World Class

Study abroad programs are turning the whole globe into a Terry campus

Charles McNair | Nov. 08, 2019

There was something in the air last May.

Terry students.

Twenty four of the business college’s best and brightest left Georgia for a Maymester study abroad course in Peru and Chile. After arriving in Lima, Peru’s capital, at 2:17 a.m. local time, the travelers snatched a few hours of sleep, then hit the ground running for 23 days of Latin American business site visits, classroom work (including Spanish-language lessons and entrepreneurial pitches), and sight-seeing.

“We want to make this a cultural experience that’s valuable and enjoyable,” says Don Chambers, the lead teacher on this year’s Latin American excursion and an entrepreneurship lecturer at Terry. “We balance pushing students toward a deep dive into the culture with a backdrop of academic vigor.”

Terry’s two-dozen joined the swelling ranks of University of Georgia business students taking advantage of an outsized — and growing — international study and internship program. In 2019, about 300 business students will see the world, learn about new cultures, and earn college credits and international experience thanks to Terry. That’s a big number for any UGA college — roughly one in four of all UGA study abroad students comes out of Terry.

The rush for new borders makes business sense, says Terry’s dean, Benjamin Ayers.

“Some of our students will choose to work internationally with United States companies or others, and our study abroad programs open their eyes to those possibilities,” Ayers says. “It’s a tremendous advantage for our students to have international experience and to have the confidence to lead in a global business environment.”

Conquering fears

For many Terry students, stepping off a plane for three weeks in a foreign country at age 20-something creates anxiety.

“My main stress stemmed from the thought of being in a foreign country for a month without my parents,” says Abigail Peterson, a marketing and international business major and a communications studies minor. “I was afraid that my Spanish-speaking skills wouldn’t be advanced enough for me to be able to communicate with the locals, and I wondered if I would be able to navigate the different transportation systems.”

Students worried about the new place … and also themselves.

“Anxious. That word describes perfectly how I felt the day we were departing,” says Itzell Ramirez-Lopez, an economics major with a certificate in legal studies.

“I was not anxious because I was leaving my family and traveling to a foreign country. I was anxious about making new friends since it has always been a challenge for me to interact with others. I feared I would be the loner in the corner, the little Hispanic girl who could not relate with anyone on the trip. I figured all 23 students would be out having a blast, while I was locked away in my hotel room.”

The journey changed Ramirez-Lopez’s attitude … and maybe her inner self.

“I felt included right from the start and did not feel at all like I had to change to fit in,” Ramirez-Lopez says. “That feeling of being included was so special. I had never felt that way before until this trip.”

Like everyone else, Ramirez-Lopez danced in las discotecas. She climbed a mountain in the Andes, her lungs bursting. She blew out candles on a cake while classmates sang Happy Birthday around her. On her own, she explored Santiago one afternoon, amazed at her newfound bravery, her head high, her confidence soaring.

“I’m the type of person that needs to follow a schedule,” Ramirez-Lopez says, “but this trip taught me that it’s OK to not have everything planned out minute by minute, hour by hour. By stepping out of my comfort zone, I got to know myself better education-wise and social-wise. I don’t think I would have discovered these new qualities if it weren’t for the study abroad.”

Study Abroad Program Specialist Jay Mathias helped plan and choreograph the Maymester session, overseeing logistics, shuttling students to doctors for stomach bugs and sniffles, and sagely advising youngsters on the ways of the Latin world. (He fell in love with Latin America after a trip to Nicaragua as a young man.) Working with Terry since 2015, Mathias has witnessed the transformations of students on several study abroad expeditions.

“My favorite thing about running programs is seeing the growth of students,” he says. “We’re with them at their first kind-of-awkward meeting before a trip. They don’t know each other, and they don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into.

“Then, by the end of the program, you see how close they are. You see it at the farewell dinners — they’re very good friends, comfortable with one another … and with themselves. Seeing that growth and confidence along with their new understanding of international issues and business is pretty rewarding.”

Surfing in South America

The Terry international surf team

Four days in Lima led to total team bonding … but through an experience no one planned or predicted.

