Patrick Yee is a first-year MBA student at Columbia Business School, but he’s already traveled more in his time at the school than many have their entire lives. Typical to many MBA students, Yee has been jetsetting to Mexico, Cuba, and South Africa with his classmates. Next semester, he hopes to visit Italy, Israel, and Mongolia. It’s with the help of the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for Global Business that MBA students at Columbia get to design a global education experience that’s difficult to beat.
“Columbia really broadcasts its Chazen Global Study Program and it had a tremendous influence on my decision to choose Columbia,” says Yee, who graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and worked in consulting and private equity for six years before returning to graduate school. “I’m an avid traveler and Columbia had the best international opportunities paired with the large international student body.” According to school data, some 43% of Yee’s class that entered the school last fall were international students.
With his eyes set on markets abroad, Yee was particularly interested in learning about emerging financial markets both inside and outside the classroom. At Columbia, the Chazen Institute study tours are organized and led by students for students, and students get to interact with high-flying business people and local officials during their travels. From the king of Spain and president of the Philippines to military leaders in Israel, Columbia students graduate with contacts and experiences that place them at the forefront of international business. Combined with the school’s high international population, the native-led business tours may help explain why the school received over 6,100 applications last year, and only about 1,000 were admitted.
“We’ve been doing these trips for over 27 years and more than 5,000 students have gone to over 45 countries,” Amber Liang, assistant director of the Chazen Institute, boasts. “Students are hearing about globalization all the time but it’s important for them to experience it first-hand and learn about how it impacts politics, social life and economies. For example, how is the supply chain being affected and how is it changing business?”
Liang estimates that the study tours cost between $1,500 to $2,500 per student, excluding airfare, as students are asked to meet at the destination since they may be traveling from different parts of the country. However, there are many ways for a student to get financial help to go on one of these. Last year, almost 50 students were awarded the Laidlaw Chazen Travel Fund that covers up to $2,000 of the cost. The school also sponsors the cost for students who help organize study tours, and students can go on multiple Chazen study tours.
AN INTERNATIONAL COHORT FOR PEER LEARNING
For four years, Paulina Dougherty worked as an analyst for the head of Latin America with Credit Suisse, before returning home to help out with her family’s cement manufacturing business in Guatemala for a year. In January 2018, the second-year MBA student at Columbia helped guide a team of 36 of her schoolmates on an eight-day social enterprise trip through Guatemala.
Together with three other friends, Dougherty began planning the trip in April 2017. The team got to meet the former president of Guatemala and current mayor of Guatemala City, Alvaro Arzu, former ambassador for Guatemala in the U.S. Guillermo Castillo, and various fund investors and nonprofit organization leaders.
“We chose the social enterprise focus because of the huge role it has in today’s businesses,” Dougherty explains. “Guatemala has a private sector that’s extremely invested in its community, regardless if it’s the smallest business, startup or biggest company in the country. Combining my passion for social enterprise with the interest of the students in the Guatemalan culture, I wanted to show my classmates my world.”
While there, the team also visited Dougherty’s family’s cement factory and spoke with her father, who is a board member, and her brother, who is a mechanical engineer. They also helped paint houses as part of a nonprofit project to increase visibility of the town to promote tourism. Part of the reason Dougherty proposed to lead a tour of her country to the school was a desire to encourage her classmates to begin thinking of Guatemala as a place for business. She believes that with more exposure, the country can receive more investment to help grow the stagnant economy.
RISK MITIGATION INCLUDED FOR POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS COUNTRIES
Liang, who joined the trip as an administrator, says that while the tour did not attract enough students initially, it became overfilled after a small marketing push. Because of the places the students are traveling to, the Chazen Institute works closely with a risk management agency to help plan reasonably safe itineraries.
“Guatemala is a high-risk country with gang and violent crime in certain areas where it’s unsafe to walk around at night. We reviewed the itinerary with the agency and they gave us suggestions on how to mitigate the risks,” she says.
To be sure, these trips are certainly not all work and no play. Because of the intensity of back-to-back meetings with various leaders, itineraries usually also include plans to visit cultural sites, such as Mayan ruins. Students on the Guatemalan trip even went on a boat party.
MANY MORE GLOBAL OPPORTUNITIES ON THE HORIZON
Another Guatemala trip organizer, Luis Hector Rubio, grew up in Madrid, Spain and joined Columbia after working in Peru, Mexico, Venezuela, Spain, and Luxembourg. In March 2017, Rubio, who has a background in space communications, went on a Chazen study tour to Israel, an experience he calls “fantastic.” As part of the Columbia Entrepreneurs organization, Rubio was also able to travel to Saudi Arabia to attend a global forum where he met Bill Gates and other prominent individuals in the tech sphere trying to move Saudi Arabia from a petrol-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. He has also been to Uganda as part of a consulting nonprofit project.
“I’ve visited Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Japan, Oman, and United Arab Emirates with friends at Columbia,” Hector says. “We shared our interests and decided to go. Some were road trips and some were adventure trips, but all of them were learning journeys. ”
In many cases, students on Chazen study tours also plan to arrive at a destination earlier or stay behind after the trip to continue traveling and exploring with friends. Yee met up with a classmate a day before the official start of a South Africa study tour and together, the two went hiking and climbed a mountain. He is on the organizing committee to help plan a study tour for classmates to Mongolia later this year.