A Study in Business Culture

Students in MBS lecturer Clint Relyea’s Introduction to International Business class spent the spring semester researching how commerce is conducted in other countries and showcased their knowledge at the second annual International Trade Show.

Teams of students were assigned a country and tasked with researching the economy, imports and exports, tax structure, marketing practices and business etiquette, as well as culture, history, demographics and environmental policies. They studied world trade and investments, international economic relationships, and the challenges and opportunities involved with conducting business in worldwide markets.  

Acting as “economic development officers” of many countries around the globe, students displayed exhibits at the New Balance Student Recreation Center in May where they handed out brochures from embassies and consulates, displayed items obtained during visits, served traditional food and drinks, presented slideshows, and demonstrated games.

Students say they enjoyed the hands-on project, as well as the opportunity to learn about a different culture. They were able to sharpen their teamwork, time management, organizational, communication and leadership skills.

Abby Grindle ’17, a double major in marketing and management, says the assignment enabled her to apply the training she has learned at MBS. Working with the business librarian at Fogler Library on her Spain exhibit, Grindle, of Old Town, Maine, researched that country’s economic stability and stock market, and evaluated promising industries, such as solar power.

Sarah McDowell ’17, a marketing major from Maynard, Massachusetts, says the assignment provided a chance to be creative and have fun while connecting with other members of the UMaine community.

“We attended a German club meeting, spoke with professors of German language classes, and questioned staff members at the study abroad office,” she says.

Jeffrey Porter, director of the U.S. Export Assistance Center of Maine; Jeffrey Bennett, senior trade specialist for the Maine International Trade Center; and Lucy Sommo, director of international recruitment at UMaine, evaluated the exhibitions on the relevance and quality of the material, appearance and creativity, and on how well students presented and understood the information.

First place went to Denmark; second place, Sri Lanka; third place, Chile.

“We live in an interconnected world, and it is critical that University of Maine students have an understanding of cultures, customs and business practices across the globe.”

Lucy Sommo, UMaine Director of International Recruitment

“As UMaine becomes a more international campus, it is crucial that all students be culturally competent. This prepares them for the world after graduation. Even for students who stay in Maine, global awareness is critical in a world that is shrinking. From a business perspective, companies that once may have sold their products exclusively in New England now rely on markets thousands of miles away to be successful. Knowledge of those cultures and business customs can make all the difference,” says Sommo.

Porter says the students showed an impressive depth of understanding.

“Thanks to projects like this, young people can see that interesting things are happening everywhere and that all countries have something to offer the grand economy,” he says. “The better we understand the world, the more likely our differences can be resolved peaceably.”

Avery Langlois ’17, a management major from Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, whose team researched Sri Lanka, says he enjoyed the assignment because it pushed the students out of their comfort zone. His team member, Kalli Kirkpatrick ’17, says she liked being creative with the presentation. The Portland, Maine, native and minor in management, made traditional Sri Lankan cuisine for visitors to their display.

“The assignment gave me an opportunity to learn about a whole new culture and lifestyle I was unaware of,” says Sheraton Jones ’17, a double minor in business administration and management from Anaheim Hills, California, who worked on the first-place exhibit. “I was able to broaden my perspectives on business and life as I learned about the business rules, laws and regulations in Denmark, and about how Danish people live their everyday life with certain beliefs, morals and values.”

Relyea and Sarath Nonis from Arkansas State University presented a paper about the project at a June meeting of the Academy of International Business in New Orleans.

“I was happy to spread the word about UMaine students’ great work,” Relyea says.

Written By Ruth-Ellen Cohen, Writer for the Maine Business School.