UT program has a worldwide following
By JOHN PETRIMOULX
TAMPA -- A year ago, Punam Ghimire was working in Katmandu for a Nepalese tourism promotion agency. Then she decided she needed a broader education to boost her career.
Despite a world economic slowdown and closer scrutiny of foreign students since Sept. 11, the UT School of Business has little problem retaining its cosmopolitan flavor. About a fourth of the 400 students enrolled in the school's flagship MBA program hail from distant shores.
Their experiences while studying here say a lot about how the world is growing smaller. But they also provide evidence of the many differences that still remain.
Frederic Halt was finishing an international business degree at Eckerd College when he heard about UT's new MBA in entrepreneurial studies. Though only 25, Halt had already started one business in his native Switzerland and has plans for a second.
His first venture grew out of a passion for sports and fitness. "I was a drill instructor for the Swiss army and a member of a Swiss water ski team," he says. "I wanted to match my personal values with my work."
Halt and two partners came up with the idea for a hardcover comic book warning kids of the danger of illegal stimulants commonly used by athletes. It is now distributed in six European countries.
He wants to follow up with a similar book that focuses on the illegal substances people take simply to feel good.
But Halt says he is having a hard time with American attitudes toward goals.
"It's a very aggressive, in-your-face style," he says. Halt cites the example of starting a new business. "People really believe they can do it despite the fact that most who start businesses will fail."
Like Ghimire, Kalu Kalu researched UT on the Internet before deciding to enroll.
He already had a degree in electrical engineering and a job with an American oil company in his native Nigeria. But he wanted formal business training.
Now Kalu, 29, works as a graduate assistant in the UT computer center, where he provides technical support to the online school community. He is close to completing an MBA in information technology.
He says American individualism is the biggest difference he has experienced here.
"In Nigeria, each person has a larger network," Kalu says. "And there are closer relationships with elders and children."
Kalu is sometimes mystified at the contradictions he sees between what Americans teach and what they practice.
Though people here don't appear to have time for the number and depth of relationships he is used to back home, Kalu says business strategies teach "relationship management" and "value-added management."
Both are concepts, he says, that require creating close relationships with customers to anticipate and serve their needs.
Olessia Gapottchenko and Mikhail Tchoursine, both 25, are close to completing MBAs in finance.
The couple met in college in central Russia and spent summers in the United States on work exchange programs. Gapottchenko first worked for a Xerox dealer. Then the couple joined a commodities trading company in Moscow, where they experienced the nascent Russian financial industry firsthand.
For all its might, they say, the U.S. financial system can still be less flexible than its Russian counterparts.
While such a thought might give an American pause, Gapottchenko explains the difference.
"The biggest thing about doing business in Russia is that people mean more than the law," she says.
Gapottchenko cites the example of change at the Russian space program.
"Remember the man who paid $20-million to go into space?" she asks. "He couldn't do that in the U.S. because of the rules. But I'm sure he just talked to some people in Russia and they let him do it."
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