Brandeis International Business School

The trip of a lifetime

Alumni reflect on career-changing power of Hassenfeld Immersion Program during first-ever virtual reunion

Dozens of Hassenfeld Immersion fellow alumni met via Zoom on July 22 to talk about the impact the trips have had on their lives and careers.

Dozens of Hassenfeld Immersion fellow alumni met via Zoom on July 22 to talk about the impact the trips have had on their lives and careers.

They learned lessons about business, culture, people — and the intersection of all three — that they apply to their professional lives every day. Some even met their future spouses.

Over the last decade, the Hassenfeld Immersion Program has taken hundreds of Brandeis International Business School students on an insider’s tour of dynamic overseas markets, including in Cuba, Turkey, Israel and China.

During a virtual reunion last week, dozens of former Hassenfeld fellows shared how much the immersion trips have meant to their lives and careers.

“This trip was a huge contributing factor to how I think about the world and how I understand problems,” said Jennifer Gibson, MBA ’12, who went to Cuba.

After being admitted to the program, Hassenfeld fellows learn about the politics, culture and economy of the country they will visit to understand the context in which people do business.

During meetings in Havana, Kim Meyers, MA ’13 remembered being surprised to learn that so many new business owners were more or less starting from scratch. Without the benefit of an established entrepreneurial ecosystem, they had no choice but to get creative. Often that meant partnering with local church groups to market themselves and their products to their fellow Cubans.

“I haven’t started my own business yet, but I just joined a startup as employee number three and that experience in Cuba has really stuck with me,” said Meyers.

Meyers also met her husband, Thomas Weaver, MA ’12, through the Hassenfeld program.

Arlenys Reyes ’19, MA ’20, a Hassenfeld fellow who visited Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China, moderated the event after first pitching the idea of a reunion.

“I always knew I wanted to go to China,” said Reyes. “But I did not think it would be in a context where I would be able to learn and experience the intersections of business and culture.”

Alan Hassenfeld, co-chair of the International Business School’s Board of Advisors and the retired chairman and CEO of the global toy company Hasbro, was introduced at the beginning of the virtual reunion by Brandeis University President Ron Liebowitz.

Hassenfeld said he helped found the Hassenfeld Immersion Program because he wanted the International Business School to be able to teach emerging business leaders about the importance of cross-cultural understanding. 

“If you understand another culture, history and language, you can affect change because change comes from inside,” said Hassenfeld. “You can knock down walls and perceptions.”

Hassenfeld chose Cuba as the program’s inaugural trip in the early 2010s because he was intrigued by a country that was tentatively testing free-market reforms.

Today, the program typically holds two trips per academic year. Fast-emerging markets like India and China remain a focus along with Israel, where fellows are introduced to the country’s vibrant tech and venture capital culture.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has put a temporary hold on the immersion trips, program organizers are hopeful for the resumption of normal activities next year.

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