahler’s Center planned was what opened my eyes to what Portugal has to offer, as well as its prominent history. We had a certified guide who took us to the oldest part of the city, gave us information about how the city had been destroyed by an earthquake, and described what had to be done to build it back up to what it is today. It involved quite a walk, so it is highly recommended to be in comfortable attire and shoes (which will be stressed by Allison the day before). Everyone was quite tired after the session, but the highlight was going to an amazing pastry place, Pastéis de Belém, where we were served the best chocolate tarts I have ever had until now. This is a must try in Lisbon, as I ended up having a few every day after the tour.

The other must visit place is Sintra, where beautiful castles are located, as well as a breathtaking view from the western most part of Europe. The hike is through some wonderful small waterfalls and various ancieimg_20160604_013729nt castles. Again, it is recommended to wear comfortable shoes and attire, as it is almost a 4-hour hike to see all of the sites. The city also a lot of small little restaurants and boutiques that are interesting to peruse in, the restaurants are perfect to go with friends after a long day’s trek in the evening. A peculiar trend that I observed in Lisbon is that dinner time is usually around 10 PM, and hence, the places are open quite late. The language is not really a problem, as all the restaurants have English menus, and the minimal English that the cab drivers know is sufficient to get around the city without much difficulties. However, it is recommended to learn a few basic words in both languages, but if not, it is very important to carry a business card of the hotel with you at all times in case of an emergency.

After a week in Lisbon, we headed towards the city of Madrid in Spain. The most prominent experience I had in Madrid is the Tapas tour. Tapas is img_20160530_174244a must try in Madrid, as there so many variations to the small dishes and tapas is available in a lot of different places. The Dean also joined for us the event, making it that much better. We were lucky enough to be in Madrid during the UEFA finals between two of the most prominent clubs in Spain, Real Madrid and Atlético. The craze about soccer in Spain is real, as it is widespread throughout the city, and it seemed like the city came to a halt for those entirety of the game.

We were also fortunate enough to have guest speakers at both the locations who were from Europe to give presentations on their respective regions. The opportunity to learn about the history of both countries, the EU, and the Eurozone in general was fascinating. The industrial visits to We Do Technologies in Lisbon and the Google campus in Madrid was very useful to understand how business functions in Eimg_20160603_202749urope, and the experiences described by the founders of We Do technologies was very informative. They explained the challenges they faced in their industry, as well as how different it is to run a business in Europe in comparison to the US. The industrial visits are a core part of the program and it is mandatory to attend both of them. On a final note, the logistics and program itself were carried out very efficiently, with many thanks to Allison from the Ahler’s Center, as she coordinated with the local schools and kept us informed regularly through Whatsapp. Both of the cities were wonderful places to visit, to experience the European culture as well as to gain new knowledge, and a few credits, at the same time!

From the Classroom to Beyond

Ashrith Doddi really enjoyed learning about various international affairs within the classroom while abroad. Read on to find out more about his experience!

I had a great experience with Dr. Dimon and the rest of the crew in Lisbon and Madrid. The class, Global politics, policy, law and ethics, was such a refreshing take on global politics and market systems, with a special emphasis on European monetary and fiscal policy. The case studies given to us exposed us to global business, cross-border negotiations, culture, and challenges that entrepreneurs and businesses face when they make international transactions.

Company visit

When I read the case about corruption in Siemens in Germany, I learned about how big businesses are structured, as well as the journey Siemens and its top management took during its growth stage. The discussion we had in class was lively and insightful. Despite being in metropolitan cities with bustling nightlife and many distractions, everyone in class was prepared, well read and contributed significantly during discussions. When we were not discussing case studies or listening to Dr. Dimon talk about subject matter, we had esteemed guest speakers who educated us on European fiscal and monetary policy. This was the highlight of taking the class in Europe, because I have done some extensive research about European policy in my previous job working as a Reuters correspondent. Many things come to mind that I can use in my personal or professional life after taking the class. For example, the information about liberal and coordinated markets will help me gain perspective about how markets function in different countries. As an MBA student aiming towards a career as a consultant, these topics will help in the future when I have projects that will require international travel. Another example that comes to mind is the telecommunications case study we did, which showed me the importance of market research before entering a new market. Since I am from an emerging market (India), I can compare and contrast the business environments in different countries and the course material will help me in my future ventures.

