Connection, Companies, and Culture: What MBA Study Tours Are All About

An MBA program is a significant investment that offers plenty of opportunities to explore various companies, grow your professional network, and delve into new cultures. As it so happens, the Study Tour enabled me to do all three of those things at once. During Spring Break of my second year, I voyaged with a group of twenty-eight fellow classmates and program directors to Taiwan and China. Affairs in East Asia dominate the news, so I seized on a chance to travel to these places with a sizable influence on the world’s economy and politics.

While I never worked abroad previously, I was curious about what our company visits would be like. The tour opened my eyes to the similarities and differences between America and Asia. We started off our tour in Taipei. The highlights included Microsoft Taiwan, where we met with their General Manager Ken Sun, who gave a passionate address about Microsoft’s culture and role in Taiwan. Hearing how consistently his message resonated with what we would hear from Microsoft in Seattle was impressive. One of the most interesting visits was to ITRI, the Industrial Technology Research Institute, one of Taiwan’s most prestigious research and development institutions, and a decisive catalyst for Taiwan’s global strength in manufacturing and innovation. Our hosts at ITRI showcased several inventions making real human impacts, a reminder of the impact our work can have on human welfare. At Condé Nast in Taipei, Chief Digital Officer Jeff Chang told his story for how he transitioned from his role as a Product Manager for at Oracle and management consultant into the world of publishing and event marketing. As someone on a similar career trajectory, I found Jeff’s journey to be an inspiring one.We then flew to China and stopped briefly in Shanghai. Highlights included a factory of nLight, a Vancouver, WA-based nanolasers manufacturer. We often associate China with manufacturing, so seeing a sophisticated factory operating like clockwork was fascinating. We went to Expedia Shanghai, which I had been looking forward to as a former intern at Expedia Group in the Bellevue headquarters. Corporate culture and its consistency across geography intrigues me, so seeing the very same Guiding Principle posters that were brand new during my internship was a welcome sight. At the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, we saw firsthand just how popular and pervasive Chinese consumers’ taste for coffee is—with a roastery much larger than the one in Seattle, it goes to show that thousands of miles of distance does not preclude a love of coffee.

We then took a train to Hangzhou, the fifth biggest city in China by population and a rising tech hub. Hangzhou exemplifies a blend of old and new—it is home to West Lake, a gorgeous and storied site of natural beauty, as well as Alibaba, an e-commerce titan analogous in some ways to Amazon in the America. Our Hangzhou native tour guide jokingly referred to his city as “a small village”, but seeing how quickly the city had risen up in the last few years and the volume of companies around was staggering.

All in all, I tell new MBA students to grab opportunities that will expose them to new industries, connect them with others, and have fun challenging your preconceptions. The Study Tour is an exceptional way to do that, and it was one of my premier experiences at Foster. The tour made me more amenable to working abroad, gave me more empathy for the challenges of working internationally, and a more subtle understanding of Chinese and Taiwanese cultures. These will all be assets for me as a future full-time employee at an American company deep in the travel space.

Rohan Sebastian is a member of the Full-Time MBA Class of 2019. Prior to business school, he lived and worked in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., where he worked as a software developer, functional analyst, and professional services consultant for IBM and Appian Corporation. Following graduation, he will join Expedia Group in strategy for their eCommerce Platform organization. Outside of work and school, Rohan plays the bass guitar, frequents live concerts in Seattle and takes part in public speaking activities.