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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2018 / July 

Study abroad in China offers students new perspectives on culture and business

July 31, 2018

The students posed in front of Beijing's National Stadium. From left: Jack Speroni, Jamie Barlow, Jenna Nojaim, Philip Williams, Maddie Altobelli, Allison Desantis, Eileen Teng.
In Beijing, the students visited the National Stadium, built for the 2008 Summer Olympics. From left: Jack Speroni, Jamie Barlow, Jenna Nojaim, Philip Williams, Maddie Altobelli, Allison Desantis, Eileen Teng.

 A study-abroad program initiated by the Pamplin College of Business this summer offered a group of students a learning experience in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, China’s largest city and a global financial and trade center.

The three-week program combined meetings at both government-run and privately owned Chinese enterprises, lectures, workshops, and visits to local universities with cultural and historic excursions. The group also gained insights from Virginia Tech alumni living and/or working in China.

“The goal of this fast-paced program is to offer a transformative experience for our students by exposing them to a wide array of perspectives on business and life in China,” said Jennifer Clevenger, director of global study abroad at Pamplin.

With research showing that more than 90 percent of those graduating with business degrees will engage with Chinese businesses in some form, it is increasingly important that students prepare for practices and culture significantly different from what is customary in the West, she said.

For Philip Andrew Williams, a rising sophomore from Orange, Virginia, the program was right on target.

“The experience completely altered my perception and opinion of Chinese culture, business, and government,” Williams said. “The trip opened me up to new styles of thinking, which greatly challenged my Western outlook on the world and how I viewed Eastern cultures.”

Williams, who is leaning toward a finance major, said the program also helped him narrow down his future goals. He would like to pursue a career as an investment banker who consults with companies involved in large trade deals. 

Clevenger developed the syllabus for the three-credit course. It includes company reports, book reports, a daily journal, a poster project, and an observation sheet. 

One required reading, “The Chinese Way in Business,” describes the difference in philosophies and ideologies of doing business from a Western versus Eastern perspective. “Throughout the program, students remarked on parts of the book that they saw in action,” she said.

Included among varied businesses visited by the students were TusPark, a government- and university-run entrepreneurial center for start-ups; PengCheng, a meat processing plant; Volkswagen China; IJK Capital Partners, an investment and venture capital firm; and BTCC, a leader in cryptocurrency.

“Visiting both private and government-owned companies in China was a great way for us to compare and contrast how business is conducted,” said Maddy Altobelli, from Springfield, Virginia, a rising sophomore majoring in hospitality and tourism management

“Because of my major, I was very interested in all the cultural sites and tourist destinations, such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Bund, and the Summer Palace, and of course, the food,” Altobelli said. 

“Dr. Clevenger’s summer program in China is a perfect example of our concerted effort to introduce our students to global-learning opportunities much earlier in their program of study,” said Svetlana Filiatreau, director of international programs at Pamplin

During their stay in China, the students connected with a number of Virginia Tech alumni, including Xiaoping Zhao, an assistant professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University who received his Ph.D. in management; MBA and other master’s graduates Yi-Fan “Elyse” Lin, Lefert “Paddy” Zhou, and Michelle Sun; and Ruichao “Billy” Liu, who majored in finance and business information technology.

The program was organized with the help of a company co-founded by Robert Fried, who majored in political science and communication. “As a Hokie and an owner of an international education company, he truly knows what type of learning could be helpful to our students,” said Filiatreau.

“All of the alumni were very generous with their time,” Clevenger said. “They joined in some activities and meals. They seemed happy to meet and reminisce with fellow Hokies and to share information about life in China.”

A goal is to have a few students remain in China for an internship at the conclusion of the program. “This also reflects the broader Pamplin goal of creating global fellows programs that help steer students toward multiple international opportunities,” said Filiatreau.

This summer, Jenna Nojaim, of Midlothian, Virginia, a rising senior majoring in finance, and Jack Speroni, of Leesburg, Virginia, a rising junior majoring in finance, are interning at the Chinese Language Institute in Guilin, where they are analyzing financial-based data to help the institute grow its business into an expanding market. 

“The China trip and internship have indeed been a life-changing experience,” said Nojaim. “These past couple of months will have a lasting impact on the rest of my life.”

The deadline for the summer 2019 Global Explorations in Chinese Business and Culture program is Dec. 1. For more information, contact jcleveng@vt.edu.

— Written by Barbara Micale