Study Abroad: My Experience with Professional Development

This study abroad experience, as my first study abroad experience, has challenged me to think differently not only about our region or industry of study, but about myself and how I fit into the “professional” world. As a first year student, I’ve spent most of my first two semesters trying to figure out what educational path I want to head down and whether or not my current path is a good fit for what I want to get out of my life and the impact I want to make. I’m currently declared as a marketing major with Japanese and studio art minors. Business is something that appeals to me because of its openness to possibility. There’s ample opportunity for creative and international work, two things very important to me (as shown by my minors). But, one thing I’ve been struggling with in all of my studies is the lack of direct humanity business provides. Don’t get me wrong; I’m one of the first people to argue against the many who believe that being a business major lacks “morals” or can’t provide a direct, positive impact on people’s lives. That’s blatantly untrue. Because of that openness, business majors go into fields that do everything from non-profit and community-building work, to developing and promoting products that ease some of the hardships of society (or, just make people happy!). But, as I visited the offices of Cheetah Mobile and Microsoft, I couldn’t help but feel it was not the place for me. Though the fun, creative environment of Cheetah Mobile and the air of innovation-induced excitement at Microsoft were certainly attractive, what really spoke to me was our visit to the Children’s Village. Social justice and psychology are two subjects also near and dear to my heart, specifically in both cases in regards to the importance of stable and enriching early-life development. I’ve always felt that company and site visits were an effective way of actually getting a feel for what I can truly get behind 100% and put all of my energy behind, and I felt that those three visits, as well as my great interest throughout the trip in just learning about the people and how they live, has helped me get a clearer idea of what I want out of my professional life.

Now that I’ve given you a complete overview of a year’s worth of ponderings, let me actually get into the questions asked.

Ethical Issues in My Profession: I’ve talked about this briefly above, but one of the major ones (for me at least) is the trade-off between maximizing wealth of the shareholders (a common goal for most, if not all, for-profit firms) and the wellbeing of as many members of society as possible. With working in business, you constantly have to make decisions that will pose some sort of detriment (to people, the environment, etc.) in order to maximize income for your firm. This is a trade-off that is unavoidable, and to be fair isn’t exclusive to business, but can be especially difficult to grapple with when you yourself, as well as the people in your firm who you may have grown quite fond of, are stakeholders in the firm’s success.

Educational Breadth as Professional Development: This is a tough one for me. I’m one to heavily stand behind the importance of a variety of educational backgrounds in regards to professional, and personal, development. Very few things are cut-and-dry one subject, making knowledge of a variety of fields an advantage. This study abroad trip was definitely an example of that. You could be the smartest, most charismatic businessperson or engineer, but without any knowledge of the other, or the cultural and historical background of China, you would not be successful trying to work in China. Our group projects would not have been relevant if we hadn’t spent a week doing field studies before trying to tackle an issue in China. That being said, I do believe in some cases breadth must be sacrificed for depth, just due to the limitations of time, finances, and human brain capacity. Some fields, though of course in a perfect world would benefit from a wide array of knowledge, require more depth than others. Therefore, in order to be effective in those professional fields, one must devote their time almost solely to one or a small number of subjects. I suppose this is the argument between the push for a liberal arts education vs. professional schooling.

Lifelong Learning, Continuing Education as Professional Development: Also a big one for me. Whether you’re trying to or not, you’re always learning more and more about the world around you. But, it’s easy to become passive once you leave the formal confines of academia. The world around us is constantly changing, so to rely on what you learned years ago is to give in to ignorance. On our trip, we heard a lot about how rapidly China has changed over the past 30, 20, even 10 years. If you shut your mind down to seeking out new information, you couldn’t possibly work effectively in any field with widespread change coming so quickly.

The Social Environment of Professional Life: To me, this was most prominently shown when comparing our Cheetah Mobile visit to our TE Connectivity visit. The difference between the workspace was stark; Cheetah Mobile stressed the lighthearted, personal side of its environment by providing daycare, multiple non-work-related outlets in-house, and a workspace conducive to collaboration and creativity, while TE Connectivity stressed the importance of effectiveness and quality in its environment with its industrial decor, somewhat chastising signs, and systematic workflow. Which kind of environment produced better work? I wasn’t able to tell. Though to be fair, Cheetah Mobile and TE Connectivity are firms producing two very different types of products and therefore require different goals, which (at least from what I’ve gathered from my Organizational Behavior class) requires very different types of motivators and environments (seeing as we’re dealing with more creative work vs. more systematic work).

Functioning of Multidisciplinary Teams: This was a very cool part of the trip to me. I’ve never worked on a team for a specific project where everyone had a particular, but different, (relative) expertise. Having both engineers and businesspeople present definitely helped when trying to come up with a product and business plan; personally as a businessperson, I don’t think I would have even come up with our idea just because I don’t follow tech developments as closely as a computer engineer would. That being said, there are definitely some hardships that come along with working with different levels of knowledge in varying subjects; often we had to spend more time explaining how certain business or engineering principles functioned because of the lack of knowledge of our other-schooled counterparts. That extra explaining is not necessarily a bad thing; by forcing us to explain our thinking in a more detailed manner, we not only were able to exchange knowledge, but were forced to closely analyze and slow down our thought processes which helped us notice ideas and mistakes.

What was supposed to be a 250 word blog has turned into a 1,200+ one, but what can I say: these two weeks in China have given me a lot to talk about 🙂

One Comment Add yours

  1. leilipitt2017 says:

    Next year I will ask students to submit 1200-word blog:)

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