Professors Nicholas Imparato and Mouwafac Sidaoui successfully led their fifth Academic Global Immersion program with their winter 2012 class. This year, a group of twenty-four students immersed themselves in Middle Eastern and European business practices and culture when visiting Turkey and the United Arab Emirates in January. They spent two weeks traveling to Istanbul, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, after an intensive three-month preparation period.
The elective course was created by Professor Imparato in 2008, and Professor Sidaoui has been a part of the endeavor since 2009. “The main goal of the program,” says Professor Imparato, “is to introduce students to a part of the world they are unfamiliar with, but which is important on several levels in the business world because of the roles those cities play in the existence of global giants like Coca Cola and Microsoft.” It is important, he says, to give students the opportunity to see a part of the world that is so often misunderstood, and that has recently been subjected to many stereotypes.
“We go for three reasons,” says Professor Imparato. “Firstly, to see an unfamiliar area. Secondly, because both Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are centers of economic strategy, planning, and business management, and many large, international firms are located there. Thirdly, it’s a way of getting students to build their international networks and develop a global perspective.” This last detail is invaluable to those who believe that being a global citizen is vital to the wellbeing of the world, like Jesuit institutions such as USF do. “And if you don’t think international business is going to be huge within the next twenty years,” says Professor Imparato, “then you shouldn’t be doing an MBA.”
“This is a unique program”, says Professor Imparato. “We are extremely fortunate in the kinds of companies and institutions we get to visit. Eighty percent of the companies we visit are not visited by any other kind of university or academic institution, only by USF. Every year, new relationships are forged and old relationships with previous trips’ companies are reinforced. We now have a brand.”
The AGI group visited academic institutions and local and global businesses, like Boeing, Jumeirah Hotels, the Abu Dhabi Higher College of Technology, the CERT Research Center, Oracle, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, Turkish Airlines, Huawei Communications, Alvimedica Medical Technologies, the Dubai School of Government. They also visited the prime minister of education, and chancellor for five universities, Prince Al Nahyan. “We are trying to bridge the gap between theory and practice for the students,” says Professor Sidaoui. “Through conversations with business executives the students can try to bridge the gap between what they learn in the classroom and the implications these things have in the real world, the gap between an abstract concept and a place in reality.”
“We also immerse ourselves in the local culture,” says Professor Sidaoui. “It is extremely valuable for students to understand cultural challenges and opportunities around the world, and what it is for international companies, particularly those situated in the Middle East and Turkey, to operate within a global context.” As part of the cultural immersion the students went to local museums, iconic buildings like the Aya Sofya and the Sultanahmet Palace, participated in activities like sand skiing, visited a camel farm, and spent time in the desert.
Professor Imparato receives positive feedback from their hosts every year. “They comment on the incisiveness of the students,” he says. “The students ask questions that require very thoughtful responses, and show great knowledge of the business or institution we are with. They raise issues in a sophisticated way and the executives are impressed by this. This particular group of students was another prime example of that.”
Both professors Imparato and Sidaoui believe that the AGI course changes students. “I see students transform through global immersion,” says Professor Sidaoui. “A lot of them grow to think more and more globally. Many of them build great networks and opportunities, and they are interested in exploring the Turkish and Middle Eastern job markets when they finish their MBAs.” Some students even set up job interviews while they were on the trip, and students from past trips have gone on to work for companies that operate in the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
“It creates very close-knit groups within USF student culture,” says Professor Imparato. “I still get emails and calls from people who participated in past courses, with recommendations for companies the next class should visit. There is a sense of ownership to this experience that you can’t buy. If I could put that kind of enthusiasm and commitment in a bottle, I’d be a very rich guy.”