Graduate students expand minds, experiences

Lyon study abroad program iaelyon school of management
Thursday, February 22, 2024
Study abroad program features immersive opportunities

As he joined other commuters on the Lyon tram on brisk winter mornings, UNC Charlotte graduate student Thomas Landis felt immersed in the daily life of the French city. Strolling in historic settings, Christine Langenfeld sensed the significance of the centuries-old architecture that surrounded her. Talking with French students in class and with UNC Charlotte peers at dinner, William Lin grew more confident in his communication skills.

These discoveries and more characterized the experiences of the Belk College of Business scholars and their 16 fellow master’s students who studied abroad this January at iaelyon School of Management. There, they took classes with students and faculty from around the globe, visited local industry, explored the city — and broadened their minds.

"A global focus goes beyond the experiences of being a student in class," said Belk College Interim Dean Dolly King, who led the study abroad trip with Vidya Prabhakar, associate director for MBA programs planning and operations. "We have to have a global mindset. We need to appreciate people with different cultures and different social backgrounds. We are all different, and with a global mindset, we learn to respect each other."

During the January trip, faculty came to the Lyon campus from an array of countries as part of iaelyon’s 18th annual International Week. The iaelyon School of Management is part of Jean Moulin University Lyon 3, a partner with Charlotte for the past 35 years.

Varied options offer opportunities

On this most recent trip, informal opportunities the Belk College scholars found were significant, much as the formal learning experiences were.

"Discussing the learning experience with other Charlotte students was very meaningful to me," MBA student Lin said. "Because most of us participated in different seminar topics, through our discussions I not only learned about the content and conduct of other seminars but more importantly, I learned about American students’ attitudes and perspectives on studying abroad. Also, it was a fabulous experience to hear each student share his or her background and life story while we had dinner together. Through studying abroad this time, I not only gained some understanding of French culture but also gained a better understanding of American culture."

For Lin, an international student from Taiwan, the trip expanded not only his understanding, but also his self-assurance in his language skills.

"In France, classes were taught in English, and all the conversation in class was in English," he said. "I grouped with French students, and English was not their first language either. I suddenly became very good at speaking English. They all counted on me to present our team's opinions, ideas, and results in class. That experience hugely increased my confidence. This is very meaningful and amazing to me."

Students gain understanding

As a leader for this and three previous study abroad trips, King has observed that interactions with each other and with international students and faculty have proven key to expanded knowledge and understanding.

"Being abroad, you have the opportunity to connect with people with whom you usually would not have the opportunity to make connections," King said. "I know that students made connections with the professors, who could be from South America, or could be from Switzerland. They usually would not have the opportunity to make those connections. I know students have made friends with French students. I encouraged students to interact with other students through group work, or group projects. That’s part of the cross-cultural team or collaboration opportunity."

King first pursued the idea for this specific study abroad trip five years ago after observing another U.S. university had incorporated such a trip into iaelyon’s International Week. She had participated as faculty in International Week for several years, with 2024 marking her eighth invitation. She also was interested in contributing to the expansion of Charlotte’s relationship with the French university.

Landis, a Master of Accountancy student, welcomed the opportunity to expand his circle.

"I think the experience will help me be more comfortable approaching and speaking with people from other cultures," he said. "In the seminars we got to speak with a lot of students that are from various cultures and parts of the world. I believe the seminars grew my ability to connect with people and gave me a better understanding of how others outside of America view business and business relationships."

Exploring the city’s everyday life, Landis absorbed what he learned from daily interactions with people around him.

"When you study abroad in one location you get thrown into the routines and customs of the place you are in," he said. "I got to enjoy living how another culture lives. Embracing their way of life gave me an appreciation for not only the people of France but a desire to experience other cultures around the world."

Student finds once-in-a-lifetime experience

Lyon students at the Eiffel TowerMBA student Langenfeld described the study abroad adventure as the trip of a lifetime. A few experiences in particular stood out for her.

"My two favorite things about the trip were the history and the architecture of the community, and secondly, the relationships that I now have with my peers on the trip," she said. "We built relationships that we will have for years to come. I don’t know that we would have pursued these relationships had it not been for this trip. The group was very diverse, and I loved that. Our relationships, in my opinion, are one of the most valuable things that came from the trip."

Someone asked her what she thought of France, and one summative word came to mind. "Everything was small," she said. "The rooms were small, the cars were small, the cafes were small. It was incredibly enriching to know that you could do more with less."

A commitment to public transportation and healthy living, as seen by many people walking and riding bikes, also impressed her. From a practical standpoint, Langenfeld focused on seminars that aligned with her work with a chamber of commerce. "I chose classes that have to do with entrepreneurial co-opetition and collaboration," she said. "I specifically chose those because they will help me bridge some of those concepts with what I do in working with 1,000 businesses of all sizes. It’s really important for making sure we stay forward and proactive in that space."

Leader committed to global education

For the Belk College and for Charlotte, King will continue to pursue opportunities to broaden global education, including building relationships with faculty and leaders from other institutions, such as those she and Prabhakar advanced while in Lyon.

"I am a strong believer that the partnership is not just about maintaining how it is today," she said. "The question is, how do we strengthen it and make it more alive? With this trip abroad, I think it adds quite a lot to the partnership. Partners were very excited to host us. We feel the same way here. We love to have faculty and students come to our campus. Being in person cannot be replaced."

The students who studied abroad on this trip were:

  • Samer Alkhatib
  • Tristan Caffrey
  • Allyson Danaher 
  • Jade Hanafin
  • India Inman
  • Srivalli Kandula
  • Hamad Kashmary
  • Maxine Kooper
  • Thomas Landis
  • Christine Langenfeld
  • Rachel Liang
  • William Lin
  • Sandra Liza
  • Stephanie McDonald
  • Alberto Rosales
  • Sweta Shah
  • Carson Sharawy
  • Anjali Sinha
  • Ranjan Yancharla

Photo, l to r: Carson Sharawy, Christine Langenfeld, Ranjan Yancharla, Anjali Sinha, Srivalli Kandula