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Posted 12.19.06

The world has watched in fascination at China’s progress over the last few years. Most have quickly realized that this country can and will profoundly affect the fortunes of many companies in the not-too-distant future. As such, there has been a tremendous influx of foreign investment in order to take advantage of all that China has to offer. As a consequence, Weatherhead faculty member Tom Vonk will be leading a group composed largely of Weatherhead students on a two-week trip to study the marvel that is China. The group will experience firsthand how and why American companies effectively enter and sustain themselves in a global market.

This is not the first year that the Weatherhead School has sponsored an international institute such as this. It is, however, the first time that students enrolled in the Action Learning course have been placed in charge of implementing these trips. Second-year M.B.A. students Andrew Male and Breck Valentine were largely responsible for deciding on the location as well as planning the upcoming Winter Institute scheduled to depart on December 29. Christina Freeman and Shamsher Gill will be managing the Spring Institute to Budapest and Prague. This student-driven initiative has transformed certain aspects of these institutes both in regards to the planning process down to the students that will be attending.

This is the first time that an effort has been made to include graduate students from programs outside of Case Western Reserve University. Sylvan Zalesky is one such student who will be joining the Winter Institute group. “As a John Carroll M.B.A. student working towards an international concentration, I had a strong interest in taking an international study trip. Several personal contacts strongly recommended that I look into Case’s Weatherhead International Institutes," she said, "The opportunity to be a part of this experience was immediately appealing to me, and I quickly decided to apply.” In addition, law students and part-time M.B.A.s also will be attending. Chris Chan is currently in his third year of law school. Chan commented, “Having never found a class outside the law school that piqued my interest, I was excited about the prospect of working with fellow law and M.B.A. students in a cooperative learning environment.” Including students with such drastically different perspectives and business backgrounds will clearly enhance the overall experience.

Aside from attracting a diverse student group, there also has been a focus on involving alumni and attracting potential students within China. Assistant Dean of Professional Program Management Sarah Drazetic and part-time M.B. A. student Gina Sabell, have organized a recruiting dinner while the group is in Shanghai. An event of this sort has not been done before but will certainly be beneficial to Weatherhead.

Furthermore, the preparation for this particular trip differed in some respects from that of other institutes. Designating ultimate responsibility to student leaders to research and decide where and what to do was not only exceedingly beneficial to them personally but also altered the basic framework of these trips. The burden of both scheduling and forming an itinerary for business and site visits was in the hands of those that had chosen to attend. Such a student-led initiative was, in short, exceedingly successful. The final schedule is impressive and represents the interests of those attending. Aaron Clay, for example, was instrumental in planning a site visit to General Motors. “These past couple of years, I have been involved in two important launches for General Motors Lordstown," he said, "Therefore, when this opportunity came about, I was definitely interested in seeing GM Shanghai’s operations… I believe this trip will satisfy my interest and possibly help me reconstruct my personal five-year road map.” Students will be visiting a number of companies in addition to GM including Blue Point Capital, Modine, Eaton Corporation, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Time Magazine and the Ohio Department of Development.

Apart from experiencing the business environment of China, several site-seeing trips have been planned within Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to provide students an insight into the Chinese culture and history. Previous institutes have focused a great deal on these aspects of those countries visited.  The group will be touring the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Bund, Zhujiajiao and Victoria Peak to name a few. Sabelli indicated, “I am looking to gain insight into the Chinese culture and business management practices and learn how non-Chinese people do business in China.” Giving students time to experience China outside of the business setting was a clear priority.

The trip will certainly be eventful and allow students to experience firsthand the dramatic changes that are taking place in China. Indeed, it is a country that will influence how and where business is done over the course of the next few years.

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