MS in Commerce Blog

Global Business Destinations Await: McIntire Gets Set for the 2024 GIE

The jam-packed schedules that M.S. in Commerce students undertake during the GIE trips provide important cultural snapshots and insights into a wide variety of industries, strategies, and challenges specific to the respective regions.

Top row: Amy Beladia, Julia Carden, Ashley Cloude, Caleb Huang. Bottom row: Deborah Okai, Julia Tongate, Warrington Webb

Top row: Amy Beladia, Julia Carden, Ashley Cloude, Caleb Huang. Bottom row: Deborah Okai, Julia Tongate, Warrington Webb

Every May, students in McIntire’s M.S. in Commerce Program prepare for a learning journey like no other: the Global Immersion Experience.

GIE, as it’s more commonly known around the Commerce School, takes grad students far from the home base of their master’s in management program on Grounds to locations across the world. Once they arrive, they meet with leaders at innovative companies impacting industries in their region and shaping international business. These faculty-led visits bring students directly into local boardrooms, factories, and markets, helping them to gain critical skills and a deep understanding about the global landscape of commerce. It’s an essential endeavor that strengthens what they’ve been learning as they pursue their specialized business graduate degree at McIntire.

This type of thoroughly engaging learning is notably different than what usual study abroad-type programs offer. To begin with, a great deal of the learning takes place outside of the classroom, with the aforementioned company visits serving as the cornerstone of the GIE program. As opposed to a traditional study-abroad program, which mirrors the ebb and flow of a typical university semester, the jam-packed schedules that students undertake during the three-week GIE courses provide important cultural snapshots in an abbreviated yet necessary manner; there are a wide variety of industries to see and much to learn about strategies and challenges specific to the respective regions. Additionally, GIE gives students the opportunity to connect with McIntire and UVA alumni living and working overseas as they more fully come to learn how to apply business knowledge in a global context.

Yet long before the students head to the airport, they are readied for the challenges of GIE at the University through Foundations of Global Commerce. The course helps students develop a panoramic understanding and appreciation of international business, introducing them to region-specific business topics by delving further into subjects affecting the broader business world.

In the fall, GIE’s destinations are announced for the following spring. Early last November, the current M.S. in Commerce class met for a session to discover the options for where they could be headed.

M.S. in Commerce Director and Professor Ira Harris is leading GIE to Europe and North Africa, with stops in Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, and Morocco; Professor Carl Zeithaml will be teaching in Scandinavia (Denmark and Sweden) and the U.K.; Professor Jeremy Marcel will head to Latin America (Colombia, Peru, and Argentina); and Professor Jim Burroughs will guide students across Southeast Asia (Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam).

Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash

Singapore. Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash

An Extensive Selection of Industries and Cultures

Though the company visits change every year, Harris says that he always aims to line up a wide range of businesses representative of the region’s priorities and with connections to the local economy.

Last year, at German automotive manufacturer BMW Leipzig, students learned about the implementation of German engineering and its role in global competition. “Our students benefit from walking the shop floor and observing the highly automated manufacturing approach,” Harris says. In previous trips, he has visited high-end crystal manufacturers in the Czech Republic, and while plans are still being sorted, he expects to return again this year. “These producers of Bohemian crystal are strategically located on the northern regions of the country where key minerals are mined. These visits help our students to understand how the unique inputs distinguish the companies in the marketplace and also how the complex supply chain for these expensive, fragile products is managed.”

Harris is hoping to visit with a UVA alumnus and movie producer in Krakow, Poland, who was involved in the creation of “Loving Vincent” (about the artist Van Gogh) to learn about the dramatic and recent changes in the film industry. While in Morocco, he expects to return to an entrepreneur and his exclusive desert camp that showcases the historical Berber culture. “We spend two days in the desert and deepen our understanding of how the hospitality developers have added another dimension to the locally important tourism industry,” Harris says, noting the diverse set of industries studied in this unique global immersion program.

Casablanca. Photo by Mehdi Sakout on Unsplash

Casablanca. Photo by Mehdi Sakout on Unsplash

Zeithaml, who leads the Scandinavian and U.K. GIE, says his three-nation trek offers a particularly fitting example for studying the intersection of global commerce, innovation, entrepreneurial business models, stakeholder management, and sustainability, providing students with an extremely beneficial case study of economic and business contrasts coexisting within the European context.

“In Denmark, students will explore how this small country, with limited natural resources, became a global powerhouse built on shipping/logistics, creative design, IT, consumer products, and sustainability,” he explains, detailing that the class will travel to companies such as LEGO, top global brewer Carlsberg Group International, the Nrep real estate firm, and sustainability company Home.Earth, as well as sail to the Øresund Strait to the Middelgrunden wind farm. In Sweden, they will study Stockholm’s vibrant entrepreneurial culture. During the U.K. portion, as they discover London’s history and culture, students will learn about the British economy and its potential to recapture the country’s former prominence through visits to growing companies such as fintech firm Wagestream, co-founded by UVA alumnus Portman Wills (A&S ’02).

“The class will also interact with McIntire and UVA alumni and parents in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and London through panel discussions, dinners, lunches, and receptions,” says Zeithaml. “These more informal events are always student favorites, as they learn firsthand about work and life in Europe, something that many students have as a goal.”

Photo by Oscar Nord on Unsplash

Stockholm. Photo by Oscar Nord on Unsplash

Marcel indicates that the Latin American track of GIE stands out for its ability to expose students to an extensive range of organizations: “It’s an occasion for them to learn about everything from traditional, low-cost manufacturing and service businesses to sophisticated technology and finance firms firsthand—and all in the same countries.”