Madrid - bull fight

To conclude, I highly recommend the course to future students. The classroom discussions with the professor and the students encouraged me to keep up to date with case studies, current affairs and especially, to learn more about the European economy. Traveling with fellow students and professors was an enriching experience and I thank the University of San Diego’s Ahlers Center for the scholarship and the opportunity to take this class.

Final dinner

How to Utilize Family Businesses to Turn the Greek Economy Around

Ian Manahan has been on a long journey visiting many countries throughout Europe, one of which was Greece, that left a lasting impression on him. Aside from exploring Athens and falling in love with Greek food, Ian found the importance that the role of family businesses play in the Greek economy.

When I stepped off the plan in Athens, for the first time in my life, I was immediately caught up in the historical mythology of Greece. I stayed at an Airbnb with a nice Greek couple in their 40’s who provided me with fantastic hospitality that lasted my entire stay. After getting settled, I sat down and learned more about my hosts, while sipping what was quickly becoming one of my new favorite spirits, ouzo, and trying various Greek cheeses on bread. I had only given myself a day to get settled and see the sights, before class started at my school, ALBA, so after my conversation with my hosts, I planned out my next day and went to bed.

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Greece

Greece was dry when I visited in late April, but the beauty of the ocean water off the coast never failed to make me feel full of joy. Greece was one of twelve countries I visited in Europe in 2016 and, in my opinion, Greece had the best food. I loved the way that the Greeks prepared their souvlaki, which made me realize that saving money packing one’s own lunch might not always be the best option. My favorite souvlaki was probably made with small pieces of lamb meat, cooked on a skewer over coals, then placed on pita bread with fresh Mediterranean vegetables and what I remember to be tzatziki sauce.

Although many of the tourist areas in Athens, like the new Acropolis museum, were busy with tourists and well preserved, it appeared there were many areas of the city that were no longer as well taken care of. The traffic also seemed fairly heavy, and at times chaotic, with the many ‘papaki’ and ‘Papi’/mopeds darting around on the roadways. Although I never needed to go far for fantastic baked goods or food, between the multiple jobs my Airbnb hosts worked and the inconsistent infrastructure I observed, Greece seemed to be a place where economic growth and optimism were at an all time low. What could the future hold for them?

Family Business

The class I took in Athens/ALBA was called “Managing the Family Enterprise”, and it was taught by a visiting Italian professor from the Nottingham Business School in the UK, who had one of the most confusing accents of anyone I met in Europe. However, he was very self aware and never failed to IMG_2890make the class fun as a result. For me, learning about managing a family business wasn’t something I had really thought about, until I started working on my New Venture Management MBA with USD and saw the chance to take the course in Greece while I was abroad.

I think one of the bigger takeaways from the class was how large the family business market is. Family owned businesses are almost half of the GDP in the US and constitute approximately three quarters of the GDP in most other countries. Therefore, how family businesses are managed, especially in regards to succession planning, is a fairly relevant discussion for business and globalization moving forward. The family is the most important initial element in creating the company culture, so the question is how can business and culture be continually maintained and adapted to a constantly changing market? Additionally, roughly all of Greece’s mid-sized companies are family controlled and up to 60% of their large firms are family controlled.

The Future

Greece likely needs to pursue more than one change in order to make the turn around the world would like to see them make economically. The euro did not have a good rap with my hosts, nor did the EU. Greece has multiple built in markets with its tourism and food, but the Greek citizens trust in the government is not where it needs to be in order to start making changes that need to be made. After spending two weeks in Greece, I thought that many travelers would still want to visit the beautiful ‘birthplace of civilization’ as we know it, but without strong political and business leadership to re-write the economy, I wonder if we will see its citizens continue to struggle and as a result, lose some of its integral culture. Greece’s challenges and opportunities are not unknown to the world, and I hope to return to a fully revitalized Greek economy someday soon.


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Lisbon & Madrid: Food, fútbol, and friends/family

Surabhi Mohta participated in the study abroad program to Lisbon, Portugal and Madrid, Spain where she observed many cultural similarities between the two countries and reflected on her experiences in both places.

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A wise man once said, ‘the world is a book; and those who do not travel read only one page.’ I realized how true these words are after my experiences abroad. For two weeks in May 2016, I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Spain and Portugal. I knew coming to the University of San Diego, which is a pioneer in study abroad programs for its graduate school, that I wanted to study abroad at some point as a student here and I have been lucky enough to experience two study abroad trips so far. I didn’t know just how life-changing studying abroad would be and how much I would learn while I was traveling. I took a class which taught me about how different economic and political conditions can shape the way of life in a country and how some of the most innovative ideas can come out of the toughest constraints. I also learned so many things outside of class that helped me to appreciate my experience that much more.

