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Six lessons in global leadership from Lindner Honors-PLUS

International immersion prompts students to leave comfort zone, develop cultural competencies

Navigating the public transit of a foreign city. Ordering food from a menu in a language you’re just learning. Trying that new food you just ordered. Exploring local festivals or common spaces. Living with strangers and making new friendships.

The sights, sounds, tastes and smells of studying abroad are becoming a part of the typical college experience more and more each year. While a month or semester abroad can be life-changing, studying abroad is more than just a fun trip. It’s the opportunity to elevate academic study with a different approach to learning while developing a deep cultural understanding of a different place.

For third-year Carl H. Lindner Honors-PLUS (LHP) students, four and a half weeks spent in Latin America in spring 2019 did not “just” make for a trip with exciting new sights, smells and tastes. Emphasizing course content and prioritizing cultural immersion opportunities, the Lindner Honors-PLUS International Leadership Immersion: Latin America 2019 program provided a platform from which students could build cultural competencies and understand the importance of, and develop their potential in, global leadership.

Two young men stand on either side of a graph while a young woman is talking

Students were encouraged to step out of their comfort zone throughout the immersion. Photo/Provided/Lee Armstrong

“A large part of this program was helping students get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and how one can grow from that,” said Daniel Gruber, associate dean for innovation and new ventures at the Lindner College of Business and LHP program director. “We wanted to simulate what it would be like to be a business executive traveling to different parts of the world.”

Visiting Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Chile — complemented with study about the countries in Cincinnati in advance — the cohort’s unique immersion experience encompassed intimate home stays with families in Queretaro, Mexico to interacting with Unilever executives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and much more in between.

For the Lindner Honors-PLUS International Leadership Immersion: Latin America 2019 program, we wanted to simulate what it would be like to be a business executive traveling to different parts of the world.

Daniel Gruber Associate Dean for Innovation and New Ventures at the Lindner College of Business and LHP program Director

Below are six lessons the LHP students brought back from Latin America relating to international business, innovation and global leadership.

1. Supply chain management and logistics expertise are in high demand in export-based and developing economies

International trade is complex. Each of the four countries had economies informed by the many geo-political forces and domestic challenges at play. According to Larry Gales, academic director for international programs at Lindner, the wide spectrum of economic development stages and maturity was intentional.

“The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks Chile as near-developed,” said Gales. “By contrast, Colombia is emerging from several decades of civil war, political uncertainty and bouts of economic recession. Each country has its own economic history and set of variables that can be in a state of flux.”

Whether it was copper in Chile, crude petroleum in Colombia, soybean meal, corn or soybean oil in Argentina and car parts in Mexico, the economy of each country relied heavily on exports and, subsequently, expertise in supply chain management and logistics.

2. Innovation, sustainability and social responsibility have an important role in developing economies

Chile’s startup scene lent context to many group discussions around the importance of innovation, sustainability and social responsibility in Latin American economies. After visiting with the National Council of Innovation for Development, Startup Chile, e-commerce retailer Falabella and fruit exporting company ASOEX in Santiago, students uncovered a piece of foundational wisdom: Innovation, sustainability and social responsibility must be inextricably linked for companies to grow quickly and stabilize for consistent success.

A group of young men and women huddle and smile in a corporate courtyard

Visiting both established companies with international presence and fledgling startups, students learned hands-on how vital innovation, sustainability and social responsibility are in developing economies. Photo/Provided/Daniel Gruber

For many startup companies, self-awareness and gaining an understanding how consumers and prospective customers see them in the marketplace is an integral part of how they innovate.

“During our visit with Bodytech in Colombia, we participated in a case study in which we could propose new ideas to top management,” said Katie Fasola, ‘21. “As strong leaders, they were the brains behind the operation, but they were continuously striving to learn more about how others perceive them so they could focus on how to positively move forward in a dynamic business world.”

