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By Jeffrey Boxer '13
Waltham, Mass., July 13, 2012—A young program that began with promise and has helped hundreds of students has matured into an adult. Brandeis International Business School’s (IBS) World Financial Centers program celebrated its 13th year last week—the age that Jewish children typically celebrate their B’nai Mitzvah and enter into adulthood—with a six-day trip to Germany.
A group of 29 Masters of Science in Finance (MSF) students arrived in the central-European country on June 30 for a week of tours, talks and adventures. The students, along with several faculty members, spent two days in Leipzig and one in the southwestern city of Freiberg before finishing their trip with three days in Berlin.
“It was really exciting,” Shengsheng Fu, MSF ’12 said. “There were a lot of opportunities to talk to and learn from different people from universities, the media and the government, and it was interesting being there in the middle of all this uncertainty surrounding the [European financial crisis].”
An annual tradition at Brandeis IBS, the World Financial Centers Seminars are always held in a leading global financial center, and are planned in collaboration with local financial and academic institutions. Previous trips have taken students everywhere from giant metropolises such as London and Tokyo to emerging economies such as Chile and Turkey.
“A lot of [other business schools] are starting to do this, but they simply go meet some business people and write a business plan,” said John Ballantine, a senior lecturer who traveled to Germany with the group and has gone on several other World Financial Centers trips. “Ours is about what it’s like as a country as well as its economic and business climate. It’s a broader, more multidisciplinary program.”
The German edition began in Leipzig, where students explored the city and toured BMW’s new massive “Megacity” electric car facility. “It was a really modern place,” said Umesh Shelat, MSF ’12. “I wasn't expecting such advanced electronics and robotics from a former communist territory, and I was impressed with the way Leipzig integrated western industrial ideologies into their culture.” A few students even took the time to soak in a Bach concert, before the whole group visited Verbundnetz Gas AG (VNG), a natural gas company, where they toured the trading floor, learned about European energy policies and met with Dr. Klaus Barbknecht, a VNG executive board member who was a guest lecturer at Brandeis IBS last fall.
In Berlin the group connected with local political and business leaders, including representatives from OECD Berlin and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, journalists from the Springer Group, and Alexander Schindler, a member of the Union Asset Management Executive Board, and another former guest lecturer at Brandeis IBS. “The lectures were highly informative from a policy, historical and economic perspective,” Shelat said. “They clearly and persuasively described the important business issues in Germany today.”
As the WFC program matures beyond its 13th birthday, the program will continue to be an important aspect of the multicultural, multidisciplinary curriculum at Brandeis IBS. “It’s a unique experience,” Fu concluded. “I learned a great deal about a culture that I knew very little about, heard some great talks, saw some amazing sights, and got to eat some amazing food and have a lot of fun while doing it.”