This study abroad trip to Malaysia and Singapore far exceeded any expectations I had. I feel very empowered after this trip; I learned that I can rely on myself. I also learned that I find comfort in Asian cultures. I believe this is a combination of me studying Chinese language and culture for six years and hearing all of my father’s stories about his trips to Asia throughout my childhood. This made me realize that I ultimately would like to work for a company where I can work with Asia.
This trip showed me how little I know…and that is a good thing. Meeting people and seeing the world teaches you so much about how the world works, about people and about yourself. Traveling is a humbling experience. We tend to view ourselves as the leaders of the world; however, so many countries are far more technologically advanced than we are. There are so many ways of living life and conducting business. It is important to be exposed to that to continue to grow both as a business leader and a human being.
My biggest takeaway from my trip is the reward of working with and/or leading a diverse, global team. For this study abroad trip, we had three full-day Saturday classes at USF St. Petersburg before traveling abroad to Malaysia and Singapore, followed by one class session upon our return. There were a total of 14 students representing all three USF campuses. None of us knew each other previously. We varied in age, ethnicity, work experience, work industry, home country, first language, etc. The three days of classes before the trip, we all pretty much stuck to ourselves. We participated in discussions and displayed the typical classroom behavior. I was worried about what our dynamic would be like when we traveled abroad.
Traveling abroad to two countries none of us had been to before put us all on level playing fields. In Malaysia and Singapore, we did not know anyone but our classmates; we were all incredibly jet-lagged and a little overwhelmed. This forced us to rely on each other for support. Within the first couple of days, the culture and dynamic of our group completely changed. We spent our days together visiting companies and our nights together sightseeing, exploring, eating and immersing ourselves in the local culture. As we spent more time together, we began to learn more about each other personally. Building these personal relationships enabled us to work better together professionally at the company visits and during our last class session.
Building these personal relationships abroad completely transformed our group culture and dynamic. I was able to spend time with all 13 of my classmates one-on-one and learned so much about each one of them. I learned about their lives outside of work: their families, values, cultures, etc.
This experience with my classmates gave me some insight on how to form and lead a diverse team. As a leader, when I establish a team or add new members to a team, I need to travel with the team and take us out of our regular element to build both our professional and personal relationships. Oftentimes, organizational teams will participate in team building events (bowling nights, dinners, cooking classes, etc). While these can sometimes be effective, more often than not, these exercises create a fake environment that is not transferable to the workplace. When team members return to the workplace, the culture of the team remains unchanged. By traveling together, you conduct business AND build personal relationships simultaneously. You are working together and solving complex problems all while jet lagged and missing family; there is a common struggle. After the work day, you are building personal relationships when you go to dinner, sight-see, work out, etc. By building these relationships in a business environment, they will better translate back to the office environment.
I will remember this trip for the rest of my life and I know I will have the friendships I have built for years to come. Since our return, we have already planned multiple reunions including trips to Disney World and a “family” barbecue. My goal now is to encourage more graduate students to take advantage of the study abroad opportunities offered by USF. These trips have a profound impact on you both personally and professionally. We all need to get out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves to learn more about the world, about other people and about ourselves.
Thank you to USF and the Simmons Family for one of the best weeks of my life!