Once per semester, College of St. Scholastica Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Arts in Management (MAM) students have the opportunity to experience foreign cultures on Global Capstone trips. These excursions serve as a sort of dynamic immersion — students travel with college faculty and staff to study how business is conducted while at the same time having an unforgettable adventure.
This year, 13 students embarked on a week-long trip to Cuba from April 15-22; it was just the second group from CSS to venture to the Caribbean island since travel restrictions were relaxed.
Dean of the School of Business and Technology, Lynne Hamre, said she could have picked from many destinations, but this one was unique.
"We decided to go to Cuba because I thought it would be interesting to study how we'd do business there if the United States decided to normalize relations," Hamre said. "In April 2015, I started working with a company that specializes in capstone experiences, and they helped us with all of the student visas and other travel requirements."
MBA candidate and Director of Education at Duluth Children's Museum, Drew Jensen, said he fell in love with the sights and sounds of the country.
"Our tour guide was amazing and was candid in her responses to our questions," he said. "I fell in love with the architecture, food and the natural beauty found in Cuba. I also came to appreciate the modern amenities and free market structure that we have here in the United States."
Another student who participated, MBA/MAM candidate Mara Jindeel, spoke about the difficulties Cubans face in a stifling political environment.
"I got to see firsthand the impact of politics on business and entrepreneurship. If the government restricts free enterprise, it is difficult for people to truly be innovative and start their own companies," she said. "Learning about the challenges Cubans face in running their own businesses made it starkly clear how much easier it is to be an entrepreneur in other countries."
The group visited and studied a wide range of businesses, but no experience was more widely recalled than a simple tour of a tobacco farm.
"Even though it was not scheduled, [the farmer] Benito invited us into his home for coffee and rum after giving us a demonstration on how he rolls his own cigars," said MBA/MAM candidate Abigail Shubat, a supervisor with United Healthcare. "He also bought the whole group fresh pineapple from another local farmer saying we had to try the ‘best pineapple in the world' — it really was. He was so proud of his farm, tobacco, and being Cuban that it was inspiring to get to talk with him."
Nathan Helder — another MBA/MAM candidate — said the contrast between the United States and Cuba was driven home when he resumed his American life.
"To be honest, the largest impact was upon returning home — we have so much here, and appreciate it all so little," said Helder, an ITS manager at ALLETE, Inc. "For Cuba, ‘history' is more recent — what they consider their Independence Day is less than a generation old."