TCU International Study Trips Part 3: South Africa

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The Neeley School of Business’ international study trips enable students to see business through a global lens. Students who take these trips are able to talk with global executives firsthand to get a better understanding of various aspects of international business, including marketing, manufacturing, distribution and more.

Students have the opportunity to travel to Italy, India, China or the Dominican Republic. In this series, we’ll talk with students about their international study trip experiences.

Read previous articles about students’ trips to China and Italy.

Cody Cotten and Marie Anderson, both in the TCU MBA class of 2015, traveled to South Africa in August on an international study trip. Here is what they had to say about their experiences. 

Why did you choose the South Africa trip over one of the other international study trips offered?

“It was a good opportunity to see someplace that I would probably never go to," said Cotten, who is studying corporate finance at TCU. The other international destinations seemed like places he might travel to on vacation, he said.

Entrepreneurship was a key focus of the South Africa trip, a topic Cotten is particularly interested in. "One day I would like to start my own business, so it was valuable to see the challenges of entrepreneurship firsthand," he said.

"I chose the South Africa trip because it was a service-oriented trip," said Anderson, whose studies are concentrated in finance with an interest in entrepreneurship.

In addition to learning about entrepreneurship, students had the opportunity to participate in community service projects. "We were able to give back to the community, and that was important to me," she said. "I can't wait to go back."

How is business done differently in South Africa compared to the United States?

"Entrepreneurship isn't really valued in the South African society," said Cotten. This is a perception he says the South African government is trying to change. In America, entrepreneurs who fail at their endeavors are typically able to move on without too much interruption in their lives. The situation South Africans face is very different.

“People in South Africa are unwilling to start a business there because it's too big of a risk,” said Cotten. "People in the United States won't ever experience poverty like they do."

Not only is entrepreneurship in South Africa more about survival than it is in the United States, the concept of giving back was a constant there, said Anderson. "I was impressed that there was this constant theme of service to the employees and the customer."

Some of the organizations and businesses students visited on the trip include:

• Learn to Earn: An organization that provides residents of the townships with entrepreneurship training based on things like sewing/tailoring, computers, baking or running a coffee shop. They encourage residents to start their own businesses to improve their living environment and conditions. Students visited their training facility.

• Cape Classics at Lorensford Winery: Students learned about the wine export business and some of the challenges exporters face in marketing their products to the United States. Students learned about the branding and marketing strategies and adjustments necessary to make a South African wine successful in the Unites States.

• Aquila Game Reserve: Students learned about the hospitality and tourism business of the Aquila Game Reserve, which is the predominant supplier of jobs in the area. That particular aspect provided students a unique look at the dynamics that come into play when managing an unskilled workforce. In addition to a safari, Aquila Game Reserve also has a rehabilitation center for animals. In an effort to promote sustainability, the reserve grows its own lettuce to both feed animals and serve in the restaurant and benefits from the use of solar energy.

What is the most important thing you learned during your travels?

Cotten said it was eye-opening to witness the level of poverty he observed in the townships. "People live in tin sheds with no running water. It was a level of poverty I didn't know existed."

"There's a lot of potential in South Africa, but they still have a long way to go,” he added.

How did your experience differ from that which an average tourist might experience traveling to South Africa?

Students were able to talk to a lot of locals to gain insight into the South African economy and government, said Cotten, who added he would like to return to Africa for vacation someday. 

Did the TCU faculty play a large role in these differences?

TCU Professor Garry Bruton works with a professor at the University of Cape Town to coordinate the annual trip to South Africa. Because Dr. Bruton has been there several times, he has a number of contacts in the country that were able to provide valuable feedback to the students.

“People were very candid with us,” said Cotten.

Through Dr. Bruton’s contacts with the University of Cape Town, students were able to stay in a hotel on the campus of the university, giving students a different perspective from the average tourist's.

"The planning the professors did was amazing,” said Anderson. “We got to see a broad spectrum while we were there." 

What would you tell other MBAs who are considering taking the South Africa trip with the TCU MBA Program? 

Not only was the trip educational, students also got to experience South African culture while they were there. Every business they visited incorporated some sort of sightseeing. For example, students were able to participate in a wine tasting at Cape Classics and go on a safari at the Game Reserve.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Anderson. “Go in with your eyes and ears open. Take in everything you can. Ask a lot of questions."

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