By Timothy E. Rodrigue
For some time, students from the LSU E. J. Ourso College of Business have been making their way across the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean for study abroad trips to emerging markets. Students in the LSU Flores MBA Program routinely travel to China, Brazil, and even India for a week to learn from executives of multinationals. The journey that four undergraduate students from the college will embark upon in spring 2014, will be something entirely different.
Lauren Johnson, Michael Panther, John Preston, and Leah Wong will spend an entire semester at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, completely immersed in one of the world’s most historic cultures while earning credits toward their respective degrees. Their classes will be taught in English and will primarily be business courses.
On October 3, 2013, the four soon-to-be international representatives of the E. J. Ourso College met for the first time to discuss their study abroad adventure with E. J. Ourso College Dean Richard D. White Jr. and other college administrators, including Ye-Sho Chen, director of the college’s Emerging Markets Initiative.
“I think that I and the staff are just as excited as you guys are,” White said enthusiastically during the meeting. “We’re really pleased with the four of you.”
While aimed primarily at undergraduates in their junior year, the new study abroad program was opened to all students in the college. Applications were accepted until August 26, 2013, and the four selected students were notified not long after that they had been chosen to receive a scholarship to aid them in their desire to learn in China.
The students are a diverse group. Two of them hail from Louisiana, while the other pair is composed of international students.
Johnson, a junior majoring in international trade & finance, is from Lake Charles, La. She is in the Honors College and hopes to work for a multinational someday. She already has experience overseas, having minored in French and spending last year in France.
“I realized that maybe Europe wasn’t the place where I wanted to pursue a career,” Johnson said. “Once I got an e-mail about Hong Kong, I thought this is something I wanted to do.”
Preston is the other Louisiana native of the group. He attended Newman High School in New Orleans, where he took four years of traditional Chinese. Like Johnson, he is a junior in international trade & finance. Preston was already thinking about going to China.
“I heard about this program and figured it was a good opportunity,” he said.
Preston’s international experiences do not extend as far east as Johnson’s. He has been to Canada, the Bahamas, and Mexico. He was able to convince his parents the trip will be worthwhile.
“I think my mom’s more nervous than my dad, but I think she’s fine with it,” Preston said. “They’re excited to come visit.”
Johnson’s approach to her parents is a bit different.
“I haven’t told them yet,” Johnson answered when asked how she convinced her parents to let her go.
For her sake, hopefully they aren’t finding out by reading this.
Wong, a junior whose name is the Hong Kong Romanization of the Chinese surnames Wang and Huang, doesn’t appear at all Asian. She’s a native of Nassau, Bahamas, which is more than 9,000 miles away from her springtime destination. Additionally, while Hong Kong boasts a population of more than seven million, Wong’s entire high school graduating class numbered only 60.
“I originally attended a small arts school in Georgia but had a change of heart,” Wong said. “I started working for a real estate company at home, and it got me into looking at maybe finance. I work closely with computers, so I decided to become an ISDS (information systems & decision sciences) major, but because I’m going to Hong Kong now, I’m looking into doing maybe ITF (international trade & finance).”
Panther hails from what in July 2011 became known as the Republic of South Sudan in Africa, a country so young in name that it wasn’t even listed on the forms he had to fill out from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. It’s hardly the greatest obstacle the economics sophomore has faced in his life.
When he was five years old, Panther’s village was attacked. His two brothers were killed. Alone, Panther escaped and survived for weeks on his own before he was rescued. In 2004, he left South Sudan for Kenya, where an operation left him wheelchair bound. He attended an international school and ultimately learned about LSU from a friend and through his own research. He was accepted to the University of Michigan as well, but the climate was a huge deterrent.
“I’m thinking of maybe later working with the banks or maybe go back to South Sudan and work in the government over there,” Panther said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to play a part in it, and my dream is maybe only day I will run for president over there. So I have a lot of interest in going to China because I just feel like with my econ degree maybe I’ll go there and just see the China economy right now and it will help me in future to become a better economist.”
According to Ye-Sho Chen, director of the E. J. Ourso College’s Emerging Markets Initiative, Hong Kong Polytechnic University is fully accredited and the Hong Kong government has designated it to train all of its employees for continuing education.
“That means a lot,” Chen said. “Now there are many networks there at many different levels and also China is taking advantage of that. They send a lot of people there to get training.”
Speaking to the four students, Chen let them know that if they have a specific company or business in mind that they want to potentially intern with to let them know.
“We want you to use this as an opportunity to advance your interest, and I am here to help make you shine,” Chen said. “We would like to help all of you achieve your dream.”
That sentiment was shared by White, who charged the students with putting together a presentation upon their return that any one of them could give in Baton Rouge or in areas around the country. He also asked them to update the college at every step along the way while they are gone through social media, e-mail and any other way they wanted.
“We’re not only interested in your progress professionally, but personally,” White said. “You’re representing us. You’re our friends. This means a lot to us.”
The next step of the exchange program will include students from Hong Kong Polytechnic University venturing to Baton Rouge to study at the E. J. Ourso College. Ultimately, a faculty exchange is intended as well.
“This is what we should be doing,” White said. “This is the exchange of ideas that our students and our faculty need to continue to learn and grow to continue to be competitive.”
Like us on Facebook (LSU E. J. Ourso College) or follow us on Twitter (lsuoursocollege) or Instagram (lsuoursocollege).