Each summer the McCoy College of Business hosts a study abroad trip to Santiago, Chile for MBA students. The experience is a huge success year after year so we decided to ask some of the recent participants about their time in Chile. Here’s what second year MBA student Steven Kenney had to tell us about the 2013 trip!

What was your motivation to participate in the Santiago trip with the McCoy College of Business?

Originally my motivation for participating in the Santiago trip was to fulfill my elective courses so that I could graduate Passportthis December. By participating in this program I could not only complete two courses, but I would get to travel to South America. There is not really a downside to it. But as I engaged in the courses and traveled with our group, my motivation changed. I have always been very interested in different cultures and traditions but this was the first time I really dug into business culture of another country. Moving forward I think that I will have a stronger interest in the global scale of business.

Did you participate in a study abroad program as an undergraduate?

This was my first study abroad trip as a student. During my undergrad I was a student athlete for the Texas State Football program and I studied mathematics and chemistry, so there was not much of an opportunity for me to embark on a study abroad journey then. However, after I completed my eligibility as a student athlete I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Haiti on a mission trip. This trip meant a lot to me and when I heard of the opportunity to travel to Santiago, Chile I jumped at it.

How did you adapt to the Chilean culture? Did anything surprise you?

santiago_buildingAs much as I would like to say that I speak fluent Spanish and blended right in, this would be far from the truth. To be honest I am a very large white guy walking through the streets of Santiago. I stuck out a bit. But throughout the week I tried to take every chance I had to speak Spanish and learn more about the people and their customs. Towards the end of the trip I was negotiating taxi fares and ordering food completely in Spanish. Now you should take that with a grain of salt because I am sure that most of what I said was poorly conjugated and mostly incoherent, but communication was established and therefore a success in my eyes.

One of the greatest surprises for me were the meals. Not only was the food incredible but the complete experience of the meals were top notch. Like most Latin American cultures, Chile has a strong emphasis around meals. They were not rushed or time conscious like you would see in the United States. This gave the group an opportunity to really get to know each other as well as the guests that we may have had with us. As the week went on I was a bit of a floater and I would try to interact with a different group of people every day. BUT the best part of the meals were the desserts! I was talking with a local woman at one of our meals and I asked her how everyone stayed so thin when they eat dessert at every meal. It turns out that most Chileans have a little dessert at each meal instead of lots of sweets every once in a while–one custom I have brought home with me.

What was the most significant experience you had while in Santiago? Why?

factory_tourThe most valuable experience of the whole trip was the interactions, whether it was with classmates, company representatives, or the locals that we met. I am a big believer that as a person I am shaped by my experiences and my environment, so the more I can expand on those two areas, the more versatile I can be. We met some incredible people and heard many perspectives that added to my experience on this trip tremendously.

Although the interactions were extremely valuable, I would have to say the most rewarding experience of the whole trip was the day that we spent volunteering at Las Crèches, an all-girl orphanage. We spent the whole day helping these young girls by cleaning up the grounds, scrubbing and painting bathrooms, and providing them with essential items that a growing girl needs. We moved large piles of wood from the play area which opened up much more room for the girls to stretch their legs and run and transformed the landscape. Once the bathroom was scrubbed and repainted it looked completely transformed, especially when we added the new towels and shower curtains that gave the room some color. One of the coolest parts of this day was when we were working and you could see the wheels turning in everyone’s mind. For most of the group this was a very eye opening experience and we realized some of the simple luxuries that we take for granted. Many of us pitched in and got materials for the girls such as hygiene products, undergarments, and knick knacks that would make them feel special.

Las_CrechesThe reason I say the Las Crèches day was the most rewarding is that it was the most engaged that I saw anyone in our group throughout the week. Recently there was an article published that mentions that MBA student have a lower sense or moral and ethical standards once they graduate than when they began the program. I think this is because during the MBA program we spend so much time examining case studies and looking at the world from a third party perspective that we can begin to create separation between the goal of business and the purpose of business instead of being the bridge between the two. The goal of business is to maximize potential and the purpose of business is to advance humanity as a whole, but when we create the separation between the two is when business loses its purpose.  But by increasing the social responsibility of our companies, of our leaders, and of our employees we can bridge this gap and use business as a tool to maximize potential and to fulfill its purpose. Acts of service, such as our  experience at Las Crèches, help us to bridge that gap. I am truly honored to have served that community of girls and that experience is one that I will hold close for a very long time.

What skills did you gain from studying abroad and how will you apply those to your career and academic life?

Communication skills are key! It was amazing to see how communication played a role in our meetings and other interactions. Although the language barrier was the most noticeable, the cultural difference was the most important. This is one skill that I will continue to improve as I move forward.

What advice would you give to students considering this trip as a part of their graduate experience?

This trip was an amazing supplement to the MBA program. During this program you get to sit down in front of other professionals and discuss hot topics. Case studies help to provide a good learning experience and this trip gives you an opportunity to apply key concepts in a live setting. I believe a student would gain more from this experience if they participate later in the MBA program. I am at the end of my degree and I was able to draw from a lot of my classes while in Chile.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience?

You always need to be prepared for the old “¿¡Donde esta la U.S. Embassy?!” scenario. On the first day I had to run back to my room and get my passport for our trip to the U.S. Embassy. When I came back out the group was gone and I quickly went into panic mode, I could not be late for this presentation. I knew the general direction of the Embassy and I took off running. After about three blocks I was out of breath and lost, so I turned to a lady and sputtered out “¿¡Donde esta la U.S. Embassy!?” She looked terrified! But she pointed in the direction of the Embassy and I yelled, “Gracias!” as I ran off. Moral of the story is to brush up on important phrases when you travel. Try to learn how to say “where is…” “what time…” “how do you say…” “please” and “thank you”. If you can communicate the basics then people in general will be helpful.

Have you studied abroad? Tell us about your experience and what advice you would give students looking to get the most out of their travel experience!