By Julia Straka, ’21

This past summer, 10 graduate students in the School of Professional & Continuing Studies flew to Germany to study abroad at Ludwigsburg University of Education (LUE) in Ludwigsburg, Germany, for one week as the culmination of the summer Comparative Leadership in a Global Context course.

The course was developed in partnership with Dr. Pierre Tulowitzki, the director of LUE’s International Education Management (INEMA) program, and most recently as SPCS Visiting Scholar.

The course, which was open to SPCS graduate students, studied different ways that countries approach social welfare, nonprofit work and education, and compared leadership styles across these international spheres.

Education students compared the German K-12 education model with the American system, and students in other programs conducted similar comparisons with their respective professional fields. Students also learned how German institutions are reacting to waves of immigrants and refugees, examined in light of America’s own immigration dilemma.

Yulia Kulay, GC’19, senior talent acquisition consultant for Anthem who graduated from the HR Management program this past spring, signed up for the course to learn about leadership and globalization in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, as well as in private and government-owned institutions.

Because Kulay helps fill managerial and administrative positions in her company, she understands the importance of recognizing the characteristics of an effective leader: “We hire leaders in order for our business to be successful,” she said.

Though the class was comprised of students from different programs, most of whom had not met before, the group quickly became cohesive. Steven Pitts, a current student in the Master of HR Management program, reflected that his “learning was seamless.” Speaking of informal learning opportunities, Pitts continued, ”We would chat at night, and get different ideas from students in different programs.”

In fact, the variety of programs represented made the experience even more eye-opening: “It was nice to see a different side of UR and hear different perspectives,” noted Casey Parker, GC’19, a recent Teacher Licensure Preparation program graduate.

And the relationships forged during the trip have outlived the course: The students still message each other after work and plan get-togethers to share professional ideas and stories about the trip’s impact on their professional lives.

SPCS students also bonded with students from 14 different countries enrolled in the INEMA program over dinners and on excursions. SPCS students engaged with INEMA students from Afghanistan, Armenia, Brazil, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Macedonia, Pakistan, Russia, Somalia, Spain, Sudan and Yemen.

Pitts believes the informal conversations about cultures and stereotypes revealed the influence identity has on students’ perceptions of other countries and their own homelands. He gained insight even outside of course lectures: “I didn’t expect to be learning outside of the classroom,” he said.

The INEMA group was disappointed when the SPCS students returned to Richmond, and the group still keeps in contact via messages and Facebook.

Learning from German and other international students widened Kulay’s horizons: “We can learn so much more from [people from] other countries. It makes you think non-conventionally,” she said.

As a human resources specialist, Kulay focuses on diversity and out-of-the-box thinking; studies show that diverse teams come up with more unconventional solutions. For her final project, she proposed that her company offer cultural awareness training to foster a more integrated work environment and sensitivity to English language learners seeking medical services.

Parker’s final project involved much younger non-native speakers. Parker is teaching her first class of students this fall at Fair Oaks Elementary School in Henrico County, and she presented her final project on the value of creating diversity and ESL clubs at her then-unknown future school.

Pitts’ hometown in upstate New York attracts many migrants and has a number of organizations that connect immigrants with technical training and jobs. Pitts proposed a partnership connecting these organizations with local businesses that would create apprenticeships for immigrants, helping them assimilate to their new home, boost the local economy and contribute to a more accepting culture.

Pitts has even applied his new knowledge to his family’s capital investment business. He proposed providing employees of one of the company’s clients with language and cultural awareness training. His time in Germany broadened his perspective on his job: It shifted his attention to “what [the job] could or should be,” he said.

The course also shifted Kulay’s career path, who has since come up with a development plan to sharpen her leadership skills and prepare her for management: “You may think, ‘I’ve been in this field for so many years,’ but you’re not going to grow if you say in your comfort zone,” she reflected.

Parker feels much more confident going into her new teaching job this semester, where she may work with kids from different countries with different cultural norms.

For Pitts, this study abroad experience came at an opportune time. With greater real world and business experience, he was able to formulate more specific questions and put class content in context. He was even able to put ideas discussed in class to practice: “I can play with [these ideas] in actual business settings,” he said.

During the study abroad experience in Ludwigsburg, SPCS and LUE signed a memorandum of understanding that outlines the schools’ desire and agreement to continue their partnership into the future. Look for additional short-term study abroad opportunities designed for adults students who are working professionals in partnership with LUE.