Fifty-plus Heidelberg business students are getting a taste of international – and intercultural – collaboration this semester.
The students in Dr. Lisa Kahle-Piasecki’s Business Communication Tools classes are part of a global team project. They are paired with their counterparts at No. 1-ranked university in Latin America in QS World Rankings – Tecnológico de Monterrey’s Queretaro campus – who are enrolled in an advanced business strategy course.
Together, the students are collaborating on a virtual project to develop communication plans for five companies in Mexico. The assignments for the ‘Berg students and the Tecnológico de Monterrey students are different, but both groups are benefitting from each other’s work, even if the intercultural challenges have tested their patience at times.
The majority of the communication between the two universities has been remote, utilizing email and Whatsapp, a messaging platform that allows users to make video and voice calls and send text messages across wifi.
At the beginning of the semester, Lisa divided her two sections of 52 students into teams and assigned each team a Mexican company. The Tecnológico de Monterrey students were similarly assigned. The companies include: SYTBA, a marketing telecommunications company; SINTESYS, a global provider of IT solutions in North America; Estudia Mas, an educational finance company; BIODIQRO, a waste disposal company; and Jelloousy, a Jello popsicle company.
For their part of the joint project, Lisa’s students are designing a social media communications plan with visuals for each of the companies. In consultation with the Mexican team, they are developing and recommending an area of communication that needs to be updated.
The project will conclude with each team’s business presentation which they will deliver to the Mexican companies – hopefully. It’ll take some major coordination to pull it off, but Lisa has a partner who’s been collaborating from her position at the Tecnológico de Monterrey. Lisa and Professor Maria José León Silva met this past spring through a contact she has from when she taught at the Mexican university in 2018 while on sabbatical from another university. The two have communicated regularly since the project was in its planning stages last summer.
“As we were planning, I thought it was so neat to begin to see all of the global skills that our students would be exposed to,” Lisa said.
As expected, the students have encountered challenges along the way. But solving those problems creatively is where the learning happens; it’s one of the valuable outcomes of the course.
Many of those in the HU classes are student-athletes, while the Mexican students are getting ready to graduate. Time zones are incompatible, making communication between the two groups difficult at times. And then, there’s the language barrier. The students, however, are working through all of those issues.
“Some frustration is to be expected,” Lisa said. “That’s similar to what you’d experience in an evolving workplace.”
One of those frustrations was very basic: how to get started. The ‘Berg students made introductory TikTok or PowerPoint videos which they shared, and they have utilized collaborative Google software throughout the process.
After lots of back-and-forth communication, Brett Reed’s team made an executive decision to start with marketing.
“We decided our part was going to be getting the word out for our company,” said Brett, a junior business administration major. “Whether that be in Mexico, the U.S., or on social media, we just wanted to get word out that this company exists.” Although his team is awaiting more information from the Mexican students who are also assigned to BIODIQRO, “I think they like where we are headed.”
In addition to Whatsapp, the students have found another digital tool particularly useful.
“Google Translate has been our friend for sure,” said senior Sam Buckey, a business administration major who’s leading one of the teams. Sam explained that his team reached out to their counterparts in Mexico to compile more information about their assigned country. “Our Mexican team quickly responded with the information, but it was all in Spanish.”
“The interactions we’ve had so far have been great and will only get better throughout the rest of the semester,” Sam continued.
The ‘Berg students already understand the value of the class. In addition to developing their leadership, communication and marketing skills, Brett said his main takeaway is how to work on an international team.
Sam added, “We live in such a digital world now and gaining these skills at Heidelberg gives us that much more of an advantage when applying ourselves to the real world.”
And what is Lisa’s assessment so far?
“I have been so excited about this for my students,” she said. “It’s such a unique experience and something they’ll be able to put on their resumés.”