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Travelling without leaving home

Deakin Business and Law's Virtual Consultancy Program keeps international experiences alive in the midst of a global shutdown.

COVID-19 has forced a lot of rethinking of the things we have taken for granted – international travel being high on the list. For a long time, we’ve been lucky enough to have international study tours and internships as a popular fixture in the academic calendar. But now, international travel is a distant memory while, under Stage-4 lockdown, we daydream about travelling more than 5km from home.

Fortunately for students in Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law, the global travel freeze won’t stop them from getting international experiences.  The Virtual Global Work Integrated Learning Program provides them with an opportunity to broaden their cultural and professional horizons without having to leave home.

One door closes, another one opens

Pre-COVID, in-country international Work Integrated Learning (WIL) and study tours were popular due to the richness of the experiences on offer and because they could be used to demonstrate work-readiness to future employers. So, in developing the innovative virtual program, the faculty’s International Team was focused on maintaining these benefits, as well as reducing the program’s carbon footprint and increasing its accessibility.

Associate Dean International, Professor Alexander Newman says, “This unique experience allows students to be able to apply their knowledge and business acumen in a real world context. We wanted to provide students an opportunity to gain international consultancy experiences while operating in an online domain. It is important to showcase to our students how physical distance doesn’t stop our global connectivity as we prepare them for the world after graduation.”

Building a new program

The Virtual Global Work Integrated Learning Program starts with a similar format to the in-country programs, where students work in consulting teams of four to five, identifying, analysing and developing solutions for problems faced by host organisations. The difference of course is that they are doing so remotely.

The program is then enriched with guest speaker sessions from leading practitioners, on doing international business, regional ties, design thinking, cross-cultural understanding and personal branding, as well as panel discussions on themes such as women in global entrepreneurship.

Hosts were brought on board from China, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Uruguay, with businesses and organisations spanning a variety of sectors including education, government, logistics, technology and cultural heritage. Projects covered market and industry analysis, global market entry strategies, product development, service implementation and business planning.

Program launch

The first edition of the two-week program started June 22, 2020, with over 70 students enrolled. They were able to meet with their hosts at least four times over the consultancy, but more frequent contact, even daily, was available for additional information gathering and direction.

A design thinking workshop provided students with a framework for approaching the client’s business problem and a cultural familiarisation session allowed them to interact with locals in their host country, learn some of the language and develop cultural awareness.

How it went

MBA(International) student, Catherine Peng reflected on her experience with North Head, analysing China’s aged care and asset management sectors to identify future opportunities.

She said, “The experience provided by North Head was very interesting and very challenging. I really enjoyed the whole process”.

“While I experienced the daily life of a consultant, I got a deeper understanding of China’s asset management market and policies, as well as insight into how foreign businesses invest in China's Asset Management Market”.

“North Head provided guidance and suggestions for our research and report, helping us to complete an outstanding report”.

Hosts impressed

All hosts reported receiving research and reports they intended to implement and were clearly impressed with calibre of their student consulting teams.

Catherine’s host company, North Head, praised the team’s “great enthusiasm and professionalism during the meetings”, saying they “ultimately delivered a sound report and presentation”.  While GeneXus of Uruguay wrote, “We had the chance to work with professionals who understood our needs and we are looking forward to putting the recommendations into action”.

Satisfied students

Overall, participants rated their overall experience very highly, with particular appreciation for the quality of the host organisations and the remote-teamwork experience.

Feedback showed students cherishing the “unforgettable experience in terms of learnings, team memories and dedication from all organisers of the program", as well as appreciation for the accessibility that only a virtual program could offer. With one participant saying, “As a mother with young children it was amazing to be able to work with an international team and company, having a cultural experience without having to travel”.

This statement encapsulates the value of the new program: it removes barriers to participation, whether family, financial or work-related, and offers greater sustainability through a much-reduced carbon footprint. It gives more students the chance to build professional experience and intercultural fluency to get them ahead in the employment market.

The next Virtual Global WIL Program commences 26 October and is taking applications now. Find out more on our International opportunities page.

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