William & Mary Students Get Their 'Boots on the Ground' in Southeast Asia

"Working Winter Break" puts students in center of global business


WILLIAMSBURG, VA -- It wasn't a "normal" winter break for a group of Undergraduate Business students at The College of William and Mary.

Students in Professor Don Rahtz's global analysis and immersion course spent the time seeing and experiencing the effects of a dramatic reshaping of physical, economic and social environments accelerated by the growth of human populations, new industries, and resource demands.

Rahtz and 19 students toured Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand examining Southeast Asian business decisions and economies that affect the global community during a "working winter break."

"The Southeast Asian immersion over Winter Break provided us the opportunity to observe the dynamics of each culture through ‘real world' encounters with the natives during their daily routines, and excursions of the historical wonders of each country illustrated the pride in each country's heritage," said Byron Morgan (W&M'10).

He adds, "This experience gave us a grassroots look at the countries that are currently great contributors to world systems today, and who could possibly become major players on the world stage of tomorrow."

Part of the trip gave students opportunities to present their marketing projects prepared in their Advertising and Marketing Communications class.  One group pitched their marketing strategies to the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap, and another group presented their ideas on how to market Coca-Cola to Thai teens at McCann World Group in Bangkok.

The course had two components. In the fall semester the students worked with members of the intelligence community and took elementary Thai lessons to embrace the culture and reshape their analytical skills. The second component put them "on the ground," where they sampled the business, community, and economic development projects. Their tour led them to:

  • The Sobbhana Foundation, a non-profit silk operation founded by the Princess of Cambodia which empowers women and girls across the country and provides rural health care clinics in the Cambodia countryside
  • Better Factories Cambodia, a division of the International Labour Organisation founded by the United Nations, in Phnom Penh assisting in monitoring human rights conditions in the garment factories followed by a visit to a factory participating in the program
  • Russin & Vecchi Law Office and Saigon Cosmetics in Ho Chi Minh City
  • A leading advertising firm, McCann World Group, in Thailand
  • A development group building "Saigon South" over the river from old Saigon
    Bangkok Medical Center to engage in a discussion on medical tourism in Bangkok
  • A new Toyota plant for Hilux trucks being built in a factory on the outskirts of Bangkok

    The course had four objectives:
  1. To introduce students to the concepts of business decision making in a global environment.
  2. To enable students to understand the cultural issues at the corporate, national and transnational levels.
  3. To provide insights on effective decision making in unfamiliar or cross-cultural settings, particularly with respect to various Asian contexts, and most importantly
  4. To give students unique experiences with global analysis and cultural immersion.

"When you can combine learning how 'to look at things' with the ability 'to immerse yourself' in the middle of those things, the learning experience for students is enhanced exponentially," said Professor Rahtz.

Not only did students facilitate and engage in several business presentations, but they also had the opportunity to observe and immerse themselves in the very different cultures of each country.  The class visited various Hindu and Buddhist temples, including the legendary Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

They toured the royal palaces of Cambodia and Thailand where they saw the extraordinary craftsmanship of the Emerald Buddha and the 150 meter reclining Buddha made of gold.  In Vietnam they visited the Cu Chi Tunnels and walked around old Saigon. The mix of business meetings and site-seeing gave students a unique look into the history and traditions of each country and showed them the enormous potential of this area to emerge as an economic powerhouse on the world stage.