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July 14, 2013

Students learn about global banking in Europe

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State University student Mitch Wasmund was delighted to discover that the theories and lessons he was learning in the classroom are used by professionals across the business world – including a global insurance giant based in Europe.

Wasmund was part of a group of 19 Indiana State University students who traveled to Zurich, Switzerland, and Munich, Germany, on a 10-day trip to gain more perspective about international business practices. Networks Financial Institute’s Professional Development Program’s annual student trip includes site visits, tours and presentations from professionals in a variety of fields. Students on this year’s trip visited with executives from Zurich Insurance and Credit Suisse to learn more about how the respective multinational businesses function.

Wasmund noticed how Zurich Insurance’s business practices, such as how the company treats its employees and clients, echoed what he had learned in his business classes at Indiana State.

“It’s just one of those things where you write it down [but] you don’t see the application of it. But once we got to Zurich Insurance, we saw their ethics model, and it’s pretty close to what I’ve seen in the textbook or heard about in lectures” and it works, Wasmund said. “It was just those sorts of things translating from the classroom into the business world which was significant to me.”

The Networks scholars plan the trip’s itinerary from scratch. Before deciding on which cities to visit, students consider potential industry sites and how they relate to travelers’ studies, said Michelle Reeson, assistant director of the NFI Professional Development Program.

In planning the trip to Zurich, some students were inspired by the group that last year visited the Federal Reserve in San Francisco. This year’s group wanted an international stop – Credit Suisse — to focus on international banking, Reeson said.

“The scholars themselves actually do the research to determine where they are going to go,” Reeson added. “They still have to present it for approval by the (NFI) education team and by the dean, but they actually do all of the research to determine it.”

The students attended daylong trips to Credit Suisse and Zurich Insurance, where company employees talked with them about their jobs and industries. On the trip, the students learned about how the companies practice business internationally.

“Here in the U.S., a lot of our companies can sustain themselves just off our own country and citizens,” said Jessica Weesner, senior accounting major from Cambridge City, “and so it was neat to hear such a larger perspective and how they have much more international business going on … and they need that to be successful.”

The students also visited other sites in Europe. Weesner and several other Networks scholars went on a daylong journey through the Swiss Alps; Wasmund and several friends journeyed from Germany to visit Salzburg, Austria. While in Salzburg, they went on a tour that featured famous locations from “The Sound of Music.”

“In Austria, not as many people spoke English (as they did in Germany) … so we had a harder time getting around or figuring out where we were going,” Wasmund said, “but we still managed, and overall it was a good learning experience.”

Some of the students’ experiences on the trip were especially profound. While in Germany, the group toured the Dachau concentration camp, which was the first camp established shortly after Adolf Hitler took power as chancellor prior to World War II. The site, which has since become a memorial to teach people about the atrocities that occurred there, includes the conditions as they existed in the 1930s and 1940s, as millions of Jews, political dissidents and many others were murdered in the network of concentration camps that included Dachau.

“It was so surreal, it’s hard to describe,” Wasmund said of touring the site. “Really, it’s one of those things that you have to experience for yourself, and you have to stop and think. I don’t complain much, but after going there, I don’t have any reason to complain ever again after seeing what they went through, the torture and the killings.”

Earlier this spring, some of the students heard Holocaust survivor Eva Kor speak about her experiences during an Ethics Week presentation organized by Networks scholars. Kor discussed some of her experiences, as she survived medical experiments conducted in a concentration camp by "The Angel of Death" Nazi Josef Mengele.

“Hearing everything that she survived, and hearing how she has forgiven everything that happened to her and all the people to put her through such pain, and to go there and to learn more about the historical facts and everything that was going on,” Weesner said. “After hearing Eva’s experiences and going to the camp, that really put things into perspective for me and the scholars.”

The international trips provide the students with an opportunity to learn in a setting that makes them vulnerable, as they do not necessarily know the language people are speaking around them, Reeson said. Many scholars are eager to learn about the world, along with the potential for working in different countries, she added.

“They want to learn about the different opportunities that are out there,” Reeson said. “These are students who want to go out into the world and they want to help the world, and they can’t help if they don’t know what it looks like past Indiana and Illinois.”

The students were well-prepared and able to adjust to their surroundings quickly, said Brien Smith, dean of the Scott College of Business who also was on the trip. Smith said the students were able to navigate the railway system in Germany very quickly, better than he was.

“What these international travel experiences impart on students is intangible,” Smith said. “It’s a sense of confidence that they can travel anywhere, home or abroad, and rely on their own resources to be successful.”


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