One afternoon amid city bus tours, an exploration of a cathedral and monastery, a visit to the U.S. Embassy, and a tour of a StartUp Perú (a government-sponsored entrepreneurial incubator), the Terry team found itself together beside the Pacific Ocean.

Two students — Evan Hill and Neal Sharma, both getting BBAs in international business and finance and minors in Spanish — noticed surfer tents along the beach. 

“Neal and I decided, without hesitation, to go surfing,” Hill recalls. “We dressed into a wet suit and were fitted for a board. The rest of the group saw us making an impulsive decision and decided to join. Before you knew it, we had a group of 20 surfing.”

Eavan Hendry, a senior majoring in management information systems and international business, recalls the lesson of that spontaneous moment.

“I was ready to see the difference in Pacific waves versus the Atlantic,” he says. “I quickly learned that this was a different ballgame. Being tossed around and sucked under the water was not what I had in mind. The waves were strong like I had never felt before and could crash on top of me at any moment.

“Getting out of the water, I was shaking, my heart pounding,” Hendry says. “I was amazed at how I pushed myself to keep trying. This was a major learning point for me. Looking back, I don’t think the trip would’ve been the same without it. Surfing brought us all together as we talked about the personal challenges we each had to overcome.”

Peterson had never surfed at all. She overcame her fears, seizing the chance to have the experience.

“My first attempt backfired as the breaking wave sent me and my surfboard racing back to shore,” she says. “I completely wiped out on the unforgiving rocks on the shore … meanwhile getting knocked in the head by my surfboard.

“I will never forget the love and encouragement from my classmates and the surf instructor, all pushing me to go back out there and try again. I will never forget sitting on my board later on, watching the sunset with people I now call my closest friends.”

Peru’s impressive impressions

From May 18-22, bonded now by their first experiences in the new culture, the students left Lima and hit the high points of Peru — literally. Deep in the Andes, they toured the Sacred Valley, visiting colonial Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage site and heart of the great empire of the Inca.

Ethan Princenthal, a junior working toward a BBA in finance and international business, took away distinct impressions from a site visit to the Center for Traditional Textiles.

“We learned a brief history of this art form along with the current opportunities and challenges it faces,” Princenthal says. “Watching the Peruvian women create their products stitch by stitch in the traditional manner allowed me a deeper understanding of the center and the local culture, which appreciated ancient ways more than our own does.”

Kelsey Gomez, a finance and international business major with a Spanish minor, felt sympathy over her perception of financial injustice for Peruvian women like the weavers she saw.

“In the United States,” she observes, “we see more and more women making strides in the workforce and within businesses. In Peru, these advances seemed absent. After learning more about the entrepreneurial ecosystems, I find it a hard pill to swallow that given the motivating push factors of financial need and family, the women in Peruvian society are underrepresented.”

For others, the Sacred Valley held simpler messages.

“Machu Picchu has inspired me to see the seven wonders of the world before I die,” Hill wrote in his journal. “And in the Sacred Valley, I learned the difference between a llama and an alpaca. On further review, I decided I like alpacas more than I like llamas because they are furrier and do not spit.”

Ironically, Hill and others dined on alpaca for dinner at their hotel that night. Their culinary education in Peru also included roasted guinea pig — a Peruvian delicacy — plus Chifa (trendy, tasty Chinese-Peruvian food) and the local ceviche.

Filled by Peru, the expedition moved on to Chile.

Teaching business for study abroad

Chambers, associate director of UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program, discovered the wide world in his own study abroad programs as a college student and on various trade missions with business organizations, including work for the state of Georgia.

In April 2018, he put in a proposal to lead the Terry Maymester to South America. The positions are competitive, but Chambers’ previous experience in Santiago, the capital of Chile, gave him strong contacts and insider knowledge. He had access to guests for his classes, and he could get students into innovative operations like StartUp Chile, an incubator for entrepreneurial businesses that’s been replicated in Peru and elsewhere in Latin America. Researching Chilean companies, Chambers used case studies available through Harvard Business Publishing (Patagonia Land, Viña Undurraga, StartUp Chile, and others) for his class, which met four hours daily in Santiago.

The challenge of conducting an academic study abroad program?