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I learned so much about another culture: what other people value, what makes them get out of bed in the morning, what makes them stay up so late. I learned what it’s like to live as a traveler and not a tourist, and how to explore a country with strangers who can become close friends. I learned how to read a city with my feet, walking through streets so narrow that the sidewalks, where they existed, were no wider than a foot. Living in a foreign city is supposed to push you outside your comfort zone, interact with people you have never met before, immerse yourself in a culture very different from your own, as well as understand how local businesses work, and why they are structured the way they are. The culture shocks I experienced came in the daily routines, the little details, such as with the type of foods. All the fruits and vegetables were so fresh, since the Spanish and Portuguese aren’t dependent on preservatives. The food in Portugal and Spain was very traditional and local. The people are proud of where they come from; they are born, they live and die here. I found that the food they eat reflects their municipal pride.

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Another thing that was interesting to note is the Portuguese and Spanish culture of extraversion. Yes, there’s a huge economic crisis: the youth unemployment rate, especially in Spain, exceeds 60 percent. Yet, people are still going out. They aren’t afraid to have a good time, and I experienced this through feeling the intensity of the fútbol games, which you knew the entire city was watching by the perfectly synchronized cheers erupting from the apartments and streets around me. They would rather live with less than sacrifice going out with their friends and family. This reflects the importance the Spanish and Portuguese people place on relationships, which I also observed in the way business was done in these countries.

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What makes study abroad so amazing is how much you learn about life in such a condensed period of time, away from everything familiar. As Henry Miller said, ‘One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.’ That’s exactly what a study abroad experience does to you.”

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

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

“De La Gente”: From the People of Guatemala

Carl Eberts traveled to Antigua, Guatemala as part of an MBA class and was fortunate enough to see the importance of microloans and organizations, like De La Gente, that help in giving low income Guatemalans a higher quality of life.

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 “This trip gave me the opportunity to experience the real life challenges people face in rural Guatemala and explore how businesses with a socially minded foundation can benefit these people. Within the first two days, we met with textile workers, brick makers, and a baker, all who have expanded their business through loans from microfinance institutions. On the third day, we were able to learn about the process of how coffee beans are grown and processed by a local farmer and his family. It was an amazing opportunity to witness firsthand how social entrepreneurship can make a substantial difference in people’s lives. The local farmer’s name was Mercedes and he proudly showed us his coffee operation from planting to roasting the beans, all while hiking across his land. He told us that he started out as a farm hand, making mere pennies a day. However, after receiving help from microloans, he has finally been able to purchase land of his own. Along with the assistance of De La Gente, an organization that is committed to increasing the livelihood of farmers and their families, Mercedes went from just selling unprocessed coffee beans to husking and roasting them. Since the individual pieces of equipment were too expensive for any individual coffee farmer to purchase on his own, several farmers formed a coop and purchased one piece of equipment each to help in the process of picking coffee berries and roasting the beans. The coop has allowed them to create significantly more income for themselves and their families. After listening to Mercedes’ story, my understanding of the factors that perpetuate poverty has expanded, as well as the differences between actions that first world countries take to help alleviate poverty, versus those that only appear to help. The experiences that I had in Guatemala opened my mind to the ingenuity and resilience of citizens living in underdeveloped countries and how it really is a systematic problem that must be attacked from multiple angles. I believe that it is important for myself and others to look for opportunities in our own communities that harness mutually beneficial relationships to achieve more than would be possible alone.

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An unexpected benefit of traveling abroad with an MBA class is the amount of time spent in transit with like-minded business people. Being around the same peers for an extended period of time allowed for networking that was far more significant than a single random mixer or event together. We spent several hours a day together being transported around to different locations and went out to dinner as a group almost every night. I bonded with fellow classmates over Argentinian steaks, volcanoes erupting, as well as Mexican airport customs. Over the course of the trip, I discussed many international business topics with a doctor that had worked in a clinic in the Dominican Republic and also gained some insight into the history of the Guatemalan government through the eyes of an expat living abroad in Antigua. The connections I made abroad will last longer and carry more weight than others made domestically. I hope to be able to take several more classes abroad during my MBA program at USD.”

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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