3. Not all innovation is high-tech

Students learned that innovation is less about sleek gadgets that bring convenience and more about the ability to meet a consumer need. For example, one of the more successful entrepreneur students spoke with achieved success by finding a way to efficiently distribute different sauces that complement dulce de leche, a favorite Argentine delicacy. Sure, not the most high-tech, but it was a product and service that met a consumer need.

Young men and women sit in red theatre seats listening to a lecture

Students completed coursework at some of the universities visited, such as Universidad del Desarrollo in Santiago, Chile. Mohamed Emlemdi, ’21, participated remotely via the “Mo-Bot," pictured in right corner. Photo/Provided/Daniel Gruber

While the cohort discovered that technology wasn’t required for innovation, for one student, technology was essential for inclusion in the experience. Due to a recent kidney transplant that inhibited international travel, Mohamed Emlemdi, ’21, participated remotely via the “Mo-Bot,” a portable tablet through which Emlemdi could hear lectures and meet with Lindner’s international partners virtually face-to-face.

The unreliable connectivity presented its own challenges, but Emlemdi still benefitted from the immersion.

"We all took an intercultural assessment at the beginning of the program and I learned that I tend to shy away from differences when interacting with people from other cultures, and that can be minimizing,” said Emlemdi. “Throughout this experience, I tried to focus on acknowledging differences with people from other cultures and learning from that, which is where I developed the most.

“The experience gave me the strong urge to travel, so I'm fine with waiting a little longer to get healthy so I can experience more great cultures and countries around the world.”

4. English is the language of business … sometimes

For years, business publications have touted English as the language of business, but LHP students found that an ability to develop relationships regardless of preferred language is where business happens.

“Company executives may be bilingual or comfortable speaking English with their international counterparts,” said Lee Armstrong, associate director of international programs at Lindner and one of the designers of the LHP seven-credit immersion program along with Gales and Gruber. “Oftentimes, plant employees, customer service representatives or mid-level managers do not speak English, so our students found that speaking the local language is critical in building relationships and genuine rapport.”

Company executives may be bilingual or comfortable speaking English ... but speaking the local language is critical in building relationships and genuine rapport.

Lee Armstrong Associate Director of International Programs, Lindner College of Business

5. Collaboration and feedback is cultural

A young woman looks at a presentation out of view while working on a presentation with classmates on an easel

Students were eager to have their ideas challenged by their hosts when presenting case study findings. Photo/Provided/Lee Armstrong

An integral part of the program was allowing the students to apply classroom concepts to real-world business situations through interactive presentations and case studies. Students dove into case studies at companies like Crown Equipment (Mexico), asking questions to gain more context throughout plant tours. After presenting to executives, they craved the constructive feedback that could help them improve.

“There’s a cultural nuance there,” said Armstrong. “Our hosts did not want to insult their guests with what could be perceived as criticism or negative feedback, whereas our students wanted their ideas challenged. That’s something they’ll have to take with them and apply again and again in the international workforce.”

6. Local ties have international possibilities

Lindner Honors-PLUS International Leadership Immersion: Latin America 2019 came together through a collection of established and new partnerships, including:

Throughout the travel experience, the LHP students acted as ambassadors of the Lindner College of Business, of the University of Cincinnati, of the Greater Cincinnati region and the United States overall. But according to Associate Dean Gruber, the real work starts upon returning from abroad.

“We want to continue evolving this program from visiting to collaborating long-term,” said Gruber. “One of the ways students can do that is by being a part of the delegation that welcomes a group of ten students from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana to UC in June.”

Featured image: Lindner Honors-PLUS students visited the presidential palace in Bogotá, Colombia, in which they got to converse with an economic advisor to president Iván Duque Márquez. Photo/Provided/Daniel Gruber

Expand your world

Study abroad and cultural immersions present experiences from which students draw from throughout their entire career. The Lindner College of Business encourages its students to prepare for a global future by pursuing international courses or work experiences. Learn more.