MBA Students Embrace Experiential Learning in Trip to Europe
by Ellie Walburg (B.S. ’17)
From January 6-13, 2018, five Cornerstone University graduate students enhanced their global learning during a trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands.
The trip was a partial fulfillment of course work requirements for the Master of Business Administration program. Led by Dr. Graham McKeague, associate dean of human services, the team visited businesses and cultural sites in Amsterdam, Dublin and Belfast.
Embarking on Experiential Learning
Experiential learning involves moving beyond textbook and classroom learning to interact with those ideas, theories and topics first hand.
"There's significant research in adult learning theory showing that the more you have experiential learning built into the students' experience, the more that encourages deeper and more transformative learning," McKeague said. "The more you can actively engage students in learning and have them experience something, the greater chance they'll learn something of significance that will shape them and stick with them."
During this trip, students gained an understanding of what it's like to be engaged in business in cities like Dublin, Belfast and Amsterdam. Their visits included a wide range of businesses and organizations, including the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, B Amsterdam and Ormeau Baths in Belfast.
Some organizations that they visited, such as B Amsterdam, equip startups to develop and grow their own business. This support for entrepreneurs was something that trip participant Tonyai Garrison (M.B.A. '18) found encouraging as an aspiring entrepreneur.
"When we had those meetings with the companies that were helping entrepreneurs, I thought that was very interesting," Garrison said. "It gave me hope that I have an idea of what I want to do and that I can have my own business and be successful."
Experiencing Cultural Differences
While on the trip, students were exposed to cultural differences and similarities between the Netherlands and Ireland, as well as between Europe and the United States. Through visits with business leaders, participants not only learned what was happening in Europe but also reflected on the customs, business practices and daily life of West Michigan.
"There are some similarities, yet I think there are enough underlying cultural differences where if you're really paying attention, you can see some of those things, and students can learn those distinctions in culture," McKeague said.
For example, students observed differences in how business meetings in Amsterdam were more direct, while meetings in Ireland began with small talk.
"When you actually see what happens in practice, that's a way for students to really learn on a deeper level," McKeague said.
In addition to business visits, the global trip itinerary also included cultural activities and interactions, such as a visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, that heightened students' learning to incorporate additional experiences.
"We want to move beyond a surface level of understanding people and cultures and move beyond stereotypes," McKeague said. "We really want to get to know people as individuals and understand their stories and perspectives."
This aspect of global learning has the potential to equip students with skills and a practical understanding of cultural intelligence that they can and should use in business administration, management, leadership and in whatever situation they find themselves in the future.
"It builds understanding, awareness and empathy," McKeague continued. "I would hope that students have a better understanding of how to connect with people from different cultures and learn how to work alongside them."
This capacity to develop skills and deepen one's cultural knowledge is why global trips can have such value. Not only do participants gain experience in business operations of another culture, they cultivate skills in increasing awareness and relating to others with different cultural backgrounds.
"The amount of learning that can happen in one week during a global trip is really a high-impact educational experience," McKeague said. "A lot of learning and a lot of growth can happen in that short amount of time."
For some, this trip has been a life-changing experience.
"This trip was an eye-opener," Marx Ruiz (M.B.A. '18) said. "It gave me an opportunity to see how businesses operated outside the United States and better prepared me when I actually go into my field of business."
For some students on the trip, this first international adventure to Europe may just be the beginning of their work in a truly global business field.