By Kara Sherrer
Orientation for the day programs started at the beginning of August, but Management Hall was already bustling with international students by early July. These students came to Owen early for the International Summer Business Program (ISBP), which alumni might remember as U.S. Business Communication and Culture (USBCC). While ISBP is primarily attended by MBA students, it’s also open to students earning their Master of Science in Finance, Master of Accountancy, or Master of Marketing at Vanderbilt Business.
Over the past year, the orientation programming for international students was significantly updated based on requests from students, prompting the name change to ISBP. While certain mainstays are still part of the international student orientation — like the always-memorable visit to Wildhorse Saloon — English language instruction is now more targeted and specific to a business environment.
During ISBP, international students also get early access to the Career Management Center and the Leadership Development Program staff, conducting preliminary meetings, reviewing resumés, and drafting covers letters. Owen professors also discuss what’s expected in the Western classroom environment (lots of participation and groupwork) and give students feedback on their communication skills: Professor Kimberly Pace walks around the room, greets every student, and offers critiques on their handshakes.
“International students aren’t here because they need another degree. They’re here because they want to enhance their careers,” said Jeri West, Assistant Director of Academic Programs and Student Life, who oversees ISBP. “They’re using the MBA program as a launching point, and a lot of them want to find a job in the United States. And in order to do that, they need to get up to speed on what it’s going to take.”
Beyond the business training, students participate in various social activities throughout ISBP, such as the visit to Wildhorse and lunch with Dean M. Eric Johnson, forming the tight-knit community Owen is known for. “You already have a group of people whom you can call friends before the domestic students arrive,” explains Karan Thakore (MBA’20), who comes from New Delhi, India. “This experience makes it so easy to intermingle with the domestic students as you are already familiar with the environment.”
“While the Dean is equally accessible to all students, as an international student, it is especially beneficial to know that you can just walk up to the Dean and talk to him about anything in the lobby or at events,” he added.
ISBP takes nearly three weeks to complete, partly because blocks of time for relocation activities are built into the schedule. This gives students time to find an apartment, set up an electricity provider or cable, get a driver’s license, and perform other time-consuming but very necessary activities.
“Moving from a different country is not easy, and it took me (a couple) weeks to get my apartment, furniture, cable, internet, banking, etc. in order. I cannot imagine how hard this would have been if I had to do it alongside…the first week of school,” Thakore said.
“Fortunately, they’re not doing that while classes have started,” West added. “Part of the obvious goal (of ISBP) would be just sheer adjustment, and as we know adjustment is time-related… We’re trying to do Owen onboarding, get them acclimated to Nashville, and make sure they are on their way to getting settled.”
While ISBP can seem like a big commitment of time, looking back on the experience, international students are grateful to have several weeks to acclimate to starting business and living in a new city and country, which makes the transition much smoother.
“To be honest, when I first learned about the ISBP, I was not very excited to travel to the U.S. around three weeks before orientation,” Thakore admitted. “However, what I did not know at the time was that ISBP sets you up so wonderfully for the entire two years you spend at Vanderbilt…you form a close bond with fellow international students as you explore and adjust to the new culture together.”