KOKOMO, Ind. —History and culture intertwine to impact how businesses grow and thrive in countries around the world.
Business students from Indiana University Kokomo learned that lesson in person, spending 10 days in Poland, where they toured companies owned by global organizations and local families, and also visited sites significant to the central European country.
In addition to businesses including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Delphi Automotive, Price Waterhouse Cooper, Starbucks, and Polish brewery CK Brower, they explored the Warsaw Uprising Museum, Warsaw’s Old Town and Jewish sites, the Jasna Gora Monastery with the Black Madonna holy picture, and the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau.
Gloria Preece, director of the Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) and Master of Public Administration (M.P.M.) program, led the class, and said students began to understand how the country was devastated by World War II, liberated by the Soviets, and was a communist country until 1989, and how that background impacts its people today.
“They really started to bring together and understand the tragic history of Poland, “ she said. “They were able to see how Poland’s past, its history, shaped its people’s values, which in turn shapes the culture and behavior. It’s important we understand the history and the culture, because that lays the groundwork for why their business strategies are different, and even why their business culture is slightly different.”
Kokomo resident Sierra Smith, a junior, noticed that the Polish people value relationships with family and business associates, and don’t hurry through meetings.
“They’re a lot more affectionate there,” she said. “Everyone is holding hands, hugging, and kissing. Around here, you don’t see that much.”
The group especially observed that difference when dining in local restaurants. At first, they thought the service was just slow, but then realized the servers were allowing them time to talk and enjoy each other’s company, rather than hurrying them along to turn the table and bring in more customers.
“It wasn’t bad service, it was different service,” she said. “They have this respect for you. If you are in conversation, they are not going to come and interrupt, they wait for you to call them over. There’s not a sense of being hurried along. Once you understood that for them, good service is allowing you to stay and enjoy your time, it was refreshing.”
Students also were surprised to learn that according to Polish law, everybody gets 26 days off work per year, and 12 of those should be consecutive.
“They don’t work more than eight hours a day, and they don’t work weekends. You could really feel that relationships were more important than work, and were valued more,” said Preece. “Students mentioned that they didn’t feel stressed there, and people didn’t seem to be in a hurry. When you were talking to someone you had their complete attention.”
One of the most impactful days of the trip was the tour of the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, where more than 1.5 million Jews, Poles, Italians, and French died during World War II.
Zachary Reed, from Wabash, had read about the Holocaust, but “to be there to see it in person was 10 times more educational, and eye opening.”
“You definitely felt the impact of what happened there,” said Tara Davis, Windfall. “It made me sick to my stomach looking at it.”
Preece said they all expected to feel sad, but were surprised by overwhelming feelings of anger.
“The anger came from viewing those sites, and understanding how systematic everything was, and how purposeful and thought out it was, that people did this to each other,” she said.
Reed anticipates the trip will make him more attractive to a prospective employer after he graduates, because “it shows you are willing to take opportunities, and aren’t just there to work an 8 to 5 shift. Being able to go see how the other side works, you may be able to find more job openings that could lead to international travel.”
Students received financial support for the trip from IU Kokomo’s International Excellence Scholarship, the David Starr Jordan Award, the David & Anna Global Scholarship, and university grant funds.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.