College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Studying in Poland: Being There, Learning There


3/1/2006

city scene.If you were a businessperson in the Ukraine, would you rather pay a bribe, and remain in your country, running your business, or would you rather leave the country?

That is the question 24 Illinois MBA students pondered over the winter break. Strangely enough, they weren't thinking about this subject in a classroom in Champaign. They were in Warsaw, Poland, attending a week-long course in International Business. Said MBA candidate Christofer Mulh, “You never get a chance to discuss corruption and bribery in the United States.”

Every year, the International Business course takes place in a location outside the United States. This year, it was Warsaw; next year, it might be Mexico City.

The objective of the course is to provide exposure to “ key issues in international and global management ... formulating and implementing strategies in a business subsidiary operating in foreign environment[s].” The course involves four days of lectures and in-class activities, with one day reserved for a field trip.

Might not a semester course on campus serve just as well? “No,” says Mulh, “the exposure is important. Being there, I learned so much about other things that affected businesses: corruption, politics.” His comment is supported by a note in his journal, an observation of the condition of Poland's highways: “Under the communist regime, Poland did not invest in highway infrastructure and it was not a major priority when the Iron Curtain fell, since many other economic and social issues took center stage. So the roads we traveled on were mostly two-lane highways. Drivers traveled at various paces … so sometimes we found ourselves moving slowly and at other times quickly. ”

Out-of-classroom activities included a field-trip to a vodka factory and a concentration camp, as well as a trip to the United States Embassy in Poland. The CFO of the vodka factory presented a history of the company, from a business perspective, also explaining plans to sustain growth. At the concentration camp, the participants took a break from business, only to contemplate one of the worst times in modern history. Writes Mulh, “Yesterday was a frigid day ... We were [huddling] together to stay warm, all the while realizing that prisoners did not have the luxury of warm winter clothing when they worked 12 hours a day in the freezing cold.” At the Embassy, they were treated to a few different lectures, one by the U.S. Ambassador to Poland, explaining the relevance of the Polish economy to the U.S.

On the last day, the Illinois contingent played games of soccer and basketball with the University of Warsaw Executive MBA alumni.

Did the trip meet expectations?

“It far exceeded mine!” says Mulh.

--Shweta Sundararajan

UIUC College of Business