Vanderbilt’s crash course in American business and culture helps international students, such as Ngoc (Angie) Nguyen, from Vietnam, feel right at home and ready to thrive.
By Brett Israel
Downtown at the Wildhorse
Two weeks before their American classmates arrived at Vanderbilt, a bus full of incoming students from China, Mexico, India, Peru, Vietnam, Germany and several other countries pulled up to the curb on Second Avenue in downtown Nashville. The students nervously stepped off the bus and then through swinging doors to the world famous Wildhorse Saloon.
The Wildhorse is a honky-tonk. A big honky-tonk. It’s loud and rowdy and where Nashville goes to line dance. Two-step in the wrong direction on this dance floor and a southerner might not be so hospitable. So naturally, the Wildhorse is where this new class of international students at the Owen Graduate School of Management began their Music City MBA. They were here to get a world-class education in Nashville’s country music culture.
The Wildhorse Saloon outing was more than just beer and dancing; the honky-tonk was a classroom. For international students to succeed in an American business school—and in American business—a crash course in culture is a prerequisite, especially in a city with a culture as unique as Nashville’s.
The students walked onto the dance floor of the Wildhorse as 27 individuals. By the time they left, they had not only learned to dance the okie doke together without knocking each other down, but they had bonded as a class, high-fiving and hugging after each song. By the end of the three-week program known as U.S. Business Communication and Culture (a.k.a USBCC)—weeks filled with baseball and bowling and learning how to thrive in a U.S. business school and how to network like an American—they were primed for whatever business school, Nashville and life in the United States of America could throw their way.
Amit Sharma (MBA’17, Operations), from Jaipur, India, was a senior software engineer at Samsung before coming to Vanderbilt. Credit: Daniel DuBois/Vanderbilt
No hiding allowed
Business education at Vanderbilt is team-oriented. Students can’t hide in lecture halls here, so Owen staff makes sure that incoming international students are ready to contribute ideas and solve problems with their American teammates. Many of the incoming international students are quick to note that the USBCC program was a big selling point. Other schools may offer a similar program, but they can’t match Nashville’s culture. [Learn more about international student life at Vanderbilt and Nashville]
After the USBCC program, Amit Sharma, from Jaipur, India, says he was ready to break out of the comfort zone of his fellow international students and network like an American.
“With USBCC, I bonded earlier with my peer group,” Sharma says. “If I would have come at the same time as the Americans, there might have been some isolation or pressure from just jumping in with this big group.”
Daniel Haase (MBA’17, Finance), from Frankfurt, Germany, was a financial account for Julius Berger before coming to Vanderbilt. Credit: Daniel DuBois/Vanderbilt
When Daniel Haase arrived in Nashville from Frankfurt, Germany, his first helping of southern hospitality came when he rode an MTA bus.
“What I like is that when you ride the bus, everyone thanks the driver when they get off the bus,” Haase says. “It’s pretty cool.”
Arriving in Nashville before his American classmates helped him acclimate to the culture and get comfortable with his new city before the deluge of course work hit.
“I learned how to interact in class, how to react when a professor calls on you and things like that,” Haase says. “We don’t have that in Germany at all. In business classes there, you sometimes have 500 people in the classroom. Everyone just sits there for four hours, the professor talks, and then you go home. It’s nothing like that at Owen.”
USBCC classmates bonding over beers at the wildhorse saloon. Left to right: Ankur Jain, Rahul Vellaichamy, Winston, Ling, Amit Sharma, Harkirat Sareen. Credit: Brett Israel/Vanderbilt
The food’s not bad either
Sharma, who wants to be a product manager at a company like Google, loved his USBCC classes and the opportunity to practice case competitions.
“The classes were awesome. Giving presentations and doing case studies, that is totally different than back in India,” Sharma says. “I’m not a big fan of public speaking, but my instructor gave me very good pointers, like how to not appear that you are nervous even if you are, and how to take pauses and all those things. It was wonderful.
“I never expected people to be this nice,” Sharma says. “And I never expected that I would find good Indian restaurants here. I recently went to Woodlands, and I felt like I was at home.”
Ngoc (Angie) Nguyen (MBA’17, Operations) from Haiduong, Vietnam, was an internal control executive at Vietnamobile before coming to Vanderbilt. Credit: Daniel DuBois/Vanderbilt
Ngoc Nguyen, known to her classmates as Angie, had never been to the United States before arriving at Vanderbilt. In fact, she had never left Vietnam. She arrived in Nashville for her American adventure on July 11, four days before the USBCC program began. For Angie, the program was a chance to work out the kinks in her English before needing to speak in front of a packed classroom.
“My English was not good at first,” Nguyen says. “The first day I came to the U.S., I thought everybody would understand me. But after a few days, I talked to some friends and I asked them, ‘Do you understand what I’m saying?’ They said that they were trying but they couldn’t catch the point I was trying to convey.
“With USBCC we had English class every morning, and that really helped me a lot to improve my pronunciation, improve my confidence in presentation and get information about U.S. culture.”
Nashville sounds baseball
The USBCC students and staff at a Nashville Sounds baseball game, a first for many students.
Winners of the USBCC case competition won a dinner with Dean Johnson (middle, left) and other Owen School staff.