Observations from Across the Pond: UST London Business Semester Fall 2012


Undergraduate students in the Opus College of Business have the opportunity to study abroad during the fall semester on a UST sponsored study abroad trip called the London Business Semester. A group of about 50 students travel to London during their junior or senior year accompanied by two OCB faculty members each fall to not only learn a new perspective of business but also to learn a significant amount about themselves, methods of getting around in foreign countries and to quickly convert dollars to Pounds or Euros.

As a ’01 London Business Semester alumna myself, I was interested to hear about the trip this fall. Professor Dave Brennan was one of the faculty leads on the trip and provided some interesting observations of business in London:

  • London dominates England and the U.K. more than New York or any other city in the U.S. It is the largest metro area with a population of approximately 13 million or over 20% of the U.K. It dominates the country's social, economic, political, athletic, entertainment and media environments. In comparison, the New York metro area has 18 million people, but is less than 6% of the U.S. population and is not the political capitol.
  • Retailing in London is different than the U.S. There are fewer malls and more high streets or fashion shopping streets. There are fewer department stores, but some exceptional ones like Harrod's. Specialty stores dominate the landscape rather than big box stores. Grocery stores are smaller and often located near tube stations, bus stops or near densely populated areas.
  • American brands are limited in London. Some American companies buy local companies and keep their name while others intentionally name their product differently to sound more British. One standout product is Pringles. It is everywhere from supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, theatres (plays), etc. They also have a wide variety of sizes and different flavors including some for Christmas with sweets and spices.
  • Food is purchased more frequently here. Why? Refrigerators are smaller, food lacks preservatives, and people prefer fresh. Organic is big - way ahead of the States. Eggs are free range, British and Irish beef touted (non-genetically modified feed or drugs as in the U.S.), and many more vegetarian options are offered in restaurants.
  • Christmas comes early to London. Pubs and restaurants put out signs for parties in early September; Christmas goods begin being promoted in mid-October and Christmas lights on high streets come on at the beginning of November. The interior of houses are dressed-up for Christmas, but not the exterior.
  • Christmas markets are big in Europe. Vienna has an exceptional market. Britain has many scattered throughout the country from smaller communities to shopping areas within London. Many temporary retail shops are set up for weekends much like farmer’s markets. They sell a wide variety of Christmas items including decorations, clothing, gifts, novelties, games, crafts, etc. Covent Garden in central London has a particularly popular market.
  • The dollar doesn't buy as much here as in the States. Most items are more expensive to produce than in the U.S. The exchange rate is unfavorable with the Great Britain pound worth 60% more than the U.S. dollar and the Euro worth 28% more than the dollar. Europeans also include a Value Added Tax on all products and services that works like a national sales tax. It ranges from 17% in some European countries to 20% in Great Britain and to as high as 25% in Denmark.
  • Politics is just as heated in Europe as in the U.S. People are very concerned about the debt crisis, jobs, and taxes, but less so about unemployment compensation, health care and pensions because these are part of the social safety net. The presidential election was extensively covered here, much of it in real time despite the time difference.
  • The possibility of a recession looms large with government leaders. Concern over the debt crisis, the slowdown in consumer spending, slow job growth and weak stock markets have created increased uncertainty this fall. There is much talk, but little action so far.
  • The Bank of England has just hired Mark Carney as is new Governor beginning this coming June. You ask, who cares? Well, Carney is a Canadian citizen who holds a similar position with the central bank of Canada. He is very highly regarded having guided Canada through the Great Recession with only minor difficulties. This position is similar to being the head of the Federal Reserve. Can you imagine someone from outside the U.S. leading the Fed? Then again, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand continue their strong ties with the U.K.

Graduate students in the Opus College of Business also have the opportunity to study abroad, including to London. These trips are typically a week to 10 days away to fit in with professional committements. Learn more about current and future study abroad opportunities for graduate students.