Welcome back to the cross-Atlantic journeys of Florida International University’s (FIU) International MBA 2010 class attending EDHEC’s Corporate Strategies for Europe program, and along the way learning a lot about ourselves. When you last read of our sojourn, we had been enjoying our first week in Nice, sampling the flavors of local cuisine, beginning new class projects, and planning weekend trips. I and several fellow classmates planned a trip to Rome for the third weekend of the program. The journey itself from Nice was a terribly short hop across the Mediterranean and took at most an hour. To me I think of the same time being needed to get from Orlando to Miami back in the United States via plane, so mentally this floors me. Also leaving me amazed at the ease by which so many disparate cultures find themselves nearby and preserving their identity. Even in the airport we saw that identity in our own passports, passing them among ourselves and examining the differences. The inherent national pride ingrained in their design, words and colors. I don’t think I had looked at my own passport before as deeply as I did that day, seeing it through the eyes of others. Describing the weekend in Rome would probably take another blog unto itself, but the picture below tells the tale well, with our merry band enjoying an afternoon at the Coliseum. An afternoon and weekend we really should have put on additional sunscreen for. Though I did discover that weekend that my knowledge of the Spanish language made my understanding of Italian relatively easy and helped us a lot in finding our way around.
Tuesday found us all back together! Stories and photos to share, shopping prizes to show off, and plane and train ticket stubs still attached to our bags. Our groups had headed off in every direction, into Spain, up to Holland, across Italy and within France. If not for the bustling schedule of our last week, we most likely would have spent the day just enjoying the tight-knit nature of our diverse family. But it was not meant to be as we all boarded buses off to visit the company headquarters of MANE, one of the world’s leaders in the fragrance-and flavor-design industry. And much like our last company visit, we were greeted with open arms. In this case via the president of MANE himself, Jean Mane, who kindly took us through the production facilities and explained the rich history of his family’s 140-year love affair with fragrance. A history that has seen his family spread the company’s brand beyond France’s borders and into related industries. The past few weeks with EDHEC, trying to grasp the nature of the European business climate, gave this story of cultural fusion and tradition’s strong roots, that much more impact. Lastly before the day was over we journeyed to the nearby city and country of Monaco—the second smallest country in the world—to explore its brilliance, its heights of luxury and its gorgeous ports. It was becoming very easy to forget which country we were in at the pace we were crossing national boundaries! A very full day in all regards and as nice a way to ease us back into the fast pace of classes, final exams and presentations.
Back in classes the next day we focused on EU Consumer Policy, but saying that would leave out the depth of emotion that often found its way into the classroom. Professor Dolait spoke of Europe and its people with his own family’s history and personal experiences playing a strong role. To understand the nature of these policies, structures and behaviors, is to learn of all that was lost, and see the strong need to rebuild anew in a form not easily straying from peace. From these foundations we spoke of the successes and failures people and companies have had in predicting the European market and adapting their products and services to it. Professor Dolait’s prior roles at the Texas Instruments brought this better in focus as he brought in the French version of the Speak and Spell toy, which his team was charged with adapting the U.S. version for various European markets. This and many other examples during the course of the program brought real-world meaning to our lessons, and for me seeing a working Speak and Spell was a special treat.
The build-up to the final presentations and exams weighed heavy in our last few days of the program. We found ourselves once again beginning to gather in late-night study groups around the hotel and lurk near the early morning breakfast tables for the first of the day’s sustenance to be served. It was safer to walk to campus than potentially fall asleep on the bus and miss the stop. Without posting some highly entertaining photos of what our teams looked like during this period, needless to say they were not our most photogenic moments. But the hard work did pay off, and great salvos of thoughtful presentation were delivered on our last day in Professor Lumbers’ class. I myself learned a great deal about the pharmaceutical industry in Europe, which my team and I focused on, and we stood tall and proud in our accomplishments. On the same day we also took our final exams before meeting up with Ms. Butterweck and Professor Dolait for a farewell cocktail. That was a hard event to attend, as leading up to it members of our newly acquired family begin to leave to grab flights back home. We had impromptu hallway singing, group photos and a lot of tearful hugs in a short period of time. It really was hard to imagine how different the next few days would be from the past month.
After the cocktail some of us went forth in the streets of Nice to enjoy one last dinner together. We returned to the area near the city hall, filled with restaurants, shops and vendor stalls. There we found a nice open restaurant to enjoy each other’s company and catch the occasional glimpse of the World Cup Games being played out. Some of us were leaving that very night, so each moment was particularly cherished. While I can’t recall what I ate that evening, the smiles and laughs we shared will never leave me.
Afterwards we wandered around some of the shops, me picking up some last-minute souvenirs for family and friends, before heading back across town to our hotel. The next morning and throughout the day was a steady stream of tearful goodbyes as the bulk of us began to leave en masse. I spent the morning and afternoon strolling with classmates up to the hills of Nice and getting some last views of the city and the sea, before heading back to the hotel and saying our own goodbyes. I grabbed a train to Paris, there to stay the night before a morning flight to Miami and some time-zone-adjusting sleep. Though that last part didn’t quite go as planned, as I chatted with a French ski resort owner all the way back and still had jetlag upon arrival.
All in all, the journey we took was not one measured in miles, but of growth within ourselves. We faced different cultures, and came to realize the culture most requiring understanding was at times our own. Trying to separate and explain our personal views from that of a nation or a region, keeping an open mind about how different cultures see the world, and pushing ourselves to adapt in ways large and small to be better bridges for communication. We relied upon respect, and remembered our friends and perhaps will never see the world or ourselves in quite the same way. I feel privileged to have gone on this study abroad program with my class, and thank both FIU and EDHEC Business School for making it possible. Sincerely hope to keep in touch with everyone—Nicola Alcantara, Alicia Corbett, Oscar De Lima, Desire Colluci Gorno, Nithya Harihan, Matilda Kalaveshi, Caitlin Nolan and Desiree Ruiz—and have a truly wonderful class reunion one day soon.
View all articles by Frank McGuinness.