Inside a Hybrid Study Abroad Experience: Project Management and Culture in Shanghai

| May 16, 2014
Shanghai Urban Planning Museum

Urban Planning Museum: After several weeks of online coursework, students took in all the sights and sounds of Shanghai during the short-term study abroad component of the “hybrid” course.

During her time as a graduate assistant in Global Marketing & Communications, Grace Boykin (MA Marketing, 2014) was enrolled in a hybrid study abroad course that included a week in Shanghai. Webster Today staff asked her to share her experience below. Read more about the class and curriculum in this Webster China post.

Shanghai Study Abroad

Boykin at the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai

Taking the Plunge

Growing up in the Midwest and going to school in the Midwest, I’ve always wondered what it was like to live in other parts of the world. For so long, I’ve wanted to travel to another country, but the cost and effort kept me from truly considering it. The opportunities available at Webster University changed that.

Not feeling quite ready to live in another place for extended periods of time and a desire to keep costs to a minimum, Webster’s short-term study abroad options turned out to be perfect for me. And the process was not as hard as I’d made it in my head.

The entire procedure was made easy with staff here at Webster University’s home campus and their partners at World Strides. Answers to my questions were only a click or call away. They welcomed the questions and concerns I had – and I had a lot! – because they truly do want you to have a good, safe time and excellent academic experience.

I enrolled in Operations and Project Management taught by Richard Sheng, which was a hybrid course conducted mostly online, with the week in Shanghai being the first time we all met in person.

BUSN 9910 Welcome Dinner

BUSN 9910 welcome dinner at a traditional Chinese restaurant in Shanghai.

We visited a range of international companies' operations in and around Shanghai.

We visited a range of international companies’ operations in and around Shanghai.

Touring International Operations in China

Thanks to the dedication of Webster China staff, our group was able to tour several manufacturing facilities, getting a rare inside look into their business activities, company culture and keys to success. Our class toured several multimillion dollar companies pertinent to the economy.

These companies were in a range of industries, including manufacturing car parts, air conditioner compressors, stainless steel, naturally raising chicken, and several other important products.

Operations and Project Management is an area that I was only somewhat familiar with prior to the course. To see some of the topics from our textbook, such as JIT (“Just in Time”) and Six Sigma, in action and as a part of each company’s everyday considerations showed how applicable the course really is.

Even outside of the manufacturing industry, everyone has to plan procedures and systematic operations, and seeing these businesses at work really made that lesson stick.

A Taste of Culture

The subways are packed, with people’s faces glued to their screens, so there’s little room nor time for pleasantries with strangers, as we are accustomed to in the U.S. Midwest.

While our trip was focused on the business side of China, we weren’t about to travel half way around the world without also sampling the culture. We quickly found the culture and the business practices are closely intertwined.

Shanghai study abroad

Every stop on our trip gave us a glimpse of the international mix of business and culture in Shanghai.

Much like us in the West, many in Shanghai are attached to their phones and constant media access. But a major culture shock for me was the idea of “rude.” Theirs is a totally different definition than I experience in the Midwest.

In Shanghai, you will get shoved and pushed to the side on the subway. Upon arrival, this really bothered me and I was not ready for it.

But after I realized it wasn’t personal and instead just a fact of busy-city life, I got over it. If you look at their expressions or even their response to being shoved, they’re unmoved; it’s just the way of life and they neither take nor mean any offense.

As packed as the subway gets, I realized the necessity for it – sometimes you need to make your way around 12 people and the only way your going to make your exit the few seconds that the train is stopped is to go through, not politely around, sometimes pushing people out of your way. There isn’t time nor space for pleasantries. “Excuse me” simply isn’t a common expression there, in English nor in Mandarin.

However, away from the bustle of the subway, the locals I encountered were very accommodating. When those such as security guards are going through the mundane motions and greeting everyone on the subway, they sometimes did a double-take when they noticed I was not Chinese, and they greeted me a second time with “Hello,” meeting me halfway. If I responded with “Ni hao” (“hello” in their language), they were surprised and appreciative.

Stopped group to ask, "Are you American?"

This man stopped our group to ask, “Are you American?” After we said yes, he enthused, “Enjoy your visit. I love America – great country! Great country.”

The Global Reach of Webster

Admittedly, what caught me most off-guard was finding out how many of the contacts were available to us because they were high-level individuals in the companies we visited…and they held Webster University MBAs.

Bao Steel

Students saw inside the operations of companies, like this hardhat-requiring trip to Bao Steel.

From Emerson to Bao Steel, these companies are major players in the industry in the booming market of China and some of the prominent leaders of these companies studied at the same university where I study. As a grad assistant in Global Marketing & Communications, I know the statistics of our alumni, and our rankings, and all those highlights to boast about Webster’s impact.

But to actually listen to and be face-to-face with individuals who’ve essentially been in my place was the best part of the experience. They were able to not only succeed, but to be successful on a different continent. They all had different personal journeys, but I was really glad that the one thing we had in common was my (soon to come) Webster degree.

We also met some of the Webster China MBA students. Not to sound cliché, but meeting the China MBA students and Webster University alumni executives really showed us how truly global our university is.

Being there for this short period left me really wanting to know more about the culture and the everyday lives lived in the city.

Student Perspectives

Students who received the Walker Travel Award were asked to share reactions to the trip. Here is a sampling of their thoughts:

Meeting Webster Alumni:

“My favorite experience was having dinner with two Webster University students from the Shanghai campus. They explained to me that Webster University was ranked number one in the city of Shanghai. I developed a greater sense of pride for Webster because of that experience. They were from the Finance and Economics campus. I chose to study in China because it was a culture that I had many misconceptions about…this trip has allowed me to grow as a person and the experiences has allowed me to expand my horizons and think about conducting business not just locally within the United States but internationally as well.”

Adjusting to Cultures:

“No matter where one decides to explore for employment opportunities abroad, it first has to come with the understanding and respect for the people you choose to be around. I have found while traveling abroad, so many Westerners have expectations for other cultures to adapt to our way of life and get offended when they don’t.”

Adding another Dimension to Online Study:

“I have never studied operations and project management before, so it was wonderful to apply what was learned in the online portion into the travel component of the class. It added a more kinesthetic learning approach to the subject matter, which I feel is sometimes difficult to do with online courses… Its wonderful learning about other cultures in a class, but when you have the actual opportunity to place yourself within that culture and learn firsthand how the people live and work on a daily basis, there is really no comparison. I feel the global hybrid courses at Webster University are fantastic for this very reason and offer a much greater advantage to graduate students who plan to implement an international aspect into their careers.”

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