When the opportunity arose to study abroad in Argentina over J-Term, Grant Gerber, a sophomore studying international marketing and Spanish at the University of St. Thomas, knew he couldn’t pass it up. But he never expected that the trip would turn out to be a dozen mini-internships in business.
The international marketing course offers students a global perspective and fosters local connections in emerging markets. Trip organizer Kim Sovell, a senior participating adjunct faculty at Opus College, aimed to develop connections between Minnesota businesses and Argentine businesses.
While in Buenos Aires, students visited the marketing departments of 12 different companies, some of which also have offices in Minnesota. They learned about Latin America’s biggest delivery platform – comparable to DoorDash – and even participated in a tour of the newsroom of one of Argentina's biggest media companies.
A real-world marketing capstone project
Along with building relationships and the cultural experiences of being in a country that just won the World Cup, Gerber's career experience gained from the capstone project was also a win.
Student groups focused on an aspect of international marketing in Argentina, such as work-life balance, culture, gender, the COVID-19 pandemic and the World Cup. To gather insights for their project, Gerber and his team attended nearly 20 meetings to learn from experts in the field.
The team player, who is also a linebacker for Tommie football, described this unique experience as “mini-internships” where students had the opportunity to meet with high-level executives.
“We were going into meetings with people who sit down with the CEO of the company,” he said. “It felt like a real job, not schoolwork.”
The capstone projects culminated with each group giving a 20-minute presentation at the end of the trip, showcasing what they had learned and how it tied back to international marketing.
A business challenge in 20 minutes
Students also took part in a business challenge with Piattelli Wines, whose owners live in Edina, Minnesota. Split into small teams, they had just 20 minutes to develop a presentation proposing marketing strategies for a new product launch in Minnesota this summer.
Despite the language barrier, the students’ ideas impressed Piattelli representatives Santiago Acosta and Luis Mohammad. “The student ideas were super innovative, attractive, and showed an understanding of the context for the challenge we posed,” they said.
Gerber added, “The business challenge (with Piattelli Wines) really got us to apply the soft skills learned in the classroom. They are basically doing the same things that we are learning.”
Gaining global perspectives through empathy
Lisa Abendroth, an Opus College faculty member who also participated in the trip, confirmed that the J-Term program enhanced students’ education by exposing them to different contexts.
Empathy in marketing is crucial to understanding the customer’s or employee’s perspective to adapt accordingly. By understanding cultural similarities and differences, marketers can alter their approach. “It’s about learning how to change the way you think the world works,” she said.
The J-Term trip also fostered a global perspective for the students. Business visits showed them how people, cultures, economics, and technologies are different, yet so similar. “It’s really about that enlightenment,” Sovell added. “To walk in the shoes of someone else and learn those similarities and differences.”
Following his study abroad experience in Argentina, Gerber now values a global perspective for his career more than ever. His goal is to use his degree to connect cultures through business and seek to understand the nuances behind cultural connections. “Experiencing other cultures firsthand is the only way to truly gain this type of insight.”