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Marshall School of Business: Freeman interns find no substitute for doing business abroad

The first summer of the USC-Freeman Fellows Internship Program was a ringing success: 23 students have returned to school this year with weeks of valuable experience in Asian culture and business under their belt, increased confidence and broadened ambitions.

They will share their experiences at a public seminar to be held in the Andrus Gerontology Center Auditorium on Nov. 6 from 1 to 3 p.m. The event will kick off recruitment for next year’s crop of interns.

The Freeman Program provided the interns’ air fare, lodging and other necessities and placed them according to their interests with companies -– many of which had USC alumni in their upper management – throughout East Asia for eight to 10 weeks.

Many of the returned students said they discovered resources in themselves and changed their life’s goals as a result of the program.

“This experience has really opened my mind to the world,” said Lauren Fong, a senior business major who worked for a financial company in Tokyo. “It made me realize that I want to work outside America. I want to be influenced by other cultures.”

Erica Brescia, a junior majoring in business administration who worked for a Hong Kong bank, said, “It changed my entire world view, and how I feel about my place in it. It opened up doors that I never even knew were there. Asia will definitely be involved in my future plans, and Hong Kong will always hold a special place in my heart.”

The language and culture barriers, which at first felt daunting to many, often ended up providing valuable lessons and skills.

“I learned a great deal about non-verbal communication, since I don’t speak a word of Cantonese,” said Brescia. “I am much more perceptive now than before my trip.”

Others found the cultural differences to be useful in their future plans.

“There are a lot of intricate details that you can’t pick up from reading a book,” said Joshua Martin, an international relations junior who worked with a conglomerate in Hiroshima, Japan. “It’s all well and good to read about Japanese business culture, but when you’re going to actually do business with the Japanese, there’s no substitute for having had that real experience. This gave me confidence that I could go back and get those details right, which will reflect well on [me and my company].”

Ryan Lynch, a senior majoring in civil engineering who worked with Korean Airlines in Seoul, agreed. “It’s expanded my horizons and what I consider my possibilities for the future. It gave me confidence in myself that I could do it again: After this, I know I’m never going to let travel or distance or culture be issues that prevent me from doing what I want to do.”

Jeffrey Lasker, a junior in international relations and environmental studies who worked in the American embassy in Manila, said, “I developed a deep understanding of both Philippine culture and business attitudes. My view of life has become much more diverse. Working abroad has encouraged me to find a career in the international field.

“The experiences of the Freeman Fellows demonstrate why it is so important for American students to go overseas to study and participate in internship programs,” said Michael L. Jackson, vice president for student affairs. “They learned a lot about themselves, how important it is to be able to adapt to different cultures, and that they have something to contribute to business enterprises in foreign countries.

With only 25 slots available next summer, once again there will be more companies requesting interns than USC can send, and more students desiring an internship than the current program can provide.

The administration hopes that many more USC students will eventually be accepted. The summers of 2001 and 2002 are pilot runs for the Freeman Program; if it is deemed successful, the program may be expanded.

“We eventually want to ramp this up to include a couple of hundred students a year,” said Richard Drobnick, vice provost for international affairs and director of the USC Marshall School’s Center for International Business. “It seems to be going very well so far. Most of the students said they thought they had made positive contributions to their intern sponsors, and the evaluations from the intern sponsors were almost all positive. Most said they would like another intern next year.”

The internship program was made possible by a $326,000 grant from the private New York-based Freeman Foundation, which works to promote understanding between the United States and its Pacific Rim partners and funds many Asian studies programs throughout the country. USC Office of Career Services and Office of International Services were instrumental in recruiting and selecting students.

Marshall School of Business: Freeman interns find no substitute for doing business abroad

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