International Field Experience “Reflections”

Jen Farb – Freedom

As I was celebrating our nation’s Independence Day this weekend, I began thinking about just how lucky we are to live in a free country where we have such a thing as freedom of speech.  Our recent trip to Asia truly made me realize how jaded we have become to this fact in our country and how thankful we should be to those who gave up their lives for our freedom.

Walking around Beijing, although it is an amazing and historical city, you can feel the hand of the government on your back.  In all of Mainland China, such things as Facebook and Google suddenly are illegal and you only can access by creating a virtual private network (VPN).  There are also still government imposed restrictions on the number of children that you can legally have as a Chinese citizen in order to maintain control of the population.  Everywhere we went in Beijing, there were cameras and police spread throughout in order to maintain order. Freedom_1

The first stark difference was felt as we stepped onto Hong Kong soil, and the western influences came flooding back.  The culture in Hong Kong is much more diverse than in Beijing and the British influences are still prevalent in everything from the taxi-cabs (organized by color to ensure traffic efficiency) to the language (every sign had both Cantonese and English).

The downside of a beautifully clean, organized, and efficient city is that it is very expensive to live there and there is quite a disparity in wealth.  There is quite a bit of change coming in the future for Hong Kong as it is scheduled to officially rejoin Mainland China in the next few decades.

Taiwan, like Hong Kong, also lives in the shadow of Mainland Chinese rule as it is in an awkward limbo between a free independent nation, and a territory of the PRC.  During our trip around Taipei, we were able to see how much the economy is growing and differentiating from Mainland China, and in the coming years it will be interesting to watch what happens.

In Thailand, even with a peaceful, Buddhist culture, you can go to jail for insulting the royal family in any way, and words can be easily misinterpreted.  A few times when we asked our tour guide questions, she would tell us “I will tell you on the bus” in order to ensure her words were not overheard by the wrong people.  The political situation is also extremely unstable and even though we saw no sign of the military coup, we all were aware of its impact.Freedom_2

As I was flying home from the other side of the world, I quickly read through the opinion section of the Orlando Sentinel and discovered an article where the author was outwardly disagreeing and truly bashing President Obama’s foreign policy in great detail.  At that moment, I realized how truly amazing it is that we are free to speak as we wish, specifically about our Head of State, through a nationally distributed and legal newspaper.

In America, we have the ultimate freedom to choose how we want to present ourselves to the world through our words and many of us choose to take this for granted every day.  Maybe one day in the future, there will be people in these Asian countries that are brave enough to speak up and take action for their freedoms as many did and continue to do today here at home.  I know that after this amazing opportunity to explore and learn from 4 very different cultures, I am walking around much more thankful for those sacrifices and to have the freedoms we do here in America.

Thailand Hospitality

Jennifer Schmelter – Thailand Hospitality

The Grand Palace. Street food. Buddhism. Wat Arun. Opportunity. Tuk Tuks. All things you may think of when you think of Bangkok.  People who have never traveled to the city may not immediately think of poverty.  However, as a newly industrialized country, there is an interesting dichotomy to the scenery in Bangkok.  Growth and success towering over dilapidation; poverty and ruin masked in the shadow of their newer brother – economic growth.  Thailand has the second largest economy in all of Asia, but a per capita GDP of $5,779 in 2013.  While this places them with the 10th highest per capita GDP in Asia, it still leaves a lot of room for growth before the country is maturely industrialized.

Over the course of our trip, however, it was evident that while some Thais may lack the luxuries money can buy, there was no shortage of hospitality, kindness, and smiles in their demeanor.  There was a sincere caring and respect from each and every Thai individual I interacted with on our trip including our tour guide, the business professionals with whom we met, even the tuk tuk driver who firmly yet politely negotiated the fare for our drive back to the hotel one evening.hospitality2

During a longer than anticipated walk to one of the malls located “near” our hotel, the weather was scorching hot.  We took notice of some of the traffic cops directing rush hour traffic.  They were dressed in bright orange jumpsuits from neck to toe; long sleeves, long pants, and most with masks over their nose and mouth.  “I have no idea how they wear that stuff out here for hours at a time,” I commented.  The next block we saw a traffic cop energetically, if not joyfully, directing traffic in the road.  I couldn’t see his face, but his body language, movements, and cheerful whistle chirps made it clear he was happy to be where he was and was making the most of the moment.  It was like watching a choreographed dance of traffic directing.  That snapshot of joy without regard to the less than ideal conditions was what I felt throughout Bangkok.hospitality3

Maybe it’s the beautiful temples, maybe it’s the delicious street food, or the thrill of being able to drive your scooter through oncoming traffic without risk of a traffic ticket.  Maybe it’s Buddhism at its finest.  Whatever it is, I wish I could have bottled the source of the kindness and patience the Thai people have with all people they encounter and bring it back to the US to share.  Yes, 13.2% of Thais were below the poverty line in 2011.  Perhaps many Americans would visit Thailand and see all the things those in poverty are lacking.  And perhaps many Thais would visit America and see that all the things we do have don’t guarantee us the values in life that really matter: mutual respect, courtesy, and genuinely caring for others.

