Virtual Exchange Prepares Alumna for the World of International Business
William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan
Recent graduate Liz reflects on her virtual exchange, a course on international business culture with peers from Egypt, Lebanon, and Libya. She says that her experience is the source of many life lessons learned and skills gained, which she applied during a prestigious summer internship.
Being a college student during the height of the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t easy for anyone. That time of uncertainty pushed Liz, a business student at the University of Michigan, to look for an opportunity to try something new. Business & Culture: A Virtual Practicum, implemented by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI), seemed like a fun and different learning experience, so she decided to go for it. “I took the program to just learn new perspectives and kind of challenge my own way of thinking. Something that’s been really important to me is trying to maintain that lifelong learning mindset [from] a cultural view as opposed to just learning from textbooks and professors.”
Liz wanted to make the most of the four years as an undergraduate student, but she wasn’t interested in studying abroad and preferred to stay put on campus. This virtual exchange was perfect for her because it allowed her to interact with peers in Egypt, Lebanon, and Libya without ever leaving Ann Arbor. Liz and her international partners worked on a project together through virtual meetings, while also getting to know each other on a personal level and building those relationships.
Liz shares why this virtual exchange was a perfect opportunity for her:
As much as Liz enjoyed collaborating with her peers on their coursework, she values the more casual conversations they had about their lives and university life in general. “One of my favorite memories was my group exchanging recipes from all of our different cultures that we really liked. That was something that was easy to do online, we just set up an email chain. I would say [virtual exchange] is a really easy way just to see what other cultures and other students are doing across the world.” As an avid baker, she shared a chocolate chip cookie recipe with her group of friends and tried out a Lebanese dish. This activity allowed them to connect more with one another and share parts of themselves with the group.
“One of my favorite memories was my group exchanging recipes from all of our different cultures that we really liked. I would say [virtual exchange] is a really easy way just to see what other cultures and other students are doing across the world.”
Liz, Alumna, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan's Business & Culture
Because this was a business-focused exchange, she learned a lot about how to conduct business on a global scale. Perhaps her biggest lesson was that, even though people with different backgrounds and cultures may do things differently, one isn’t better than the other. “Even at the University of Michigan, I had a lot of international friends and even people from different parts of the state of Michigan that have just a different way of doing things, and so I think it really taught me that my way isn’t the right way. I think that was something I really tried to bring into practice.”
Hear more about the business skills she was able to gain from the virtual exchange:
Their small group’s approach to intercultural communication was something that Liz appreciated. They all went into the experience with an open mind and with the willingness to learn. “We all were very cognizant of challenging stereotypes and [saying] ‘I want to actually get to know you as an individual, not you as an American.’ I think that was really interesting and being with your peers is a much easier way to challenge each other, because we’re all students trying to learn.” Having the chance to engage with culturally diverse peers was valuable in so many ways, but especially before Liz and her peers entered the professional space, where the stakes are higher and cultural miscommunications can negatively impact their professional experiences.
For Liz, this course stood out among the rest. It offered a unique opportunity to take a step into the world of international business. She believes more students should take the course and challenge themselves. “I convinced, I think, four of my friends to take it whenever they were offering it next. Even though the class is at 8:30am, which is a tough time for college students, [I told them] ‘I promise you it’s worth it to get up early for this class.’ At the end of the day, I really loved my experience, and I think it’s been one of my favorite college classes that I’ve taken.”
Liz shares her thoughts on why more students should participate in this virtual exchange:
After graduating in spring 2022, Liz spent the summer in Boston interning with Deloitte. She returned to the University of Michigan this fall to begin a master’s program in Accounting. After receiving her masters degree, Liz has plans to return to Deloitte in their New York City office where she will continue to foster her lifelong learning mindset. The skills and lessons she learned during the virtual exchange have prepared her well for future opportunities, enabling her to develop and grow professionally.
Business and Culture: A Virtual Practicum is implemented by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.