Immersion Experience – How Do You See Europe?

One view is that Western Europe is a high wage, high skilled economy, and that the former Eastern Europe is only good for low wage production. This was the intended exploratory question for the 2009 European Immersion. However, the fifty HBS students who arrived in London from around the globe on January 2nd had a different question in mind. This question was not whether the European Union was truly integrated; that question would be left to BGIE breitling superocean replica. Nor was our question the location of the best pubs in London and Prague; that question would be left to our student coordinator Kevin O’Boyle. The critical question on the minds of the immersion participants was much more primitive and would test our geographic expertise. Our question was which of the below cities was closest to London: Athens, Budapest, Istanbul, Lisbon, Naples, Moscow, Prague, Rome, Warsaw, Zagreb?

The reason for such an odd question was to serve as a conduit to engage EU residents to assess how integrated Europeans were with one another. Typically individuals underestimate the distance to places they visit regularly or which they view as being similar. Conversely, people overestimate the distance to places that they rarely visit or which they see as being alien or different to their own environment. The students were asked to measure this bias to help gauge the degree of European integration.

This year the participants on the European Immersion were asked to complete several field exercises to help increase their learning from the immersion. These included the above distance survey as well as a photo essay that explored whether Europe is a single or a divided continent. Some students approached these exercises with a commitment to score that elusive “1” on the immersion tag heuer replica for sale . Even after others tried to explain to them that the immersion was not a component of one’s transcript little could be done to tame some students’ enthusiasm. Others used these assignments as an effective tool to engage members of the opposite sex in conversation. Either way, the newly added field exercises helped enhance students learning and engagement from the immersion.

The immersion also included a number of excellent corporate visits including a financial roundtable discussion with individuals from Goldman Sachs, Barclays and Doughty Hanson & Co which explored the current state of Europe’s financial markets. We also met with The Guardian Media Group in London and toured the Volkswagen Autostadt and Skoda Auto museums, and we also toured Rückl Crystal and saw the production process for hand blown 24% lead crystal. The question and answer sessions at these events were led by Professor Collis who approached them with the zeal of his Baker Scholar past and helped the students further explore the degree of EU integration.

While Europe may still have opportunity for further integration one thing was certain: the economic downturn was having notable impacts across the EU. This was apparent in a number of ways. Whether through a heated editorial discussion at The Guardian regarding the merits of full nationalization of the UK banking system, to Rückl Crystal’s loss of 25% of their production volume by the bankruptcy of Waterford Crystal. EU auto manufactures also shared a common thread given the complete plant shutdowns at Audi, Volkswagen, and Skoda Auto. It was definitely clear from the organizations the European Immersion met with that they were all experiencing significant impacts from the global economic slowdown.

The immersion’s flagship alumni event was held at the Lobkowicz castle in Prague where the participants toured the private collections of the Lobkowicz family with notable exhibits including original scores by Beethoven and Mozart as well as the largest historical arms collection in central Europe. Afterwards the students had the opportunity to hear Professor Collis’s opinions on the economic downturn as he presented his thoughts and fielded questions from a room of 100 Harvard alumni. True to Professor Collis’s style the sentiment of this discussion was quite bearish and likely scared some alumni to immediately return to their offices to slash previously salvaged headcount. Despite that it was nonetheless interesting to watch an HBS professor share their perspective.

On the cultural and social side people aggressively engaged in the plethora of options. There were club excursions at the closing party at The End in London and events at DJ One, The Duplex, and Mecca in Prague (several of which ended at sunrise). People toured London’s National Gallery, British Museum, and Tower of London and experienced Covenant Garden musicals Wicked and The Sound of Music. People also experienced Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at the Prague State Opera House. Indeed the immersion enabled students to explore the cultural and tourist sides of Europe as well as the business perspectives.

The immersion culminated with a capstone event where students presented their picture collages and survey findings and presented their perspective on the level of EU integration. The areas explored ranged anywhere from the differences between taxi service and street markets to the treatment of Muslim residents. Like so much of HBS no consensus emerged and students left with more questions then they began, however the capstone event and differing student perspectives was an excellent ending to an enjoyable trip.

Immersions provide a unique trifecta of opportunities to learn, sightsee, and build friendships between students. As a two-time immersion participate I can attest that the 2009 European Immersion delivered on these goals. While there were setbacks to the corporate interactions due to the global economic crisis, the HBS students took these setbacks in stride and maximized their immersion experiences. Special thanks to Professor Collis, Linda Quintero, and Jessica Tobiason for making the trip a transformational experience as well as to the participants themselves who truly made the European Immersion and memorable experience.

John Schmit was born and raised in Wisconsin, US. John is a Virgo and enjoys long walks on the beach. He previously lived and London, however this was his first trip to Germany and the Czech Republic.