Political Risk in Bangkok

Jennifer Schmelter – Political Risk in Bangkok

On June 25th our cohort arrived in Bangkok, Thailand.  After a group lunch at the hotel, we headed to our afternoon meeting with the American Chamber of Commerce.  This meeting was one of the most interesting to me as it displayed the close link between a country’s politics and its business.

As many are already aware, on May 20th the Thai government initiated martial law in order to restore order and stability within Bangkok.  This occurred after protests trying to remove Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and her government, turned violent and resulted in the deaths of at least 11 people.  The protests were in response to accusations of corruption within the government and that Shinawatra was abusing her power.Riot1 riot2

The intriguing part of this story is the disabling impact that politics, media, and public perception can have on a local economy.  After May 20th articles abound about the destruction of Democracy within the country and images depict martial law with tanks driving through streets and armed guards seemingly on street corner.


Fortunately for the Thai people, these images are not an accurate depiction of what is happening in their country; martial law has helped restore order to the city.  And even when protests were active, they were restricted to specific areas of the city, which many travel blogs helped communicate to travelers.

Unfortunately for the Thai people, most tourists are willing to accept the media images they see without question and choose to avoid Thailand all together.  I had several family members and friends ask before our trip, “Are you really going to Thailand? Have you seen the news?”  I assured them that the media coverage was blown out of proportion in attempts to earn higher ratings.  When some media sources opted to report based on an agenda instead of unbiased facts, the impact was real in Thailand.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Travel & Tourism comprises 9% of Thailand’s GDP, or $35 billion in 2013.  According to our speaker at the Chamber of Commerce, direct tourism comprises around 10% of Thailand’s economy, which rises to 14% when indirect spending is also taken into account.  During Q2, tourism dropped 5.85% year-over-year within the country and declines were expected to reach $2.6 billion within the first 6 months of 2014  Hotels within Bangkok have been hardest hit, with some hotel owners reporting losses of $90,000 per week.  CEOs are not the only people impacted, however.  Our speaker added that standard service charges are not being recouped, which can often add up to 30% of a hospitality worker’s salary, and hours are being reduced.  Given the high revenues Thailand normally earns from tourism, thousands of Thais are being impacted either directly or indirectly by the lack of tourists heading to the area.

Another economic challenge Thailand is facing is the lack of available political risk insurance.  Which, given the present circumstances, does not help potential investors generate confidence and enthusiasm for the country when making their investment decisions.  Whomever the Thai people choose as their next Prime Minister, it will be interesting to watch how his/her political decisions impact the Thai economy by influencing the faith international travelers and investors have in the country’s safety and stability.

Political Situation in Thailand

Antonio Caldas – Political Situation in Thailand

Thailand has been engulfed in political crisis for six months now, with street
protests pushing to outright topple the government of Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra. The crisis is especially serious given that Thailand has experienced
more coups d’état than any other country in contemporary history. Scholars
sometimes describe the era beginning in 1932 and running up through today as
Thailand’s “coup season.” Since 1932, Thailand has endured an astonishing 11
successful military coups, as well as seven attempted coups. These coups
normally cool down and end quickly, without dramatic breakthrough. Every time,
though, some industries are dramatically impacted  notably the

The most recent coup was initiated in December 2013 , with the
same script: relatively few casualties and short termed … local business people
forecast it will end by the end of this year, probably with new general
elections. This time again, tourism was hammered. Some less competitive hotels
are experiencing record low occupation in Bangkok. International media tends to
magnify the risks of traveling to Thailand in this periods.Captura de Tela 2014-07-03 às 19.33.16

Interesting, however, is the attitude of investment international community.
After confirming this is once more a short term situation, with limited impact on overall growth
of Thai economy, major indicators of international interest for Thailand are
back to normal. The Thai Bath only lost an average of 3% of its value versus the
US Dollar . The MSCI Thailand IMI 25/50 Index, designed to track the overall
performance of the Thai stock exchange initially dropped 20%, but since then,
managed to recover to the same average level of 2013.

Asian Service in Hospitality

Adam Galea – Asian Service in Hospitality

The hotel industry in the United States prides itself on its service and hospitality.  A core concept that could be found in some variation in every employee handbook is the idea of going above and beyond to meet every guest’s needs and requests.  Differentiators between US hotels are mainly based around amenity or obscure service offerings, though it is often not long before the competition catches up.

