By Emily Archer, Tippie College of Business Blog
Two weeks in China wasn’t enough for Brooke Mertins, a junior majoring in marketing and human resource management at Tippie, who decided to stay for an extra week to fully immerse herself in Chinese culture.
“I’m a very adventurous person that doesn’t like to sit at home,” said Mertins. “I’m very determined and a go-getter.”
Mertins took part in Tippie’s May Session in China, a study abroad opportunity at the Tippie College of Business. It is a two-week session where students visit famous landmarks, businesses, and listen to key speakers.
The program is in its second year and Jennifer Blair, assistant director of global community engagement, hopes it will become a long-running study abroad program at Tippie. According to Blair, it is a great way to connect American students with Chinese students.
During the session, the group of 10 learned a lot about business and culture in China, including work environments, gender roles, history and politics.“We saw more and more students from China enrolling in the college," said Blair. "We wanted to come up with some sort of program of our own that was a gateway to introducing China to our domestic students."
Mertins felt it was more hands-on than the usual classroom experience—instead of reading about it in a textbook, they got to experience it firsthand traveling through Beijing and Shanghai visiting businesses, like a tour through Volkswagen’s manufacturing plant to watch cars being made, and listening to executives speak about their business.
Some of the speakers included Leo Curtis, executive senior consultant at Lenovo; Philip Beck, chief operating officer of HappyLatte; and David Dai, manager of strategic expansion and development at FedEx Express.
When Beck spoke about HappyLatte, a popular app company, many of the students didn’t have a lot of knowledge dealing with that kind of technology, Mertins explained. The businessman answered their questions and defined specific terminology so the students understood.
“They would answer any of our questions no matter how dumb, how naïve they were,” said Mertins. “They would answer everything.”
While learning about different businesses in China, students also got to explore the cities of Beijing and Shanghai on their own time and on class trips. From a cruise through Shanghai, to going out and eating in local restaurants, to a day trip to the Great Wall of China, the students were able to fully experience Chinese culture.
“It was really cool because you got to see everything and do everything you wanted to in China, and still get that business aspect of it, and still have your own free time to do it,” said Mertins.
Mertins said right after she left her hometown of Dundee, Illinois, behind and said goodbye to her parents, she knew she had made the right decision to go.
“Every day I never regretted being there,” said Mertins. “I wanted to stay later. I didn’t want to come home.” She loved it so much she stayed an extra week with her friend Yuying Song, another student from the University of Iowa who is from China. Mertins stayed with Song and her family in Jinan, China, where she got to experience the day-to-day culture.
Some Tippie students from China who were home for the summer were Chinese cultural ambassadors and served as cultural hosts in their cities, taking May Session students to local restaurants and cultural sights a regular tourist might not find.
"What I’d love to see is students making friendships across cultures,” said Blair. “I think that when you do that, when you have a friend from another country, all of a sudden that country doesn’t seem so foreign anymore.”
There was also a huge language barrier—Mertins did not know Mandarin, and many of the locals did not know English. Mertins said half the fun was trying to communicate to restaurant workers, pointing at photos of food, using translation apps on her phone.
“This was my first big adventure, and it’s shown me that I can do it,” said Mertins. “So now I think I can basically do anything.”
Mertins now hopes to study abroad again during the spring semester in Italy. She is also working on getting a leadership and international business certificate.
“It’s just a great thing to go and experience a different culture and different customs,” said Mertins. “It’s really cool to kind of adapt and learn a lot about yourself.”
Not only do the students learn a lot about themselves, they also learn a lot about Chinese students back at Tippie, according to Blair.
“What I hope students get out of it is just appreciating how beautiful and interesting and important the country is and to think about that when you see all the Chinese students in the halls at Tippie back here in the fall, to keep in mind this incredible place that they come from,” said Blair.