Friday, February 24, 2012

Doing business Down Under

Imagine celebrating the New Year with fireworks in a dark sky above Pacific islands and below, an otherworldly phosphorescent light show in dark reef-clustered waters.

Or hugging a koala. Or floating on a river through black caverns of glow worms. Or dancing with tattooed Maoris, engulfed in warm steam of volcanic springs, cuddling lambs, feeding kangaroos and penguins and attending a performance in a world-renowned performing arts center.

And what’s all that got to do with business studies?

Everything, say 13 students who spent 16 days immersed in the business and culture of New Zealand and southern Australia after an intense semester of study in Dr. Becky Oliphant’s International Business 301.

“I called this class Business, Culture, History and Service in New Zealand and Australia, so it was not just about doing business in the countries,” said Oliphant, who led the group that left Florida two days after Christmas.

But there was plenty of business in the packed itinerary.

Take that underwater light show in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, for instance. Not only was there night kayaking and swimming in water swept with bright phosphoresce as students (and fish) moved, but there were lessons from the boat crew in the business of fishing, gathering sea urchins for foreign markets and operating an eco-tourism enterprise.

Students learned about unique niche tourism from native Maori tribesmen and about winery business at a seaside winery. Farmers taught them about sheep herding, staffers at the U.S. Consulate in Sydney revealed ways they help American businesses trade with Australia and students gained insights into operations of the famous Sydney Opera House during a private tour.

There were business perspectives at a Hobbit village created for Lord of the Rings films. Owners made the site a top attraction called Hobbiton.

Students saw global trade in action at the sprawling Sydney Fish Market, a world exchange of seafood. Some learned what a big difference the use of high quality local ingredients can make in food.

The use of native food is pushed by the two countries, said Sarah Rodriguez, a senior Management and Marketing major from Deltona, Fla.

“I was highly impressed by the whole “local” concept,” Rodriguez said. “They use local fishermen, local beef, and other locally produced food. They hold true to these values.” It’s even printed on burger wrappers, she said. Some companies there have rejected foreign expansion and profit because it compromises commitment to local products. Strict standards mean foreign companies may have to change ingredients to sell Down Under, she said.

“I did give up fast food because of the trip,” said Rodriguez. After ordering a cheeseburger from the same fast food chain when she returned, she quit. “It’s just not the same here … it had a different taste. Their fast food seems healthier.”

Social justice and service figured into the itinerary, too.

Students visited the New South Wales Reconciliation Council to learn efforts of mitigating wrongs of the past and Aboriginal rights and issues. They also volunteered at a new church-based thrift shop in Sydney to clean, organize and solicit donations to help at-risk youth.

“By the time we left it looked like a real clothing store with very nice displays,” said Kara Oldford, a senior Marketing major from Michigan. “It ended up being fun. We really made a difference and it felt great.”

It was the first time a Stetson Business School group had visited the two countries. In recent years, the school has offered more international study opportunities and groups have visited China, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries.

“I think that students, especially those in the Business School, should be almost required to do some type of study abroad experience,” said Aubrey Burris of Lakeland, a senior minoring in two business fields. “Traveling to a foreign country forces you outside of your comfort zone in new experiences with new people.”

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