Cohort 11 at the Shangri-La Hotel

Cohort 11 at the Shangri-La Hotel

We had an opportunity while in Taipei to meet with the General Manager and HR Manager of the Shangri-La Far Eastern Hotel.  After a great presentation around their business fundamentals and a tour of their hotel operation, I walked away with one concept mentioned by the General Manager still stuck in my head.  He had mentioned that this Hong Kong based company started in Singapore and was based on providing Asian service to their guests.  Asian service?  Several days had past and I kept finding myself thinking about that phrase, trying to define it through the several hotel stays I had already experienced on this trip.  Through this, I began to see the cultural core differences between Asia and other parts of the world with some cultural variations specifically in service amongst these countries in Asia.  Key parts that stuck out to me were a genuine care and concern as if the guest and employee had known each other for years.  I concluded that this may likely stem from the deep roots of Buddhism that is found throughout Asia.  Interactions seemed to be shadowed with somewhat of a raw and juvenile excitement to help.  It seemed much of these service industry employees were less affected by the reality and harshness of the world, even though in some instances they were living it much deeper.  Though with a core similarity, it was interesting to see how the fundamentals of Asian service was woven through each of the regions we visited and how a better understanding of this service could be the new competitive edge in North America.

Below is a further look in my observations traveling through the various countries and regions.

China- Raffles Hotel, Beijing and The Sofitel, Xian

Key differences: A willingness to go to whatever length to solve the issue with a deeper desire to ensure customer was satisfied.  Employees sought out opportunities to interact but with some conservatism which seemed consistent through other service experiences in the country.

Hong Kong- Crown Plaza Causeway Bay and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel

What seemed to be a western influence drove a slight more reservation and refinement then in mainland China while still having a proactive approach in assistance.  Interactions seemed a little more formalized than any other regions possibly stemming from the long time British influence.

Taiwan- Pacific Business Center Hotel, Taipei

Overall a deeper excitement and willingness to go the extra length to understand the service need with follow through to ensure clear understanding of the request.  There was little to no hesitation to interact and seemed less formalized

Thailand- Conrad Hotel, Bangkok

The deepest desire to go to any length for service need was found.  People seemed to be the most sincere in their every interaction with greetings and conversations feeling warm.


McDonalds Thailand

Adam Galea – McDonalds Thailand

We had the opportunity to visit with the McDonalds Thailand, a franchise company that owns and operates all of the McDonald’s restaurants and food outlets in Thailand.  This visit gave great insight into how an American rooted company adapts to franchising in another country.  Additionally, we learned of some obstacles and challenges experienced when adapting an American product to the taste of a local culture and business practices while remaining true to the original product.  As well, we got a glimpse into how an overseas franchisee conducts business with an iconic American brand.

Cohort 11 - McDonalds Academy in Bangkok, Thailand

Cohort 11 – McDonalds Academy in Bangkok, Thailand

Each culture around the world comes with its unique dietary tastes and popularity of specific food dishes.  Thailand is no exception with its strongly seasoned flavors, heat and demand for seafood based products.  What stuck out to me was how the McDonalds franchise was able to address these demands through ingredient changes and additional product offerings such as congee for breakfast or noodles during the day.  It was shared how this variety is needed to not only attract the younger generation but also encourage the entire family to come.  Even with the local specific menu adds, the familiar core items such as a Big Mac, french fries and chicken nuggets are still well represented.  Staying true to the core brand, this franchisee often has to import key ingredients which are subjected to import taxes.

In our meeting we learned more about the business challenges these international franchisees face.  Specifically in Thailand, one challenge faced is the need for low cost items to meet the income levels of his consumer while balancing the increase in expense from import taxes, resulting in the highest cost products for the lowest priced items.

McDonald's HQ Thailand - Corporate Offices

McDonald’s HQ Thailand – Corporate Offices

With all of the challenges a franchisee faces overseas there come some liberties that domestic franchise owners may not have available to them.  The ability to test products and promotions to expand business and stay competitive are often driven by corporate offices.  What was clear to me was how an 11 hour time difference and half the world in distance allowed this franchise owner to pilot different promotional items and even expanding beyond the food industry with the McDonalds name.

