Learning beyond the Classroom

The Etownian May 1, 2013 0

On the Friday of Spring Break, I was invited to attend the International Business Council Meeting by my International Business (IB) mentor in Chester County along with my professor, Dr. Hossein Varamini, Director of IB Program. IBC is a monthly meeting of international business executives from different sectors that come together for a roundtable discussion on current business and investment environments, explore opportunities for Pennsylvania companies to expand internationally as well as recognizing small and medium-sized enterprises from Pa. which focus on exporting. The council comprises of high-level business executives with international experience spanning from Africa and Europe to Asia. In an increasingly globalized world, IBC is a private sector effort to bring Pennsylvania’s companies global.

The old adage “Networking, networking, networking” is not just a cliché. Networking is one of the most powerful tools that we should develop not only at the college level but also throughout our professional life. It brings together information, knowledge and communication for the individual to employ resources effectively. I saw the dynamic of social interactions among the business professionals at the council meeting. They exchange information and news from their individual organizations to update each other about opportunities. As for myself, I had an opportunity to introduce myself to the council and know some executives with whom I could contact for my career interests.

For many students who were like me at one point, you would have wondered or are still thinking about the importance of academic concepts or how much of the classroom education we are going to remember after the semester. There are a lot of successful people out there who never went to college. It is true that we do not use 100% of the college concepts into the real world setting, but our education has provided us with a framework from which we could use to adapt to different scenarios. Especially in this meeting, I was able to observe the business application in the real world setting.

At the meeting, the council brought in a new business which is partnering with a small German footwear company to enter the US market. Since the owner has little business experience, the executives helped her by asking necessary questions and suggestions on the market assessment before establishing a venture. The questions and suggestions asked were, in fact, what we learned in our classes such as the target market, pricing, financial structure, liability and ownership and distribution issues. Classrooms provide a valuable lab for us to experiment before we make expensive mistakes and decisions in the actual businesses. Application means bringing the framework we learn in class to build customized solutions for an individual business’ needs.

After the meeting, my mentor invited us to go back to his company to see the operations. We had a factory tour to see sophisticated machines at work to make company’s products. It was a great opportunity to have a site visit since we were able to understand what it really means to run a business, manage a team of diverse workers with different skill sets, and most importantly, how to make a business profitable. Now a profitable business, he told us the story of his company almost went bankrupt 10 years ago. He and his partner turned the company around through a management buyout. As a finance student, I was very fascinated to listen to how the process works in practice.

The trip reminded me of an important fact that students usually forget. Learning happens everywhere, and especially beyond the classroom: maybe a school trip, a conference, an interview or a meeting. We are usually caught up with our college life of never-ending assignments, projects that we usually do not think about ourselves outside the classroom. We do learn from our classes, but actual learning comes from applying what you know. It was a great opportunity for me to be able to attend to such a meeting as a student.  I was able to witness the dynamic networking of international executives as well as the efficiency of business meetings. I was also able to expand my professional network through the meeting. In addition, being able to interact with the professionals and talking in front of them helped me build my confidence in presenting for a business setting.

If nothing else, these two things should be your takeaways from this article.

Networking is key to position yourself well in the job market. Being a well-rounded student does not stop in being a good student in the classroom. I’d like to encourage our students to start networking with professionals in your field as early as the first year. Networking opens many doors along the way throughout our college career. If you don’t know how to network, start with your professors, and advisors. Explain them your interests, career inspirations, and goals in life. Go to career fairs and social events where you could meet professionals in your field. Be ready to present about yourself clearly and effectively. The ability to communicate and express well comes from practice.

Apply classroom concepts into the real world experience: Learning happens everywhere, and beyond the classroom. It is important to have an internship in your field where you would be able to apply your classroom education in a real business. Even when you are learning in class, expand your thoughts to more than an assignment or obligation. Imagine yourself as a businessperson conducting real business. Think what you would do in that situation if it were your money, and your career. You will see how much you will be able to improve your work by not limiting in the framework.



Min Han Tun

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