“You can look at a schedule on a piece of paper and plan to cover that in your syllabus. But you have to be prepared for being always on the go. Since you’re moving constantly to get as much out of the trip as possible, you have a lot of early mornings.”

The Terry students had several 4 a.m. departures.

“It’s grinding, often getting somewhere at 10 at night and getting up again at 4 a.m. Dates don’t matter. And you’re pushing even on weekends — we did Machu Picchu on a weekend, and Valparaiso, Chile, on a weekend.

“So you take vitamins, you hydrate, you sleep when you can. I call it a healthy grind.”

Chambers and Mathias served as role models for the students, always remaining calm and collected. (We got this, a phrase Mathias often used, became student shorthand for Don’t Worry, Be Happy.) The leaders telegraphed calm authority. Early in the trip, they asked students to sit with someone new each day, a bonding … like impromptu surfing … that helped the students develop camaraderie.

“You start by building confidence and trust,” Chambers says. “Jay Mathias with his quiet leadership seemed to assure students that they could relax and absorb their experience. The kids were able to open their minds.

“That’s when teaching begins, when we ask, Look around at where you are. What can you improve? What could you do here with a good business idea? How can you now use your cultural awareness to find solutions to grand challenges?

From May 30 to June 5 in Santiago classes at the Facultad Economía y Negocios, Universidad de Chile (known simply as FEN by visitors), Chambers coached and coaxed the team toward inventing would-be start-up businesses based on needs they’d seen in Latin America. Working in fours, the students presented their venture ideas to classmates in Silicon Valley shoot-out style, complete with a ticking clock, a smart audience empowered to fire off questions, and a vote to choose a winner … a winner that in the real world might walk away with start-up funding.

One team, troubled by the hundreds of stray dogs they encountered running wild in Peru, conceived Happy Hounds, a luxury dog food product. Its business plan rolled revenues over into feeding strays and paying for neutering.

Another team came up with Nutri, a prepackaged vitamin/supplement collection for students going abroad to places where healthy foods and balanced meals might not be readily available.

A third team brainstormed OSMOSIS, a virtual reality device that would allow orthopedic surgeons to learn and practice surgical techniques without live patients or facilities. The fourth Terry team proposed Recicin, a line of biodegradable bottles/containers for soft drinks and other products.

The winning entrepreneurial product pitch, as determined by a vote of Terry peers? PerishAPPle, an app that grocers or consumers would use to keep track of expiration dates of fresh goods they purchase.

Surfing was a wet, salty crucible for friendships. The classroom, with entrepreneurial pitches, research and rehearsals, forged an equally powerful — if warmer — Terry bond.

“I’m proud they had that camaraderie,” Chambers says. “It held to the very last day. (And beyond — the Maymester Latin America students stay in touch online.) They were able to explore and absorb and enjoy. They grew up substantially. They were able to see that we do great things in the USA, but others do great things all over the world.

“It’s a privilege to make some small difference in their lives that they can take forward with them.”

Chile opens its doors

Again, the Terry team blended cultural and economic learning in its time in Chile.

Students visited a winery outside of Santiago after studying the business case of a similar Chilean vintner. Rain caught them in the vineyard and sent them scurrying for shelter.

They chugged into the Andes, one of the world’s highest ranges. In May, winter is about to begin in the Southern Hemisphere. The first snow of the season fell while the group visited. It made an exhilarating context for a high climb, but it later led to a disappointment.

“We made an excursion to a water reservoir and hot springs, but we never reached the hot springs due to the snowstorm,” recalls Hill.

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago left a swirl of emotions.

“It was one of the most impactful experiences I had on this trip,” says Hendry. “I knew that there had been a vicious dictatorship, but did not fully understand the impact it had on the country.

“Our tour guide was 8 years old at the end of the dictatorship. He lost his grandfather to the regime. Hearing him speak moved me, and I know every time he talks about this time in his life, difficulty must come with it. Yet he does so with such poise and control. You can hear the hurt in his voice, yet he remains strong.”

Late in the trip, the group went to Valparaiso, a colorful port city on the dramatic Pacific coastline. Students took a graffiti tour, watched surf pound the black rocks, and sand-boarded down enormous dunes north of the city.

