Worldwide Studies: MBS Students Go Abroad

Undergraduates travel to Russia

Students learned firsthand about doing business in Russia when they visited the country in the spring as part of an MBS international entrepreneurship class.

Led by John Mahon, an MBS management professor; and Andrei Strukov, an MBS cooperating faculty member, director of the UMaine Faculty Development Center, and a native of Russia, the trip focused on international business opportunities and included discussions with entrepreneurs and business experts.

To prepare for the trip, the class studied Russian history, culture, economics and politics. While in Russia, the students kept journals, and when they returned home, they created blogs to reflect on the experience.

The students toured Moscow and St. Petersburg and visited businesses including a furniture manufacturer, felt factory, real estate firm and wood products company, as well as a law practice where MBS alumnus Matthew Shannon ’11 works. An aspiring attorney who lives in St. Petersburg, he was first introduced to Russia when he participated in an international field study class as a student.

The itinerary also featured visits to cultural attractions and landmarks, including the Hermitage Museum, Red Square, Kremlin, Tretyakov Gallery, Novodevichy Convent and Peterhof Palace; a boat trip; and a four-day stay in Syktyvkar where host families provided a more personal view of life in Russia.

Shawn McKenna, MBS executive in residence and owner of a chain of popular Moscow-based diners, treated the travelers to a meal at one of his restaurants and talked about doing business in Russia and the cultural differences he overcame.

Muscovites “don’t take customer service as seriously as we do,” says Zachary Stephens ’17 of Saco, Maine, who is majoring in finance with an international business concentration.

“Doing business in Russia is a lot different,” he says. “You don’t want to become too big or make too big a profit because you will be forced to sell your business to the government. This was surprising because, with my business mindset, I am always thinking about profit and increasing shareholders’ wealth — something we are taught in our MBS classes.”

For Stephens, a trip highlight was visiting the law firm where students were given a variety of scenarios and asked to make a successful business based on the circumstances.

“This was really eye opening,” he says. “It demonstrated the different situations you can run into while starting a business in Russia.”

Calling the city center of Yaroslavl, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, “one of the most wonderful places I have ever been,” MBS senior Tyler Morin ’16 says he came away with a new perspective.

“It’s funny that 200,000 people spread out like that is considered a tiny community,” says the South Paris, Maine, native who is now an MBA student. “That’s triple the size of Portland, Maine. It is interesting that the Russian economy can’t support the random small 5,000–10,000 town that I grew up in. Having no Amazon, Walmart or Hannaford and no decent wages would be a different world. The inequality gap seems to be even larger here than in America. Every day here makes me more grateful for my family back home and the opportunities I have been given.”

Kaitlyn Lavallee ’17, a math and economics major from Sabattus, Maine, says the trip taught her “there are innumerable ways to view or react to a situation or idea.”

“Living with a Russian family and learning about the culture has allowed

me to see the advantage of acknowledging and welcoming other viewpoints and traditions as well as sharing my own,” she says.

MBA students visit Sweden as part of international field study class

Eleven MBS graduate students got an international perspective on business this spring when they traveled to Sweden as part of the MBA program’s international field study class.

Divided into teams, the students researched and visited five Stockholm-based businesses. They say the trip was a highlight of their MBA program experience, and they gained a better understanding and appreciation of Swedish business practices.

“The businesses we visited were much less hierarchical than most in the U.S.,” says Steve Achorn ’16. “They focused on teamwork and being successful as a company rather than individual success. I thought this was an excellent way of doing business because it makes every employee feel empowered and promotes collaboration to achieve a common goal.”

Led by Niclas Erhardt, MBS associate dean and associate professor of management, and Devon DeMarco, an adjunct professor, the eight-day journey included visits to Magine TV, a cloud-based TV platform; Electrolux, a global leader in home appliances; Avalanche Studios, a computer gaming company; Widespace, the leading mobile brand advertising company in Europe; and Epicenter, an office-share company that provides various amenities including meals, conference rooms, workshops and social networking events to startups.

Also on the itinerary were visits to a maritime museum, art museum and zoo, as well as a daylong “selfie” scavenger hunt designed by Erhardt to familiarize students with Stockholm.

“Students always come back raving about their trips,” Erhardt says. “It really is a unique learning opportunity to build ties with other MBA students, interact with faculty, network with local businesses, and socialize with host nationals.”

Beth Johnson ’16 says the trip was a great way to end her MBA program.

“Teamwork can be challenging, but this class made the experience seem effortless and enjoyable. Sweden was a wonderful host. I realized that the world is not such a big place and is even getting smaller with the digital age,” she says.

The voluntary MBA trip is an important part of the curriculum because it “furthers understanding, appreciation and application of the principles, practices and nuances of international commerce,” says MBA director Scott Spolan, a lecturer in management. “Shared experiences and memories are also the basis for lifelong professional bonding and networking.”

Former MBA director Rick Borgman, a finance professor, said “these international experiences are often life changing. Students  expand their worldview — important in the age of global business — and open their eyes to different ways of doing things.”

In addition to Sweden, MBA students have traveled to Vietnam, Russia, Japan, Germany, France, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua and China.

To prepare for the Sweden trip, students gathered information about each company’s business model, challenges and customer profile, and composed questions for business leaders. To help understand the context within which businesses operate in Sweden, the students were asked to give a presentation on a Swedish television series, book or movie.

Students kept journals about their experiences during the trip and created blogs with observations, reflections and impressions when they returned home.

In his blog, Pip Kolmar ’16 wrote about Avalanche’s open office space and the importance of sharing resources when it comes to innovation. Shane Albert ’17 wrote that Widespace introduced him to a “whole new perspective of how-to market brands, and their technological insights were truly impressive.”

Vartika Srivastava ’16 was impressed with Epicenter’s willingness to provide space to universities and younger professionals. Even more impressive, she wrote, were the microchips inserted into hands to replace office key cards.

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