Internationalization is alive and well on the University of San Diego campus, but last month, hundreds of students immersed themselves firsthand in international culture. They saw it, explored it, tasted it and studied it.
But for 23 students and three faculty members who were the first from USD to go on an international academic trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) — 19 from USD’s MBA and IMBA programs and four undergrads in a basic Arabic language course — there was an unexpected, but uniquely pleasant, surprise.
UAE Prime Minister and President Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum spoke exclusively to the group for 30 minutes. He gave each person a personalized, autographed copy of his book, My Vision: Challenges in the Race for Excellence. He even posed for a group photo (above).
“He spent 30 minutes telling stories and personal feelings about his leadership experiences. It was not canned (speech) at all,” said USD’s Dan Rivetti, an international finance professor and frequent business traveler to Dubai. “The visit was mesmerizing. Our students were captivated, including the story about his lion.”
Rivetti said Sheik Mohammed’s lion lived on the palace’s property. One night the lion escaped from its shelter and entered his bedroom.
“He awoke to the sound of the lion’s loud breathing. He wouldn’t leave. He used the story as a metaphor for life. Sometimes, there’s going to be something big in front of you that you have to face. What do you do? He quickly figured the lion just wanted to be around him. He got up, walked with the lion and went outside. When the lion followed him out, he turned and closed the door.”
Heather Stevens, a second-year USD MBA student, was impressed with the unscheduled opportunity. The lion story also left an impression. “Pushing or working against something isn’t always the smartest thing to do. The correct thing is to think about something from a different perspective and to be flexible.”
Manzur Rahman, associate dean of the business school, was also present. “It was a privilege for the group. He was down-to-earth and talked to our group like it was one-to-one. He wanted to impart his experience of leading a nation from what was once a sleepy fishing village 40 years ago into a bustling, metropolitan commercial and financial center.”
While it was the inaugural trip to Dubai for USD students, they did connect with USD alumni there. Alumni gatherings were duplicated in other intersession destinations — Delhi, India; Shanghai, China; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Buenos Aires, Argentina — through USD’s Ahlers Center for International Business and the International Center.
Jamal Al Sharif ’99 (pictured, above, center) accompanied the USD group in Dubai to multiple events, even facilitating students’ workspace needs. Rivetti said Al Sharif, managing director of Dubai Media City and Dubai Studio City, secured a classroom for students in CNN TV’s boardroom.
Dubai, and other intersession destination sites, gave graduate students a chance to apply their business skills.
“This was a practical consulting experience. Four-to-five students in each group worked with a real company, solving a real problem,” Rivetti said. “They were presented a dilemma they had to solve and present it to the decision maker. It was education for the students and free consulting for the client. It was real immersion.”
Denise Dimon, USD’s associate provost for international affairs, professor and director of the Ahlers Center, said the MBA/IMBA consulting opportunity delivers results.
“What was interesting is that all of the consulting projects were so varied,” said Dimon, who led the Buenos Aires groups. “Not only were these done in five different cities, from South America to Asia to the Middle East, but they were for global and local companies; service and manufacturing industries; local government or industry groups, companies in the financial sector, marketing focused, supply chain analysis, etc. Our students developed ideas and strategies, presented them to top management and the ideas were adopted and implemented. Our students demonstrated that they have the knowledge, skills and attributes to assist companies and organizations to operate effectively in various international settings.”
The MBA course in Rio de Janeiro included a business student visit to AfroReggae, organized through PUC-Rio. AfroReggae spotlighted the visit on its website.
International graduate programs were also done through the School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES) and Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science. The SOLES Global Center sent students to Antigua, Guatemala and Chile while, nursing students were in Milot, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The international reach of USD graduate programs isn’t a surprise. Study abroad is a key element of a USD education, especially at the undergraduate level. USD has been ranked No. 1 for the second straight year in undergraduate student participation percentage according to the 2011 and 2012 data reports by Institute of International Education’s Open Doors publication.
Global education is applicable for all USD students. Rivetti said some of his graduate students would have three international experiential opportunities on three different continents when they graduate. And, for a select few in Dubai, they can say they got the royalty treatment.
“Sheik Mohammed’s chat, I think, gave the students things they’ll remember for a long time,” Rahman said. “They see the results, the changes that happened during his lifetime while working with his father. Where the Dubai port is now, back then it was sand and a fishing village. The lesson is to not think about what’s possible now, but to think 20 years ahead. He talked to people primarily in the student phase of their lives. I think he left a good impression that, ‘Oh, if something comes up with Dubai, they’ll have a positive impression in their professional lives.’ I think it’s a good example for our students. He’s thinking not about what he can get from this now, but ‘we’re here, we’re doing something; I can educate and share some things and, in the future, it may pay off for the country 20 years later. If the students end up doing something here, they’ll be positively inclined.’”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photos courtesy of USD School of Business Administration