This year’s Dean’s Scholars traveled to Singapore, Vietnam and China to study human resources abroad.
As an associate professor of psychology and organizational sciences, David Costanza specializes in teaching students how organizations develop and deliver their human resource systems. He took his lessons further this summer—almost 10,000 miles further—when he led students through Singapore, Vietnam and China as part of the Dean’s Scholars in Globalization program.
The Dean’s Scholars in Globalization program began in 2004. Offered through the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the highly selective program offers students a chance to add global experiences to their education. Students complete coursework throughout the academic year before conducting research in host countries, exploring a different topic each year.
This year’s theme revolved around how culture impacts the structures of multinational organizations. Dr. Costanza, who is also the director of the Industrial/Organizational Psychology doctoral program, explained that as more organizations become globalized and open international locations, it’s crucial for students to understand how national culture affects the basics of human resources, like recruiting, selection, performance appraisals and compensation.
“Globalization has a huge impact on the way organizations function,” said Sara Wainer, B.A. ’13. She was one of eight students who went on the trip.
“It was a rare opportunity to learn firsthand from successful organizations about the HR challenges that come with operating in different cultures,” she said.
Dr. Costanza is familiar with putting together international study tours after guiding students through Eastern Europe two years ago and China in 2008. He agreed to lead this year’s Dean’s Scholars and began drafting a travel itinerary.
Singapore and China were central to the trip, especially because of GW’s longstanding relationship with the National University of Singapore. To offer contrast, Dr. Costanza introduced Vietnam to the schedule. The country has geographical, cultural and historical similarities to the other two, but big economic and political differences.
“I wanted something that was still developing and a little bit further behind economically,” Dr. Costanza said. “This was a chance for students to say, ‘I think I know what the culture is, but how does economic development, history and politics affect how the organizations operate?’”
Although traveling abroad is a key piece of the Dean’s Scholars program, the students’ first lessons began locally. They went on site visits to IKEA in College Park, Md. and Gallup in Washington, D.C. Dr. Costanza also arranged meetings with representatives from the insurance group AIG and the U.S. Department of State. Through these activities, students gained an understanding of how major organizations and businesses align human resources structures in the United States. Dr. Costanza hoped they’d be able to draw comparisons once they witnessed the operations of organizations overseas.
The 17-day travel portion of the program kicked off right after graduation on May 20. The first stop was Singapore, where the agenda included spending time at Gallup, ANZ Bank and real estate company CapitaLand Limited. Then, the group was off to Ernst & Young and the U.S. embassy in Ho Chi Minh City. Their final destination in Beijing boasted visits to IKEA and Microsoft, paralleling what they’d seen in the United States.
Each country provided eye-opening experiences for students like Patrick Flynn, B.A. ’13, who had never previously traveled outside of America. Vietnam, for example, gave him a chance to witness history from another angle.
“[It was] enlightening to see how the Vietnam War is portrayed from the opposite perspective,” he said.
Ms. Wainer said she learned how the country’s relatively early stages of development and local culture have a significant impact on communication and HR practices in Vietnam.
“The U.S.-based corporations we visited faced challenges balancing organizational and local culture,” she said.
The experience also gave Ms. Wainer valuable insight about the challenges of HR and organizational sciences.
“In studying HR practices and globalization, I learned there isn't one perfect road map to achieving organizational goals. In organizational sciences we search for patterns, but ultimately, organizations have to decide which strategy works best,” she said. “This challenge, however, is what makes studying organizations so interesting.”
But the lessons of the Dean’s Scholars in Globalization program went beyond this year’s theme. There was plenty of sightseeing planned and the scholars got a chance to soak in the rich culture of each country. Pictures capture the students posing in Singapore’s Sri Mariamman Temple, squeezing through the tunnels of Cu Chi in Vietnam and even biting into durian, a thorn-covered fruit notorious in Asia for its strong odor.
“Overall, I think it is clear that this kind of learning is not something that can happen in a classroom,” Dr. Costanza said. “The students have to experience it firsthand to really understand the impact, and this trip afforded them the opportunity to do so.”