Jan Term Tales — Southeast Asia travelers learn international business

by Ryan Wood and Mason Vigil
Guest Writers

Southeast Asia — Tale 1

Over 26 days, the Southeast Asia Jan Term trip navigated South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, multinational boardrooms, temples, museums, jungles, oral exams and consumed every food or fruit of Asia. In Korea, the fresh octopus sashimi tentacles fought back. In Malaysia we dared to try the pungent king of fruits known as the “durian.”

We were overwhelmed by the hospitality received from top executives to taxi drivers. The practice of “guanxi” was incredible; relationships opened doors to boardrooms and homes as if we were family. We were given personal insight on how to succeed internationally and were truly able to understand what it takes to run a business abroad. We were welcomed into boardrooms ranging from legal systems, credit cards, hard drives, Islamic banking to embassy services and gained a real life experience that can’t be taught in a classroom.

After 18 days of being on the go, R & R in Thailand was a blessing and most of us survived moped mishaps. We’ll never forget our excursions of elephant trekking, snorkeling, diving, fishing and as always, eating local food.

Guanxi and Hospitality — Tale 2

In Southeast Asia while traveling through Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, the cultural difference our group felt the most was the degree of hospitality received. It didn’t matter where we went; we were given incredible service. That kind of hospitality might exist in the Northwest, but is lost throughout most of America.

Americans understand the saying, “time is money.” The phrase came from Benjamin Franklin, saying that time is valuable and money is wasted if time is spent unproductively. This is a common perception of business professionals from the United States.

Asia has its own saying for time. It comes from the Chinese terminology of “guanxi.” Guanxi literally means “relationships.” For Asians time is guanxi. In business, guanxi can mean a network of parties of which an individual can call upon in a time of need, a never-ending cycle of familial respect and support. This mindset was embedded in the people we met in Southeast Asia. We were able to experience this first hand in a variety of ways.

The first way we experienced guanxi was in business settings. Throughout the trip we were given the opportunity to meet with top business executives and learn about international business though these companies. After being welcomed into 10 different multinational boardrooms ranging from legal systems, credit cards, hard drives and Islamic banking to embassy services, we gained real life experience that cannot be taught in a classroom.

We were given personal insight on how to succeed internationally and were truly able to understand what it takes to run a business abroad. These company visits were set up with some of the most successful business leaders in Southeast Asia through the guanxi of Todd Friends (Whitworth instructor of global commerce), relationships that Todd had developed over a span of 20 years in Southeast Asia. He was able to tap into that network for this course and facilitate an enriching experience.

Our second experience of guanxi came from home stays and spending time with Todd’s old colleagues. Our days spent with cultural ambassadors gave us deep insight into the local culture.

During my first weekend in Malaysia, I had the privilege of being hosted by Radha Muthuragu. Radha took Mitch Boylan and me around Kuala Lumpur and integrated us into Malaysian cultural. We experienced food in a new way as we ate curry with our hands off a banana leaf. The following weekend, Kevin Alcott welcomed Joey Degroff and me into his home. Kevin’s family treated us as if we were one of them. As Kevin toured us around Singapore he joked, “If anyone asks, just say you are my sons from my first marriage.”

These unique experiences allowed us to see what it was like to live in these countries; they allowed us to truly experience the culture on a first-hand basis. The gracious hospitality of our hosts exceeded all expectations. If it were not for the Asian practice of guanxi, these extended relationships would not have given us the opportunity to feel at home with complete strangers. All of our cultural ambassadors took us under their wings and treated us as if we had known them for years.

Beyond these experiences of guanxi we consistently felt the warm hospitality of Southeast Asian culture. Whether it was in taxis, a restaurant, or even shopping; local hospitality was apparent. One can see this in small doses throughout America, but it cannot be seen to the extent as we did in Southeast Asia. Americans could learn from the Southeast Asian way of life.

Southeast Asia nations may not be as developed or have as high of a GDP as the United States, but they know how to treat a fellow human being. Understanding guanxi allows you to focus on the power of relationships. It allows one to focus on people instead of making the sale or material profit. In Southeast Asia we felt it was all about relationships and being hospitable. They understand that relationships and networking can lead to future gains for everyone. The genuine hospitality we received was the main reason we were able to experience and learn so much on our Southeast Asia journey.

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