Fourteen Whitman School of Management students, eager to experience the global economy, connect with global partners, and learn the customs and culture of Africa, were part of the school’s cultural immersion in Kenya 2022. Pilot Immersion Trip allowed students to connect classroom learning and apply their knowledge in a real-life global setting. The travel team was able to navigate how to become a better global manager and global citizen.
Before the Dive
During the spring 2021 semester, Assistant Professor Elizabeth Wimer G’06 shared with the class her experiences traveling to South Sudan and Africa, where she consulted and taught at a rural elementary school. Wimer noted that the topic led to one of the most interactive and dynamic weeks in her “Managing in a Global Environment” class. Through the stories and pictures she presented, students were able to make connections from what they were learning in the classroom to what subject concepts looked like in parts of the world that were not as familiar to them.
“I thought to myself, if there was so much energy in a classroom discussion, then there would be even more energy, excitement, and expansion of learning if I could find a way to put them on the ground in Africa, ” says Wimer.
A few months later, she was able to do just that. The trip was approved in the fall of 2021 and the trip team landed in Nairobi, Kenya, in May 2022.
All students in Wimer’s class were given the opportunity to apply for the Cultural Immersion experience in Kenya beginning in the Spring 2022 semester. To be selected as a member of the travel team, students had to apply and complete an interview process .
Once selected, the travel team prepared for its trip with a one-credit class at the Whitman School. Wimer had three main objectives for this course: cultural education, team bonding and logistical preparation.
“Professor Wimer prepared us with a class where we learned so much about what to expect when we arrived in Kenya. We talked about how to dress appropriately, what kind of food to try, and proper greetings,” says Jared Dowling ’24. “We learned a lot about cultural norms within the classroom as well.”
On the ground in Kenya
Dowling wanted to go to Kenya because he was interested in making a global connection and immersing himself in another culture. “Going abroad is one thing, but going abroad with a purpose is completely different. I wanted to make a tangible difference with the partners and people we met on this trip,” he says.
While on the ground in Kenya, Dowling and the group were able to do just that. The week-long trip featured a busy schedule with days starting at 6 a.m. and ending around 10 p.m. It wasn’t a break, Wimer stressed. Every day was a work day, filled with opportunities to help partner organizations, the community and local refugees.
Much of the students’ time in Africa consisted of meeting three global partners: Zaynah Khanbhai, founder of Merging Moundos and South South Women, a non-profit organization focused on connecting the voices and experiences of the global south; Stacia Hiramine, creative communications coordinator for Tirzah Bazaar, an international nonprofit that works with refugee artisans to sell handmade goods; and Child Discovery Center, a shelter and education center for orphaned and abandoned children in Nakuru, Kenya.
Connecting with these global partners allowed students to see firsthand how businesses operate differently in another country, especially one with fewer economic opportunities, educational attainment, and limited infrastructure.
During a business panel moderated by Khanbhai, students were given the opportunity to brainstorm and share ideas on bridging the divide between the Global North and Global South in relation to their generation. Through their conversations, students were able to learn more about the entrepreneurship needed from the women who shared their stories about the businesses they created so they could support themselves and their families. In addition, the trip team was able to meet local artisans and see the workshops where goods for the Tirzah Bazaar are created. From this visit, the students were inspired by the stories of the many entrepreneurial dreams and aspirations that the artisans had. Overall, the trip team found that employees of these nonprofits find so much value in learning a skill set and use their skills as an entrepreneurial opportunity.
However, it wasn’t all work. When not working, the group was able to experience several tourist attractions in Kenya – going on a safari drive, watching and participating in cultural drumming and dancing, enjoying tea and a visit to a giraffe centre.
Back to the US
The Whitman School offers a global opportunity like this that gives students a chance to see what it’s like to manage business operations across different cultures. Students can use their education and experience through these opportunities to go out and make a difference in the world by being a global manager.
“What we learn in our classes at Whitman is wonderful and so useful, but you can’t learn as much from a textbook as you can from experience,” says Isabella Simon ’24. “I think going on this trip to Kenya, preparing to understand other ways of life, and then gaining a first-hand perspective allowed the world to become our classroom.”
Story by Anna Rooney, a junior studying marketing management and finance at the Whitman School