For Burroughs, the current climate in Southeast Asia, where he will lead his section of GIE, epitomizes the evolving shifts in business worldwide. “The U.S. used to be the epicenter of business, and it still is an enormously important market—but the world is changing, and no place is more dynamic in this respect than Southeast Asia,” he says. “It provides students an opportunity to see a burgeoning set of business centers that are active, with tremendous growth and upside.” He believes that for future businesspeople, witnessing this ongoing transformation right where it is taking place proves incredibly valuable.

Many Reasons for Immersion

For many of the students we spoke to, being able to take part in GIE was an early and important reason why they chose to apply to McIntire’s M.S. in Commerce Program.

Amy Beladia (M.S. in Commerce ’24) says that beyond her love of traveling, building cultural competency and collaboration skills remain paramount, and she sees her GIE to Europe and North Africa helping to make her more relatable, knowledgeable, and open-minded. Caleb Huang (Education ’23, M.S. in Commerce ’24) agrees: “This sort of immersive experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one that will allow me to learn a lot from both cultural and business contexts.”

Both Julia Carden (M.S. in Commerce ’24) and Julia Tongate (A&S ’23, M.S. in Commerce ’24) are greatly anticipating GIE, each mentioning that it feels overdue, as any chances they had to study outside of the U.S. were shut down during their undergraduate years due to the pandemic.

Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash

Machu Picchu. Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash

“I was excited to discover that we will be visiting Morocco,” says Carden. “Marrakech and Casablanca offer fascinating perspectives into both the business and cultural sides of a country that is at the top of my bucket list!” Tongate, who is on the Latin America GIE, is thrilled to gain new perspectives from interacting with people in Argentina, Colombia, and Peru: “Some of my favorite memories from traveling are when I can talk to locals about the differences in our cultures, religions, and politics. I’m also really excited to learn about how companies operate under political turmoil and economies that are at different stages.”

Other International Opportunities: Global Commerce Immersion (GCI) Courses

Beyond the M.S. in Commerce students taking part in GIE, all McIntire students are also able to take advantage of one-of-a-kind learning travel courses through the Global Commerce Immersion (GCI) program, three-credit electives taught by Comm School faculty. Like GIE, GCI courses are designed with on-location learning that combine enriching cultural experiences and local business visits. This year, many students int the M.S. in Accounting Program are taking advantage of McIntire’s GCI courses, and Deborah Okai (M.S. in Accounting ’24) and Ashley Cloude (M.S. in Accounting ’24) are looking forward to going overseas.

Okai has long wanted to visit the U.K. for multiple reasons: It’s where her father was born, and despite having never been there, she holds a British passport. “A trip to London would not only fulfill a longstanding dream but also provide me with valuable insights into the financial services industry, a sector where I may potentially work in the future,” she says, noting that she has considered relocating there after reaching her goal of becoming a management consultant.

Cloude believes the GCI will afford her “a real-time opportunity” to enhance intercultural sensitivity. “Beyond the academic realm, this experience holds great promise for my overall growth, challenging me outside my comfort zone and fostering adaptability in unfamiliar environments,” she says. “My overarching goal is to leverage the knowledge and skills acquired during this experience to contribute significantly to the growth and success of accounting and finance divisions within both local and global enterprises.”

Indeed, the applicability of learning travel experiences such as the GCI is prized for what skills it may help to elevate. “For a young professional like me, this journey can function as a simulated business trip and serve as a catalyst for career advancement,” says Okai.

Warrington Webb (M.S. in Commerce ’24), who will be traveling to Latin America, feels that the insights he absorbs will make him a more attractive candidate to potential future employers at global firms. “Our Organizational Behavior course with Professor Emma Zhao stressed the importance of workplace culture on the final business outcomes, and being able to explore these ideas firsthand in Argentina, Colombia, and Peru is a wonderful opportunity,” he says.

More Expectations

While some company visits are still being determined for all GIE trips, the students are clearly energized about the prospect of learning about—and from—a vast cross-section of topics, places, and people.

Webb hopes to combine his undergraduate Political Science degree with what he has learned in the M.S. in Commerce Program to explore the relationships between the government and business in each country he will visit. “I am especially excited about the Argentinian leg of the trip, as businesses will be reacting to new governmental policies implemented by President Javier Milei. Colombia and Peru are also currently facing their own opportunities and challenges as key governmental, economic, and environmental trends in the region continue to develop in 2024. Talking with business leaders about their plans to mitigate risk and approach any opportunities from new policies will provide me with deep insight into the rigors of strategic planning.”

Similarly, Beladia is interested in “business models that drive growth and the use of fiscal and monetary policy to address economic stagnation, changing demographics, shrinking populations, heightened security problems, and rising nationalism.” She says that she anticipates that GIE will assist her in developing a stronger cross-cultural fluency that she will be able to rely upon in her planned consulting career: “In the future, I believe I can successfully work at larger firms with a global impact because of the knowledge and experience gained through GIE.”

Huang says that the very nature of work is so globally connected that the travels awaiting him hold the potential to be a reliable resource for years to come. “I believe GIE will make me more aware when it comes to analyzing and solving problems in any future workplace,” he says. But aside from learning how to apply a global lens to business concepts, Huang also admits he’s “looking forward to trying new foods, seeing beautiful and historic sights, and making great memories with my friends in the program.”

If you are interested in learning more about hosting a company visit, sponsoring an event, or engaging with the students on a global immersion course, please contact Darci Spuck, Director of Global Advancement, at

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