Business in Thailand

Hugo Escanuela – Business in Thailand

Throughout our previous course, International Business and Finance, we spent a great portion of our time talking about culture and how it pertains to doing business in the foreign market. When dealing with different cultures it is important for one to know what is appropriate. Our business visits were all unique and offered a variety of valuable takeaways, especially the ones that took place outside of the board room. It isn’t uncommon for business to occur outside of the workplace, and often times it is important to partake in cultural activities to show trust and respect with your business partners.business_in thailand

The real side of business in foreign countries depends on building a relationship with your future business partner. The trust that is developed in these types of relationships can sometimes only be formulated outside of a professional setting. As a friend once said, “Down the hatch.”

Culture in Thailand

Hugo Escanuela – Culture in Thailand

On our final day in Bangkok we got to experience what truly makes Bangkok such a unique city to visit. From the temples and intricate river canals to the magnificent rooftop views, Bangkok is beautiful in its own regard. Our day started off with a visit to various Buddha temples, including the famous Reclining Buddha. The respect that individuals show to these temples is awe inspiring and it presents a whole new outlook on life and religion.

temple_hugoBangkok offers such a wide variety of sight-seeing, one being the cruises through the various rivers and canals. Referred to as the Venice of Asia, Bangkok relies on canals as a source of transportation and business. However, these canals also show you the underbelly of Bangkok and the poverty that many of its inhabitants live in. As we traveled throughout the canals one would take note that the city of Bangkok had a strong emergence in its infrastructure, however many buildings, bridges and river walls are left uncompleted.

A city known for its rooftop restaurants and bars, Bangkok certainly offers some magnificent views. Our stay in Bangkok wouldn’t have been complete without partaking in some of the views, so what better place than Moon Bar and Vertigo on the 62nd floor. A night accompanied with close friends and faculty, our farewell dinner from Bangkok was truly memorable.

Vertigo and Moon bar roof-top restaurant

Vertigo and Moon bar roof-top restaurant



Final Day in Bangkok

Wendy Lowe – Our last day in Bangkok


Bangkok Flower Market

Bangkok Flower Market

Our final day in Bangkok started with a morning walking tour of the Bangkok Flower Market which is supposedly the largest wholesale and retail fresh flower market in Bangkok. We then did an extensive tour of the city’s most famous landmark, the Grand Palace which is a combination of beautiful temples and buildings with amazing architecture. For lunch we dined on a river boat and then enjoyed a relaxing cruise

Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat buildings at the Grand Palace, Bangkok - Thailand

Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat buildings at the Grand Palace, Bangkok – Thailand

down the Bangkok canals getting an up-close view of several monasteries, picturesque canal homes, and  saw how many provide for their families by fishing and selling canal side gifts. We also learnt that the people of Bangkok depend on the waterways to transport their merchandise, especially rice considering the canals link the rice fields. During our canal ride we stopped and fed hundreds of fish that swarmed our boat. We enjoyed the beautiful relaxing scenery of the Bangkok canal tour.

After a full cultural day, we rested and prepared for a memorable Farewell Dinner at the Vertigo Sky Bar,  one of the most famous  and sophisticated rooftop restaurants in Bangkok with stunning view of the city. The company, restaurant atmosphere, and food were all top-notch. The skyline views were breathtaking from the 59th floor, high above most Bangkok city structures.  As we dined, reflected on our week of business visits, the bonds of the cohort were only strengthened.  Associate Dean, Yiorgos Bakamitsos provided an encouraging toast as the Executive MBA students venture into their final 7 courses of the program and the homestretch.  We return home to the US tomorrow with lifetime memories, business application ideas and strategies, and even stronger friendships.

Farewell Dinner at Vertigo Grill & Moon bar - Cohort 11

Farewell Dinner at Vertigo Grill & Moon bar – Cohort 11

The Disparity of Bangkok

Keith Henry – Cohort 11

The first impression I had of Thailand was that this country was very developed. As the bus travelled from the airport, the towering skyscrapers were hard not to miss. These buildings elegantly towered into the clouds with their artistic designs, signaling Thailand’s financial might. Due to the sheer size and the quantity of these buildings I immediately assumed this country was wealthy and its citizens must enjoy a high standard of living.

Bangkok, Thailand 2014

Bangkok, Thailand 2014

However, as we continued our journey, I could not help but notice poverty. I saw children sleeping in the streets. I saw beggars; I noticed a sign to beware of pick-pocketing in the holy temple. I saw children swimming in water that did not appear clean.

I am of the opinion that government has a responsibility to its citizens. And just as how they might be focused on developing the business sector in Thailand (which it appears they are doing a good job at), they should also put a priority on the citizens and ways to elevate their standard of living. This disparity was most obvious to me during the boat tour. Looking straight ahead I was able to see these majestic skyscrapers, but turning to my immediate left or right, the slum houses cried for attention.

Views from Bangkok Canal Tour & Rice Barge Cruise

Views from Bangkok Canal Tour & Rice Barge Cruise