Sunday, September 18, 2011

Recap of Germany Trip

Well, it’s hard to believe, but it has already been over a month since returning from Germany. At this point, we have just submitted our required assignment for this course, and this task has been the perfect impetus for me to take a trip down memory lane (or memory “straße” if you will) from our week together in Germany.

As I am preparing for my next quarter of “traditional” classes, I’ve gained a greater appreciation of just how special our study-abroad experience was. I can say with clean conscience that it was truly one of the greatest courses I’ve ever taken. And the fact that the entire class was contained in one packed week speaks volumes to the professionalism and skill of the team at the German Graduate School of Management and Law (GGS). As I mentioned in my previous post, the staff at GGS did an excellent job of integrating informative lectures with company visits and other hands on experiences to make the learning come to life. No other class in my two years of being an MBA student has been able achieve this accomplishment quite like this exchange program. Not enough can be said about Kelley Direct for creating such wonderful international ties, and giving their students this unique opportunity.

What sticks out the most about our trip to Heilbronn, Germany has to be the meticulous organization of the entire week. From the first day, I, along with several other students, had a bit of trepidation about how the week was going to progress. Namely, how was our host university going to make the topic of study interesting when very few people in attendance knew much about the business environment in Germany, and most certainly had never heard of a Mittelstand company? It’s safe to say that after the first morning, no students were running to the airport. We were all in awe at the gorgeous view from the GGS building, which stands prominently on the Neckar River, just adjacent to downtown Heilbronn. From the 12th floor of the circular building, we had a panoramic view of the rolling hills nearby dotted with vineyards growing some of Germany’s most acclaimed grapes for red wine. Although I would never want to insinuate the lack of topography in Indiana makes for a less enjoyable educational experience, it certainly helps motivating someone to go to class when surrounded by such a beautiful landscape. I knew we had a wonderful experience awaiting us when we were promptly informed that the mayor of the city was expecting us so he could properly welcome us to his beloved town. As an added treat, we had the honor of toasting some locally produced sparkling wine with him after his speech. It’s not often you get to drink wine while in class! As some locals I met later in the week mentioned upon being told about our grand welcoming, “I’ve lived here for 25 years, and never had the opportunity to meet the mayor!”

Another reason GGS made this one of the most memorable MBA classes I’ve ever taken was the variety of professors and guest lecturers they were able to acquire. We didn’t just have the same person lecturing on different topics: We had a representative from the Chamber of Commerce to discuss with us the educational system and employment challenges facing Germany, we had an Indian ex-pat who currently works in Germany to lecture on the difficulties faced by non-Germans when working within our host country, and we had a representative from the Economic Development Office explain to us how the region of Germany in which we were studying was working tirelessly to attract future talent in the hopes of filling a projected gap of skilled workers in the future. These lectures afforded us the opportunity to not only learn from people in the world of academia, but also interact with professionals struggling to solve the very problems we were learning about in the classroom. While learning about how Mittelstand companies must deal with succession issues in their leadership structure, we actually had the opportunity to hear from a local CEO of a business who dealt with fighting within his family when it came to succession planning. While we could have easily just read about this sensitive topic from a textbook, it was invaluable to speak to someone who has actually lived through this trying experience, and get a true feeling for the difficulties faced by him and his family.

Similarly to the experience of speaking with guest lecturers, visiting local corporations brought much of our studies to life. In each of the corporations we visited we had the unique opportunity to meet with, and ask questions of management within the company that could further explain how the principles of business we were learning about were implemented at their company. On each trip we received a company tour, and got an exclusive look at how some of the most innovative companies in the world operate.

As much as the GGS excelled at providing an outstanding academic experience, they also succeeded in showing us a world-class cultural experience. Each day, an exquisite lunch and dinner was arranged for and provided by the staff at GGS. We visited local eateries, and had the opportunity to try many delicious German dishes, including local Swabian specialties. Although all but the two German-speaking students needed translation help with the menus, we enjoyed every plate put in front of us, even if sometimes we were unsure of what we were ordering. There was also no shortage of opportunities to learn more about the burgeoning wine industry in the Heilbronn area. We had a tasty meal at a vineyard that included a thorough education on the region’s wine as told by the 14th generation owner of the property in which we were eating. We also visited a wine cooperative that collected grapes from all over the region, and then collectively performed the bottling function. At this location we went for a scenic stroll through their vineyards. One evening we visited a nearby castle, and had the opportunity to dine outdoors next to the walls of the ancient structure. To end the week, some of the GGS staff brought us to Stuttgart to further our cultural exposure to the region in which we were studying. We went to the top of the world’s oldest TV antenna, which offered spectacular vistas of the city of Stuttgart. We then traveled as a group and visited the Porsche museum. After one last evening socializing in Stuttgart, we all parted ways back home the following day

One of the more unseen benefits of this Germany experience would have to be the social bonds I created with my fellow MBA students and professors. Particularly coming from an online MBA program where live interaction with fellow students is infrequent, it was an incredible experience to go through this class with 20 other like-minded people interested in learning about different cultures. The group of us from Kelley Direct became such good friends with our fellow MBA students from around the world, that most evenings after 12 hours of studying/eating, we would stay out in the city and socialize further. It was quite enlightening to speak with students in other programs, and realize that although we are separated geographically by thousands of miles, and often must deal with language barriers, we share a bond with our mutual business education, and can connect on a deeper level than if we had met in other circumstances. I can’t stress enough my excitement to visit my new friends from around the world, both fellow KD students, and those from the other programs. A similar bond was also created between the students and the professors. I observed many students engaged in deep conversation with the professors during our breaks, and could tell that many students had a genuine interest in the experiences of our professors. Many students expressed interest in continuing communication with the professors, as they felt their area of expertise could help them in their professional life back home.

Indiana University, specifically the Kelley Direct program, has hit a home run with its partnership with the German Graduate School of Management and Law. Once again, the Kelley Direct MBA program has managed to find a new and exciting way for its students to gain business knowledge outside of the classroom. They could not have found a more professional and relevant school as GGS, and I commend them for forging this partnership that will hopefully stay strong for years. Since returning from Germany, we’ve been told that this first annual summer session by GGS was so successful that they are already planning for next year’s session.

On behalf of myself and my fellow KD students, I would like to extend a warm thank-you to the Kelley personnel that made this trip possible. I would also like to express my sincerest gratitude to the entire staff at GGS who worked tirelessly to ensure their guests had an educational and memorable experience. Danke schön.

Here’s to hoping they let me come back next summer!

Max Rubenstein

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