McIntire School’s Global Immersion Experience Opens Eyes, Changes Lives

Designed to provide graduate students in the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce with a strong foundation in the fundamentals of global commerce and the opportunity to explore the business environment in a major region of the world, the Global Immersion Experience component of the M.S. in Commerce program covers the map.

The Global Immersion Experience, or GIE, curriculum, involves 11 credits of the one-year, 40-credit-hour graduate program, which recently completed its fifth year. It is actually composed of three courses: “Foundations in Global Commerce,” “Regional Perspectives on Global Commerce,” and the one month-long “GIE Abroad.”

After completing the first two courses, students embark on one of four “GIE Abroad” destinations, accompanied by McIntire faculty members who lead the experiences and provide “on-the-road” teaching. Throughout the GIE, students attend executive presentations; make corporate visits; meet with economists, politicians and other government officials; interact with local academic institutions; and participate in cultural experiences designed to enrich their understanding of the global and regional business environments.

Destinations for the spring trips, which accommodated 92 students, were Europe (Stockholm, Berlin, Krakow, Barcelona, London), Southeast Asia (Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City), and the new destination of Latin America (Panama, Lima, Cusco, Santiago, Buenos Aires). The former China destination was reconfigured this year to become the East Asia track (Tokyo, Kyoto, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong).

“It’s one thing to learn about other cultures in the classroom,” said 2013 graduate Thomas Rogers, who experienced the GIE in Europe. “It’s something entirely different to experience them firsthand. Traveling to five cities throughout Europe – becoming immersed in the culture and visiting companies – at once solidified my learning about what it means for a corporation to be global and opened my eyes to the extent to which cultural difference, and the need to recognize and incorporate it into business plans, is of more than academic interest.”

McIntire Dean Carl Zeithaml said the school experienced a challenge when a visit to Istanbul, as part of the European track, had to be dropped at the last minute due to political unrest near the time of the students’ departure.

“We were able to quickly coordinate with our partner schools and alumni network in Europe to replace, on a last-minute basis, Istanbul with Barcelona,” he said. “This situation aptly reflects the challenge, flexibility and real-world adaptation that are necessary to do business globally.”

Peter Maillet, McIntire’s associate dean for global initiatives, who led students on the Latin America trip along with Zeithaml, said the new track is a terrific success on many levels.

“We traveled with a wonderful group of M.S. in Commerce students who were excited about the region and fully engaged with our speakers, whether we were meeting with the CFO of the Panama Canal Authority, the leaders of Peru’s most successful microfinance organization or a leading candidate in the recent presidential primaries in Chile,” he said. “The experience provided an opportunity to understand the remarkable economic growth in the region and the wide range of companies that are participating in that growth. It also helped us to understand the many factors, such as culture and politics, that are driving and shaping each economy.”

Ian Forsyth, another 2013 graduate, said the Latin American journey showcased the multifaceted aspects of the region’s economy. “Unbelievable opportunity, widespread inequality, economic volatility, rich cultural heritages, international competitive pressures, political turmoil – I had the privilege to explore these forces in the highest-quality setting from the minute I stepped off the plane in Panama to the moment our plane lifted off the Argentine tarmac one month later,” he said. “The GIE provided me with the unparalleled opportunity to experience the huge forces that shape our world.”

Elisabeth Hundley, a 2013 graduate who traveled in the East Asia track, says the GIE took her out of her comfort zone. “This awkwardness is typically what drives people away from these regions, but I welcomed the challenge and feel I’ve grown significantly,” she said.

Classmate Jennifer Xing said the Southeast Asia trip changed the way she thinks about her career. “This past year of McIntire classes prepared me to be a competent employee and gave me the qualifications to start in a great organization,” she said. “But the GIE trip empowered me to further realize that my world is as small or as big as I make it.

“We visited a motorcycle factory in Jakarta and a garment factory in Vietnam. Looking at the finished goods, we don’t think about the process until we see it for ourselves. Factories of traditional industries do hire lots of workers, but often these workers live in adverse conditions, and the environmental impact is controversial. As foreign investors, we should think about investing in sectors that would include consideration of working conditions and improving people’s lives.”

Maillet said the newest GIE destination will have lasting effects back on Grounds.

“The trip to Latin America resulted in many new relationships across the region – alumni, parents and friends who are committed to helping McIntire and the University incorporate this area of the world into our courses,” he said of the latest GIE track, although he could be speaking of all four GIE destinations. “We’re really excited to build on the success of GIE as we offer more programs in the region for both undergrads and graduate students.”

Media Contact

Beth Schmid

Senior Writer McIntire School of Commerce