Through Bryant’s signature Sophomore International Experience (SIE), 19 students explored Japanese business and culture, expanding their global perspective and gaining important insight into the workings of an increasingly interconnected world. A trip to Japan, the first visit in SIE history, brought their studies to life.
“This was not just a course, or just a trip. It was truly a profound international experience,” says Aziz Berdiev, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Economics, who helped teach the SIE course and accompanied the students to Japan.
Preparing for the trip of a lifetime
A three-credit course, SIE caps a semester of intensive introduction to another country with a two-week international trip led by faculty and staff, during which students immerse themselves in the culture and learn how businesses operate globally. Students often describe their trip as a defining moment of their college career.
For this year’s SIE Japan participants, the experience began long before the students touched down in Tokyo. The months-long preparation provided students with a primer on a broad range of topics from culture to politics to language to economics. “We want our students to truly immerse themselves,” explains Berdiev, who has previously led SIE trips to Malaysia and Singapore, London and Paris, and Argentina and Chile. “And to do that, they need to be prepared.”
“Japan was everything I hoped it would be, but also nothing like what I expected. Throughout the semester, we looked at photos and videos of what was to come, but nothing could have prepared me for the breathtaking views, adventures, and friends I would end the trip with."
Divided into groups and mentored by Bryant faculty, the students researched a variety of aspects of Japan, building on and adding context to what the other groups had learned. They gained an appreciation for Japanese cultural norms, learned about the cities they would visit, and worked hard to better understand another country’s way of life.
“One of the things that made this trip so unique was the amount of thought that went into the planning,” says Matthew Mays ’21, who notes the research the students did helped them better understand their journey.
“Japan was everything I hoped it would be, but also nothing like what I expected,” says Allison George ’21. “Throughout the semester, we looked at photos and videos of what was to come, but nothing could have prepared me for the breathtaking views, adventures, and friends I would end the trip with.”
“When the students visited a site like Amazon Japan, they not only knew the details, but the context as well. They were prepared to ask questions and enter into a real dialogue.”
Over the course of the 11 days, the group visited sites of cultural, historical and political importance. Trips to traditional locations such as the Meiji Shrine, Himeji Castle, and the Tenryuji Temple were complemented with expeditions to places such as the Odaiba district, home to Fuji Television Studios and the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.
When the group toured an Isuzu Motors plant, known for its industry-leading use of robotics, and Amazon Japan, their extensive preparation again paid off. “When the students visited a site like Amazon Japan, they not only knew the details, but the context as well,” says Berdiev. “They were prepared to ask questions and enter into a real dialogue.”
“I've learned that what you've always known and how you were raised isn't necessarily the only way to do things, and that it's important to always be open to learning new things and meeting new people.”
Natalia Torrellas Rosich ’21 saw the tours as a great addition to her in-class studies. “I'm an International Business major, so this is what I'll be dedicating my life to,” she says. “It's really important to see and experience how different companies work from country to country.”
A new perspective
The students also sampled everyday life in Japan, from attempting traditional kushikatsu cooking to exploring Harajuku culture to learning the ins and outs of riding Japan’s bullet trains. “I've learned that what you've always known and how you were raised isn't necessarily the only way to do things,” says Miguelina Feris Abreu ’21, “and that it's important to always be open to learning new things and meeting new people.”
Crystal Jiang, Ph.D., Professor of Management and Director of the International Business Program, who also helped teach the course and lead the trip, highlighted how important it is for students to develop an understanding of other cultures and ways of doing business. She points to a recent IBM Global CEO study of more than 1,500 corporate heads and public-sector leaders across 60 nations and 33 industries that found global thinking to be among the most important leadership qualities. “Our SIE Japan course allows students to develop global competence and a critical mindset,” says Jiang.
“It’s about expanding your worldview. An experience where you are taken out of your comfort zone puts everything you know into perspective.”
During a visit to Mega Elementary School in the city of Himeji, the Bryant students learned about the Japanese education system. “The kids were incredible, so friendly and welcoming,” says Mays.
At the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum they spoke with a survivor of the World War II atomic bombing of the city, who shared a message of hope and understanding. Looking back on the trip, Matt Mastroianni ’21 found the experience humbling. “It’s about expanding your worldview,” he notes. “An experience where you are taken out of your comfort zone puts everything you know into perspective.”
For Kaoru Paganelli, Assistant Director of Bryant's Office of International Students and Scholars, the trip was an opportunity to share the country she grew up in with students. “It was so rewarding to see them thrive, to see the lightbulb moment when they begin to understand something in a new way.”
“Being exposed to different cultures and ways of business like this is a once in a lifetime thing. Bryant University helped me experience something I never thought I would have.”
Every night, the students gathered to share what they had learned and reflect on the day’s events. “Each student took away something different from the trip. Each had a unique experience,” says Paganelli.
In addition to the wealth of information and knowledge they acquired, the trip had other benefits, she says. “The confidence they gain helps carry them through their Bryant experience and beyond. They learn to say ‘yes, I can.’”
For Michael Vaughan ’21, his memories of Japan will last a lifetime. “Being exposed to different cultures and ways of business like this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he says. “Bryant University helped me experience something I never thought I would have.”