By Carrie Godbey '15 Online EMBA Student, Manager, Enterprise Supplier Management - US Card Operations at Capital One
Those of us who traveled to Beijing, China for our online EMBA '14 residency will never forget the company visits, food, historical sites or even smog. But, our fondest memories also will include the friendships we forged with our fellow students during the week-long trip.
Here are some excerpts from a journal that I kept during the residency:
Meeting Face to Face
Because our classes are online, many people within the cohort had never even met face to face. I had been talking on nearly a daily basis for eight months with people in my small group, but this was my first time meeting them. It was fun to see how people were in person versus what you might have learned of them on phone calls. This is not unlike work in corporate America now. We spend so much time working over conference calls and in virtual environments that it is easy to lose track of the value of face-to-face interactions. (Editor's note: Newer classes of online EMBA students participate in a multi-day, on-campus orientation at the beginning of the program.)
One of the funniest incidents took place during our site visit to the Cummins manufacturing facility. We had been told in advance that we would need to wear closed-toe shoes for the plant tour, but they had neglected to mention that no heels of any kind would be allowed on the production floor. This picture (left) captures the humor of the moment when three ladies (including me) had to wear the shoes of strangers in order to complete the tour. My feet may never be the same!
We saw a variety of companies when we were in Beijing, each one helping to give us a diverse experience. All of the companies seemed focused on meeting the needs of China's changing market. Within our cohort, there was significant discussion about how companies could justify paying employees so little. (The average income is less than $5,000 USD annually.) It was explained to us that the standard of living is different in China and that citizens have different expectations for individual success, as well as what they want for their families. The single best take away was: "This is not America. You cannot look at business in China through the lens of American business models. Those models will not be successful here."
The food was a highlight. We walked through an open air market where vendors were selling plates heaped with items such as seahorses, starfish, baby ducks, squid and scorpions. The smell was overwhelming and much of the food was on sticks (like kabobs)—sometimes still alive! You learn to value "food with face," which is often how food is presented. If the creature to be consumed has a face, at least you know what you are about to eat.
Networking and Sightseeing
Another unexpected pleasure was a Mason alumni reception that we attended. It is amazing to me that there are so many Mason grads in the Beijing area who network on a regular basis. It made me think about the possibility that perhaps one day I'll be a Mason grad living in a foreign country; and I'd like to think that I would extend as warm a welcome to a visiting group of students from home.
We also had the amazing experience of seeing The Great Wall. It was GREAT! It is simply impossible to describe in words, so instead take a look at the pictures.
Since a few of us arrived in Beijing a day early, we were able to explore some of the city's culture. We spent time touring ancient temples, riding in a Rickshaw and attending an inspired performance of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra.
Although I had done significant research and was familiar with Beijing's air pollution problem, there was simply no way that I could have imagined how intense it would really be when I walk off the plane. Fortunately, it rained the following day and took away the worst of the smog, but it was shocking to realize how much damage the unchecked industrialization of the country has done to its environment.
The residency experience far exceeded my expectations. While I'm sure the in classroom cohorts enjoy their trips also, I think it is particularly meaningful for those of us who are getting our education online to come together as a group.