The 21 Georgia State University business students who traveled to Argentina and Brazil in August returned with changed opinions of how Latin American business practices compare to those in the United States.
Professors David Bruce and Pedro Carrillo organized the study abroad course for graduate and undergraduate students to inform their J. Mack Robinson College of Business pupils of the volume of business done in Latin America and the professional practices of these companies.
”We’ve brought students who had never left the state of Georgia,” Mr. Carrillo said. “And then when they get back, they’re international travelers.”
To gain insights about Latin American economic and cultural trends, the class visited two companies each day and participated in evening activities, such as tango lessons.
During morning commutes, students boarded a bus and braved ether the traffic-filled streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina, or the pothole-laden roads of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to travel to their diverse array of company visits.
In Argentina, the group visited a family-run company that had a licensing agreement with Atlanta-based Simmons Mattress Co.
Students learned how the local factory worked with the international headquarters and how the company customized its products to the unique needs of Argentine consumers.
The professors also scheduled visits with information technology companies in both countries to show students how the growing IT sector has provided Latin Americans with high paying jobs.
Guibert Englebienne, the CFO for software development company Globant, told the students the story of how he and three others founded the first multinational technological company in Buenos Aires with $5,000.
He said the group hired an English professor to teach them the language so they could make presentations in the United States. Now they have been so successful, Google Inc. hired Globant to develop software.
Mr. Englebinne talked about the company’s core values – act ethically, think big, innovate, aim for excellence, be a team player and have fun – and said his company aims to keep well-educated citizens working in Argentina.
Many of the students said they enjoyed the comparisons and contrasts between Latin American and U.S. business and technological developments.
“It is really incredible to see what they are doing down here,” said Tiffany Bloomer, a student in the international MBA program. “I work in the IT industry, and I enjoy seeing what equipment they are using and how they are doing business.”
To see how government-run institutions differ from private enterprise, the class visited Argentina’s National Institute of Technology, an organization that provides product research to entrepreneurs and consumers. The institute studies many different types of products, such as cereal and washing machines. Then, the researchers pass the findings along to the public through written documents and by hosting seminars for small business owners.
The professors organized this visit to show students that a government-run initiative must answer first to citizens’ concerns, while a private business focuses on its profit margin and customers’ satisfaction. Though Argentina has a strong private sector, the institute is charged with promoting and encouraging the growth of small business.
The class heard from economic experts from Argentina or Brazil in order to understand the countries’ global financial standing.
For instance, at the Central Bank of Argentina, the class learned that the country suffered an economic crisis in 2001 following a run on the banks and the government’s ultimate decision to freeze all bank assets for one year. Argentine officials said this crisis still colors how citizens view their government and finances.
“The crisis in 2001 devastated our society. There was a deep need to train the people,” said George Vega, a central bank official responsible for economic literacy programs for Argentina. Vega told the class that his department must inform Argentines about inflation, deflation and lending practices.
Richardo Mayer, the CFO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Rio de Janeiro, said government corruption and poverty would be improved by an increase in foreign investment. Despite economic growth, a decidedly pessimistic Mr. Mayer said Rio de Janeiro is plagued by corruption, crime and poverty.
“Brazil is still a young democracy, but the problems are increasing and the quality of politicians is decreasing,” according to Mr. Mayer, who referenced the transition from military dictatorship to republic from 1985-1989.
He emphasized that crime and poverty are significant problems in Brazil, and these challenges are stunting the economic growth of the country. Although he said he pays 70 percent of his income to the government on taxes, security problems persist.
He admitted to the class that his views were colored by the fact that he had been both robbed and kidnapped while living there.
But Mr. Myer said if the government would invest in the infrastructure, such as fixing potholes in the roads, foreign investment would increase and crime would decrease.
During many of the company visits, students learned as much about the culture as they did about business.
At the Magnifica Cachaca farm – one of the top distilleries in Brazil — students experienced the fun-loving Brazilian spirit.
The owners of the farm warmly welcomed the students, providing them with appetizers, a hot lunch and several drinks made with the Magnifica Cachaca, liquor made from sugar cane.
The owners of the farm took the students on a tour and explained the production process. The farm, two and a half hours from the city of Rio de Janeiro, is located in the mountains providing the students an opportunity to take in the beauty of the country’s scenery.
After the tour, the owner and his wife taught students how to make Caipirinhas, the national drink of Brazil. The students loved learning the recipe, and many purchased bottles of cachaca from the distillery so they could take the bartending lessons home.
Many of the participants on the trip were originally from countries other than the United States, and these students expressed a strong appreciation of different cultures. Twelve students were born in the U.S, and others came from Africa, Asia, Central and South America and Eastern Europe.
“I have never seen anything like this,” said senior Elena Shchukina, who came to the U.S. from Ukraine. “It is like a dream to me.”
Ms. Shchukina said her native country did not provide many opportunities for upward economic mobility, limiting travel and career advancement.
The trip was led by the two professors who personified the values of the Robinson College, including hands-on guidance and personalized instruction.
“We [the College of Business] have a very strong culture of helping students study abroad,” Mr. Carrillo said, adding that students can receive enough scholarship money to pay for the trip.
This was the 11th year of the study abroad trip to South America. The program started when Dr. Bruce led a trip to Buenos Aires. Mr. Carrillo joined the next year.
Soon after, the professors added Rio de Janeiro to the itinerary. The professors said they chose to take the students to Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, because the two cities have a significant amount of economic activity but differ in terms of culture. Buenos Aires has strong European influences, and Rio de Janeiro is a city unlike any other because of its passionate people and beautiful scenery.
“It’s rewarding to open folks’ eyes to concepts they had no idea about, little knowledge of, or negative views,” Dr. Bruce said. “I like to see how their attitudes change.”
Kristen Coulter, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications, accompanied the class on behalf of GlobalAtlanta. This article is the first of a series that will be published over the course of the next few weeks.
To learn more about the Robinson College of Business, go to www.http://robinson.gsu.edu