Kelsey Gomez even saw a business lesson in the dunes.

“Terry’s Business in South America program is like when I attempted to sand-board in the Concón dunes,” she says. “The sheer exhilaration of freedom in a foreign country was the momentum propelling me down the mountain. Then I hit life’s obstacles — a minor illness and course work were the sands that halted my board and yet still propelled me forward. There were moments we felt as if we were flying, and then there were the moments when, despite our greatest efforts, we fell.”

Business site visits took the team to StartUp Chile, an entrepreneurial incubator that has had a major influence all through South America, and to Wayra, an innovation and venture capital operation of Telefonica SA, a Madrid-based multinational that’s one of the largest telephone and mobile network providers in the world.

At StartUp Chile, the team met Phannipha (Ann) Pichestapong, co-founder of an e-commerce start-up called DataCue. She walked Terry students through the presentation she uses to introduce her company and to seek venture capital. (Many of her tips showed up in the students’ pitches for their imaginary products.) DataCue technology learns from each visitor to an online retailer’s site, then automatically changes the website, customizing it to that user for the next visit.

“I’ve always thought that study abroad programs are very good at inspiring students about their career options,” says Pichestapong. “When I was deciding my career, entrepreneurship was unheard of and wasn’t encouraged by my family. In hindsight, I wish I’d been exposed to an environment where entrepreneurship is celebrated.

“I hope the Terry program has given these students an important lesson in risk-taking,” she adds. “The road of entrepreneurship is a hard one, and you may have to make a lot of sacrifices along the way, like moving to a new country, leaving a comfortable corporate job, and fighting to keep the lights on for your business. I hope they’ve learned that taking a risk to start a business in what they are deeply passionate about is OK.”

Chilean executives also visited the students in their FEN classrooms.

Dr. Ezequiel Juritz Davies, senior protein designer at Protera Biosciences, made a point of lauding study abroad programs.

“The ability to combine theoretical concepts learned in the classroom with the experience of understanding actors in different cultural and socioeconomic environments is what characterizes an outstanding businessperson,” he says.

Verònica Medina, executive director, Chamber of the Americas in Chile, also left with a strong impression of the Terry travelers.

“It struck me how insightful their questions were, and how interested they were in different aspects of Chile — not only the economy and business but also the culture,” she says. “They seemed very impassioned and looking forward to their future.”

A transformative experience

Marisa Pagnattaro directed the study abroad programs during this Maymester. (She has since become vice provost for academic affairs at UGA.)

“Study abroad,” she says, “is transformative for any student. One of the most valuable things it does is develop qualitative skills in a global context — resilience, creativity, adaptability and trust working among others. This kind of high-quality, high-impact immersion experience stands separate from all other kinds of education.”

Terry educates future businessmen and businesswomen with spring break programs in Panama, Vancouver and Bermuda. Maymesters open the way for students to study in London, Central/Eastern Europe, and Peru/Chile. Students can summer in Beijing and Shanghai, first in classes, then in internships.

There’s also a summer program at Oxford, plus other exchange and study abroad offerings.

Mathias has since left Terry for a plum position at an international logistics company. He saw Terry’s study abroad program grow by leaps and bounds after he joined in 2015. The number of programs grew, financial aid flowed, and internships abroad became a standard feature among Terry students.

Jennifer Chapman, the new International Business Programs director, sees tremendous value in all Terry study abroad programs.

“We want Terry students to have business technical skills, but also develop as professionals,” she says. “Study abroad allows them to develop soft skills in a new environment and learn firsthand how global business works today and how much of an impact culture can have on the practice of business. Study abroad makes a well-rounded human.”

Neal Sharma captures the allure of study abroad very thoughtfully in a journal entry.

Why did someone look up at the moon and think to themselves that it was humanly possible to get there? I’ve never understood humans and how our minds work. We seem to feel the most comfortable participating in activities where we don’t know the end result. This is what this trip has felt like to me. From the day I signed up, I truly did not know what to expect. And that’s my favorite part — it takes me to the road less traveled.

I think that the curiosity of not knowing what to expect is what has driven humans since the beginning of time. And that is what has driven me throughout this trip and my life. It’s what makes an experience like this so beautiful.