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Celebrating 25 years German-American International Business Workshop

25 Years Celebration

HAW Hamburg and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB)

Short programmes are becoming increasingly popular with US students, as they find semester-long programmes difficult to incorporate into their studies and personal situation. Family and work commitments or personal budgets often mean that students feel they cannot be abroad for a longer period of time. In 2020 student exchange became even more difficult with the corona pandemic stopping travel to and from the US. This year, HAW Hamburg and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) celebrate their 25-year old short programme, the German-American International Business Workshop. And coronavirus hasn’t put a stop to it. As in 2020, the workshop in 2021 will take place in a new, extended online format.

The idea for the workshop came from Joachim Kellner, professor emeritus for marketing at HAW Hamburg, Terrence Witkowski, professor emeritus for marketing in the CSULB College of Business and the late Wilm Pelters, CSULB professor for German studies. Starting in 1996, the workshop focused on marketing topics and involved HAW Hamburg professor emeritus, Horst Seider and marketing professor Annette Corves. In the past eight years, the focus has moved to supply chain, international trade and management topics, as new faculty at both universities took over the coordination of the programme. Professor Natalia Ribberink now heads the workshop with her team on the Hamburg side, working with CSULB professors Mark Washburn, Kenji Klein and Ming Chen on content and teaching.

While the business focus has changed over the years, the format remained up to 2019 more or less the same. Prior to the workshop students are involved in a five to six-week research phase in preparation for the joint week together. They are then placed in mixed US-German teams. The in-person workshop consists of lectures, student projects in mixed international teams and company visits – in May/June in Hamburg and in October in Long Beach. After the workshop, students submit a written report about their experiences. 

Ming Chen, a management professor at CSULB, believes the workshop plays an important role in student education, particularly for first-generation college students: “I think the most important thing students are getting out of this workshop is an international perspective. It enables them to see how things are done differently outside the US. International education is not about learning concepts from the book. It’s about learning by doing. In my opinion, the format of this workshop perfectly achieves this purpose.” Another important aspect of this workshop is team-building. Sabine Reddy, Associate Dean for Administration in the College of Business at CSULB, also taught in the early years of the workshop and helped build connections between the US and her home country. She adds: “The workshop creates a cross-cultural encounter, preparing students for work in global teams. It also gives them a first-hand cultural encounter with local students and businesses.”

Over the years, participating students have been given a behind-the-scenes look at a wide variety of companies. From UPS, Toyota, Long Beach port and United Airlines in the US to Philips, Siemens, Lufthansa Technik and Olympus in Germany, company executives have helped them understand how international businesses work in a global market. Natalia Ribberink is a passionate believer in the workshop: “The practical aspect of studies is a key focus at a university of applied sciences and the German-American International Business Workshop offers students just that. By visiting companies in the U.S. and in Germany, it enriches their theoretical business studies and academic experience with real-life international business insights. By having the opportunity to talk to members of the international business community they often make important connections for their future career. US student, Lexi Sage, for example, participated in 2014, where she visited Volkswagen as part of the workshop. In 2018 this was a key factor to her being offered a job with VW America in Washington DC. Today she works for VW in Berlin.”

It is therefore a measure of the strength of the relationship between the universities, that when the corona pandemic struck in 2020, the workshop wasn’t cancelled. Instead, the team developed a virtual concept spread over a period of seven weeks in November/December. Under the academic supervision of Natalia Ribberink and Mark Washburn, 35 students in mixed US-German teams bridged the Atlantic and the time difference. Working on a topic that couldn’t have been more topical: “Sources of competitive advantage in the digital economy”, they were offered an insight into online businesses such as Amazon, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as the digital strategies of Nike, Volkswagen and Hapag-Lloyd. Company representatives set research assignments from their corporate perspective and guided the students throughout the workshop.

Looking to the next round of virtual workshops in 2021, Mark Washburn says, “The success of this programme stems from the students at both universities. They are genuinely interested in meeting each other and many form friendships that continue long after the workshop is over. The pandemic has caused a great deal of isolation, but this programme has allowed students who are a world apart to connect with each other and to see how much they have in common. While the workshop is technically short-term, the preparation, immersion, and subsequent reflection make an incredibly powerful learning experience. It is one of the best opportunities our Business Schools have to offer.”

College of Business 
California State University Long Beach