By Briahnna Brown
Since the coronavirus pandemic shifted everyone indoors, Anna Helm, assistant teaching professor of international business in the George Washington University School of Business, has dedicated the little free time she has between raising her three sons and teaching to give students a virtual international business experience.
Dr. Helm, who also serves as faculty director of GW’s Center for International Business Education and Research (GW-CIBER), would normally be spending her summer in Sweden where she is originally from and where most of her family still lives. However, the global travel restrictions in response to COVID-19 prevent her from being able to visit.
The situation around COVID-19 also impacted GW students and recent graduates who lost internship and job opportunities, Dr. Helm said, so with the GW-CIBER team she decided to offer a nine-week international business bootcamp for student and alumni participants to work on export strategies for real clients while learning from guest speakers across the country. Dr. Helm said she wanted to do something positive for the students and allow them to get reacquainted with the “nitty-gritty” of international trade. In the GW-CIBER Bootcamp, students are also preparing to sit for NASBITE’s exam to become a Certified Global Business Professional (CGBP).
While some fields may be more wary of the transition to virtual learning, international business already lends itself to a virtual format, Dr. Helm said.
"There's always a necessity in international business to conduct some of it virtually—whether it be by phone or email or through video conference calls,” Dr. Helm said. “I think it's a really excellent preparation for our future international business professionals because there will always be a geographic distance between countries."
As GW transitions to online-only instruction for the fall semester, Dr. Helm is adapting a virtual simulation from the online MBA course she teaches to her undergraduate International Marketing Management course.
In the semester-long simulation, known as CountryManager, student teams will implement a hypothetical market entry and expansion strategy in Latin America or Asia. The program responds to the business decisions the student teams make over the simulated years, and students have the opportunity to learn and reflect on the impact of their marketing strategy.
In their teams, students will need to analyze the countries’ political and economic stability, assess the competition, study consumer shopping habits and take note of trade agreements in order to select products, set prices, decide on distribution channels and create advertising campaigns. Additionally, students will learn from S. Qaisar Shareef, a former country manager with Procter & Gamble, as a guest speaker, Dr. Helm said, and students will study his memoir “When Tribesmen Came Calling.”
"They will hear from him throughout the course about how the real world actually handles international marketing operations, and then at the same time execute their own strategy in the CountryManager simulation,” Dr. Helm said. “This will give students an opportunity to really connect theory and practice and the classroom with the real world.”
Dr. Helm said that she loves this course because it approaches international business from numerous angles—from textbook theory to practical execution in the simulation to the literary aspect of the memoir. The international business classroom, whether in-person or virtual, is about experiential learning, Dr. Helm said, and having students develop skills they will use in their careers is key to that learning. This semester will be the first time this course is offered online for undergraduate students, so she is looking forward to seeing students adapt to the online-only learning environment.
"It is easy to be invisible in a virtual class, but it is really important for students to step up, make sure that they speak up, that they are engaged, that they ask and answer questions, that they participate in breakout rooms and polling activities,” Dr. Helm said.
“Make your voice heard,” she said. “It's easy to hide, but this is such a great opportunity to practice for the future, for the real world of working professionally in international business.”