One Saturday afternoon this past spring, 33 students from the College of Business met at O'Hare Airport in Chicago to go on the trip of a lifetime -- a week-long study abroad exposure trip to Oestrich-Winkel, Germany, the location of the European Business School (EBS). None of us knew what to expect from the trip, but anticipated it would give us a glimpse of what it might mean to participate in a longer study-abroad program.
After braving the long lines at O'Hare, we were pleasantly surprised at the diversity of our group. Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students were among us, and we initially found ourselves bonding with others from the same year. After some switching of seats, the group found that we occupied a large chunk of the airplane. The seven-hour flight proved to be a good time to get to know each other and to someone to room with at our hotel.
When we reached Frankfurt, we took a bus to Oestrich-Winkel, a small town with winding streets and quaint houses, fairytale qualities. Our guesthouse hardly seemed large enough for our group, but we discovered that it was! We felt the lack of Internet access and quickly made friends with the hotel owner, who allowed us to check our email using his computer. We began to explore the town, patronizing restaurants where we bravely ordered food without knowing what it was and visiting the local pub.
On our first day of studies at the European Business School (EBS), we learned about the financial system model of the European Union from Dr. Andres Hackethal. He explained the differences in financial systems of the member states, noting that the convergence of the financial systems would be desirable in improving economic stability. After a good lunch at the EBS cafeteria, Dr. Ahrens explained the political and historical climate of the EU. We ended our day by attending a charming welcome reception in the EBS wine cellar, where we were served wine made in the school itself, along with other refreshments, and made to feel at home among our hosts. That evening, many of us went to explore the nearby town of Wiesbaden or wandered around Oestrich-Winkel.
During the next two days, we attended lectures at the EBS on marketing and ecommerce, logistics, strategic investments, and consulting in Europe. European logistics, a new topic for all but one of us, was the subject of Dr. Inga-Lena Darkow's presentation and the future of the field provided the focus of some informal brainstorming sessions during class. Dr. Ansgar Richter explained the environment of management consulting in Europe with a stimulating presentation.
Educational trips outside of the classroom supplemented the classroom lectures. The highlight was definitely our visit to the European Central Bank, the hub of European financial integration. When we visited the bank's home in downtown Frankfurt, we were truly treated like royalty and given an interesting talk about the new European currency, the Euro, and the challenges involved in implementing it. We also visited a DHL postal facility in Frankfurt to learn about processing logistics, and we toured Henkell Sparkling Wine Company, a local winery.
During our free time, each of us chose which of Frankfurt's cultural attractions we wanted to explore. Some of us visited the Museum of Architecture, the Museum of Modern Art and the city's old town square that was rebuilt after World War II. Many students also visited Mainz, a college town, and Rudesheim, a quaint tourist town on the Rhine River reminiscent of scenes from the Harry Potter books.
All in all, we had a wonderful time in Germany. We braved the cultural challenges and adapted to the language challenges fairly well. From ordering unknown food, subsisting on sparkling water and wine, and communicating in sign language when necessary, we survived the week and enjoyed ourselves immensely. By the end of the trip, we were more knowledgeable about the EU and had greater exposure to business practices outside the US.
Our student counterparts at the EBS were savvy and knowledgeable. They can certainly give Americans a run for their money!
Most of all, we each made 32 new friends, broke out of our initial groups, and established relationships that will last forever. [Read some comments from my co-travelers!] I'm sure that all of us, myself included, are planning another trip abroad very soon!
Editor's Note: Smita Krishnaswamy is a 2005 graduate of the College of Business accountancy curriculum and was a participant in this study tour for business honors students. She is an occasional writer for the College of Business Communications Office.