Immersive Study Tours Equip AGSM MBAs With International Experience In Asia

AGSM @ UNSW Business School equips globally-aware business leaders through a nine-day immersive business study tour to mainland China and Hong Kong

Since initiating market reforms in 1978, China has been on a steep upward climb. The country has the world’s second largest economy, the subject of the fastest sustained GDP expansion by a major economy in history.

Now, with big western companies like Google looking to make the move into the region, and many domestic Chinese companies expanding outwards, China’s reach is global—essential teaching for anyone looking for a global career.

The Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) at the University of New South Wales Business School in Sydney is preparing its students for this expansion with international excursions to both mainland China and Hong Kong—one of a roster of International Business Experiences (IBEs) that AGSM runs for MBA students.

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In September, AGSM MBA students travelled in Hong Kong and China for a nine-day study tour, touring technology hubs in Shenzhen and ‘gateway’ territory Hong Kong, meeting with local business leaders and entrepreneurs. The trip may only be a short one, but it is intensive, says AGSM fellow, academic lead international, Dr Jane Qiu.

“Every day [of the trip] we visit several diverse businesses, including Australian businesses in China, Chinese local businesses, governments, academics, and local students,” Jane says.

“This year, we went to BASF, which is one of the world’s largest chemicals manufacturers, as well as Huawei, one of the largest Chinese high-tech firms.”

The IBE is arranged by AGSM, and students are expected to become very involved in the experience, taking charge of the company visits, introducing the speakers to their fellow classmates, and thanking their hosts in a way that is compatible with the local culture.

“It’s not like 30 students following me around,” stresses Jane. “They have ownership of the program—they facilitate daily learning activities and help the other students learn.”

A hands-on approach means that students have to dive in at the deep end and learn quickly how to stay afloat in fast-paced environments that they may not have had any experience of previously.

This allows for a fuller understanding of concepts that are spoken about frequently in theoretical discussions at business school, but are rarely glimpsed first-hand. For example, the size of the market in China, which Jane says is something that consistently amazes the students.

Indeed, the IBE at AGSM is unusual in that it takes students through drastically different parts of China—from Beijing, in the north, to Hong Kong, an independent territory.

“We take them to three very different cities to make sure the students understand that China is like a continent—it has many subcultures,” explains Jane.

“Within China they have many different markets. This year we went to Beijing, which is the ancient capital and the center of politics; then we flew to Shenzhen, which was the first city that was opened up to the west and now the hub of innovation in China. Beijing locals speak Mandarin and Shenzhen locals speak Cantonese.

“Then we went to Hong Kong, which is a hybrid of west and east. Hong Kong is only an hour by train from Shenzhen but immediately you can sense a huge difference.”

This breadth of scope is key to making students really understand not only the geography and culture of China, but its history too, according to Jane. “These three cities cover the time span from ancient China, to the colonial years, to modern China, so although it’s only nine days, we sense that we have travelled through time,” she says.

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The intense learning period has a huge impact on student perspectives when they return to the AGSM campus. For many students, Jane says, the experience is totally transformative:

“A lot of them say it’s life-changing, because it shakes you out of your habitual thinking and [makes you] realize that actually there’s another group of people who can live under a totally different philosophy.

“It makes you reflect on your life, and it enhances their self-awareness. Sometimes you need a shock to realize experientially [the things you know] theoretically—you make a commitment when you return that you’re going to become very open and observe what’s actually going on [around you].”

The advantage when heading into the job market is that students from AGSM can not only trade on their international experience, but that their interpersonal relationships at work benefit from having seen first-hand a different way of doing business.

One student is already seeing the advantage of the IBE experience and was invited to attend an interview by the Australian subsidiary of a Chinese firm shortly after returning to Sydney.

“After this experience, [the students] suddenly realize why people behave a certain way, and they become more empathetic,” says Jane.

“A lot of them say that actually it improves their teamwork skills—it prepares them to become a team player and a great leader.”