Getting the International Business Experience of a Lifetime

Master of Business Administration students travel to Greece to serve as crisis management consultants to four businesses as part of their international learning opportunity.

By Melanie Thibeault
The RWU MBA 2023 cohort posing for a photo in Greece
Students in the 2023 Master of Business Administration cohort at Roger Williams University, along with Associate Professor of Management Susan McTiernan and MBA Program Coordinator Farbod Farhadi, pose for a photo in Greece.

ATHENS, GREECE – One after another, the Master of Business Administration students, fresh off a plane from Greece, said their week serving as consultants to four Greek companies was nothing less than a life-changing experience that has prepared them like no other to be competitive in the global business world. 

“We agreed it was the trip of a lifetime,” said Dylan Turcott ’22, M’23, of Washingtonville, N.Y. The international study abroad experience is “one of the most attractive features of the MBA program. We worked with professional companies and experienced a different lifestyle. It was unbelievable.”

The 2023 MBA cohort traveled to Athens, Greece, from March 25 through April 2, to work as crisis management consultants to four businesses as part of the business program’s international learning experience. RWU’s Mario J. Gabelli School of Business partnered with the American College of Greece (ACG) to develop the program, which is funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant. President Ioannis Miaoulis, a native of Greece, facilitated the connection. The grant also funds the program for the 2024 MBA cohort.

Susan McTiernan, Principal Investigator/Director for the project and Associate Professor of Management at RWU, said the crisis consulting component gives students a unique hands-on opportunity that they can add to their portfolios. Crisis management has emerged as a corporate/organizational imperative, and there is a growing demand from business leaders to be more prepared. According to the Conference Board’s C-Suite Outlook 2023, a survey of 670 CEOs around the world, 49% said they are ready for a pandemic or global health crisis; 41% are prepared for cybersecurity crises; and 39% have planned for financial instability.

“Students aren’t just going on a tour of a company,” she said. “We want them to dive deeper and work hand-in-glove with client companies in Greece. This has been an evolution of the core international experience that is built into the Gabelli School’s MBA program.”

Real-World Experience Prepares Students for Business Careers 

The student groups were paired with a company in Greece: OTE, a telecommunications company; the Four Seasons Athens Hotel; Qualco, a financial technology company; and Motodynamics, a sports car and motorcycle distributor.

In their classes at Roger, they studied crisis management, including how to navigate a crisis and pivot during unexpected challenges, such as the 2008 global economic crisis (Greece was one of the worst affected countries) and the Covid-19 pandemic. They connected virtually with the Greek business owners to learn about their companies and industries and explored how they navigated past crises.

Once in Athens, the students met in person with the business representatives and began preparing their own analyses of the business’s response to crisis. The highlight of the trip was the last day when each group presented their recommendations for what worked and didn’t work well in their client company’s crisis management responses.

“They were very open and interested in what we had to say,” said Turcott, whose group consulted for Qualco and learned about how the company transitioned to a hybrid workplace during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The experience has set him up for professional success, he said. “Being able to say I conducted business with a company across the world: that’s attractive for employers. It’s also made me more excited to get into the workforce.”

Olivia McLaughlin ’22, M’23, of Bel Air, Md., was part of a group that consulted for telecommunications company OTE, which she compared to Verizon or T-Mobile. OTE’s leaders also appreciated her group’s recommendations and feedback, she said.

“They gave us so much information. We looked at their financial reports. We were really able to benefit from the time we had with them and getting to learn how to do business in Greece,” she said. “It was very impactful.”

McLaughlin said the experience has prepared her professionally for a job with the Green Beret Foundation after she graduates in May. The position will require her to travel and meet with different donors, and her time in Greece taught her how to adapt to different business styles and rise to the occasion in the case of a crisis. “It’s given me the confidence to communicate with all types of people,” she said.

Julia McGettigan '22, M'23
Julia McGettigan ’22, M’23 presents her group's analysis of Greek company Motodynamics' response to crisis. 

Matthew Spar ’22, M’23, of Bristol, Conn., said the presentation experience to real business clients was most beneficial. “The walk back to our hotel after presenting felt like we just won a national championship. It was so enriching,” he said. “This is what it means to be part of the RWU MBA program.”

During the nine-day program, the students also attended lectures by faculty at the ACG’s Alba Graduate Business School and visited cultural sites, including the Acropolis.

“The trip has exceeded all of our expectations,” McTiernan said. “The students learned an incredible amount about themselves and their capabilities. They grew in so many ways that they can’t in a traditional classroom setting. Getting them into the field is key. They returned more confident and aware of their place in the world.”

For Julia McGettigan ’22, M’23, whose group consulted for Motodynamics, the experience taught her how to get out of her comfort zone, both personally and professionally. After Roger, McGettigan, of Portland, Maine, aims to work for a big advertising agency, most of which are international.

“Through this experience, I have been able to learn more about cultural differences and how to work in a global virtual team with a significant time difference,” she said. “The international experience in Greece has definitely helped prepare me for my career.”

To help regional businesses learn to better manage crises, some of the cohort will take part in a crisis management symposium in October where they will share the lessons they learned with business owners in Rhode Island.