Programs demonstrate the importance of understanding other people and cultures

David Zaret, IU vice president for international affairs, right foreground, presents his business card as part of a session about networking at IU's Kelley School of Business.

David Zaret, IU vice president for international affairs, right foreground, presents his business card as part of a session about networking at IU’s Kelley School of Business.

On a wet Independence Day at Indiana University, two groups of students interested in the intersection of business, language and international cultures hung out.

A group of 33 mostly American high school students and a group of 100 college students from the Middle East and North Africa played cards, Jenga and other games. They enjoyed all-American food such as hot dogs, fried chicken, mac and cheese, coleslaw and various sweet treats. There was music and dancing. They got to know each other better.

I heard about it when I recently sat down with participants from both programs – the Global Business Institute for the international students and Business Is Global for the American high school students, most from Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

We met over lunch at IU’s Kelley School of Business during a session where students from both programs were learning how people exchange information and “network.”

The July 4 party and networking may seem somewhat basic, but they highlight a powerful goal of both programs: They demonstrate the importance of learning about and understanding other people and cultures and looking for ways to work together.

Dancing was part of the joint gathering of participants in Business Is Global and the Global Business Institute.

Dancing was part of the joint gathering of participants in Business Is Global and the Global Business Institute.

‘Creating relationships’ and ‘learning new things’

LaVonn Schlegel, executive director of the Kelley School’s Institute for International Business, had simple instructions for us at lunch: meet three people and get their contact information.

“As you are just interested in learning about how to work in a new culture, a new climate, a new city or a new country, it is all about the networking — the people you know in this world — that helps smooth the pathway for what you want to accomplish,” Schlegel said. “Almost everybody you meet is going to be interested to know a little bit about you and who you are.

“We’re are all excited about creating relationships and about learning new things, and it’s all yours for the asking,” she added. “If you don’t ask, if you don’t reach out your hand, if you don’t reach out and ask them their name … what they want to accomplish in life, then you are missing out on an opportunity to be a bigger, bolder, braver version of yourself.”

My five new connections include people from Algeria, Pakistan, Jordan and Valparaiso, Ind.

“I was looking for something that would expose me to options,” Lily O’Connor, a high school senior from Valparaiso, Ind., said in explaining her decision to participate in Business Is Global. “I feel like a lot of high school students have somewhat of an idea of what they want to do already. I know what I want to do, but I don’t know yet what major it falls under. … The global aspects seemed like an extra bonus, which just makes it a lot more fun.”

One of other my lunch mates, Hamzah Al Mahameed, 22, is an engineering student and one of 15 participants from Jordan. He acknowledged that people in his country have a narrower view of the world. “In our country, it’s not like this,” he said, gesturing toward the room full of diverse students, IU and Kelley faculty and staff, and other campus visitors.

Left to right, Lily O'Connor, Hamzah Al Mahameed and Berrichi Abdelmaunaim.

Left to right, Lily O’Connor, Hamzah Al Mahameed and Berrichi Abdelmaunaim.

“Being here is such a great experience — getting to know all these people, these cultures, different cultures,” said pharmaceutical student Marsel Ammari, 20, another Jordanian. “It’s like getting out of your comfort zone. … Living with them can add to knowledge and experience.

“The people are so friendly here,” she said. “They are smiling all the time and so kind.”

The curriculum for Business Is Global includes introducing the pre-college students to less-commonly taught foreign languages spoken in emerging economies. Partners in the program include the Chinese and Turkish Flagship programs and the Swahili Language Division in IU’s School of Global and International Studies. The program is supported through a U.S. Department of Education grant to the IU Center for International Business, Education and Research.

Global Business Institute creates entrepreneurs

Participants in the Global Business Institute come from Algeria, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. Created in partnership with the Coca-Cola Co. and the U.S. State Department, it provides a basic understanding of American business practices through an accelerated four-week curriculum based on core elements of Kelley’s undergraduate program.

The purpose of the program is to prepare students from a variety of racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds to develop and use entrepreneurial skills to address issues in their home countries.

On Thursday, they attended the eighth Innovation Showcase sponsored by the Indiana Venture Club and will visit several corporate settings. On Saturday, they participated in a Bloomington Habitat for Humanity build. On July 29, they will meet with Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent via teleconference.

An indoor July 4 celebration became a cultural exchange between students in both programs.

An indoor July 4 celebration became a cultural exchange between students in both programs.

Participants in the Global Business Institute program will leave Bloomington on July 30 and travel to Washington, D.C., where they will pitch business ideas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and visit Capitol Hill and the State Department. They also will visit Atlanta and Coca-Cola’s world headquarters.

Since the program was created in 2012, new businesses have been created by Global Business Institute alumni in every participating country. Nearly 75 participants have started their own businesses and created more than 270 jobs. Nearly 70 of GBI alumni are involved in entrepreneurship clubs, start-ups and start-up competitions.

Al Mahameed is interested in setting up food trucks that will provide Syrian refugees with employment. “They are always taking money from our government in Jordan. This is so they can make money for themselves, their families and feed other refugees in the camps,” he said. “I believe that food is always sharing love.”

Another Global Business Institute student I ate with is learning all he can about e-commerce. “In my country, I hope that we use the Internet more in our lives,” said Abdelmounaim Berrichi, 20, a computer scientist from Algeria. “There is only one school where you can study computers in Algeria, in all of Algeria and 40 million people.”

Mohammed Alshurafa from Gaza, Palestine, takes a selfie with Uncle Sam's hat and his keffiyeh scarf.

Mohammed Alshurafa from Gaza, Palestine, takes a selfie with Uncle Sam’s hat and his keffiyeh scarf.

For many of the Global Business Institute students, this is the first time they have been to the United States and spent much time around Americans. “It’s been quite a culture shock,” said Shahrukh Khan, 21, a business student and one of 14 participants from Pakistan. “It’s good to see a different kind of America than what we see in the media. … It’s a great country.”

Ammari, who hopes to develop new products that help the disabled, said she looks forward to returning home being “more open-minded, because you’ve widened your horizon and you’ve seen things you can’t back home.”

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