Cross-Cultural Education

By Matt Hawkins
April 18, 2014

A two-week Bradley Executive MBA trip to China and Vietnam challenged cultural understanding through meetings with business officials and daily life in different countries. Fourteen students ventured overseas as part of the EMBA’s Global Environment and Issues module, which included a trip to Vietnam for the first time.

The students visited businesses in China and the U.S. embassy in Vietnam. To cap off a long-term project, they presented a business plan for a Beijing subsidiary of Bloomington, Ill.-based Chestnut Health Systems. Team members also arranged individual meetings with businesses in health care, manufacturing, service and technology.

Conversations revealed East-West divides on matters of workplace safety, pay and office environment. 

“The allure of Vietnam was because it was completely different,” said Matthew Gorman, a Peoria-area physician. “China is more established while Vietnam is on the verge of getting there. It was a good dichotomy to see.” 

Students were exposed to workforces that might use biometric scanners but pay low wages and make people spend at least a day in line to see a doctor.

“I didn’t expect to see well-developed business technology, but I was expecting greater health care delivery,” said Lori Birkland, an executive at Alere. “I was shocked how far behind they were.”

On the other hand, Eastern culture opened Becky Wood’s eyes to management philosophies that could improve American workplaces. The health care business she visited utilized a unique integration of clinical and administrative staff. Business executives also promoted open communication by not sitting at tables for meetings.

“They took the Eastern culture of harmony and balance and moved that into the business team,” she said.

The cross-cultural experience gave Birkland confidence her new knowledge set would be valuable in the American workforce.

“It makes me realize I have a lot to offer for a global position, knowing I could impact how they do things,” she said. “They could influence me with pace and cultural acceptance.”

The visitors returned stateside with new appreciation for hospitality. Locals on multiple occasions helped the lost Americans find their way. Friendly banter also provided new insights into local culture while giving the natives safe conversations to practice English.

“I’ll never look at foreigners the same way,” Gorman said. “We were in a different country and couldn’t speak the language, but they were welcoming.”

Additionally, the Vietnam journey exposed the Americans to people living with the crippling effects of war. A visit to Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remembrance Museum stunned the group.

“It was shocking,” Wood said. “We’re so spoiled because we don’t see the remnants of war. I came back with such an appreciation for people who served.”