Foster Abroad: Study Tour Highlights with Sam Choi

What program did you participate in and why did you decide to go?

I participated in a study tour in each of my first two years of the Evening MBA Program. In 2017 I visited Hong Kong & Vietnam in conjunction with the Master of Supply Chain Management Program and in 2018, visited the Netherlands & Spain with the Master of Science in Information Systems. In 2017, my decision to attend the study tour was not only to gain experience abroad but to get that experience with a focus- supply chain management. I felt supply chain management was a key topic to delve into as this function is gaining importance relevant to competing in today’s evolving business environment. Additionally, I wanted to visit companies in Asia to understand how business was done overseas. I thought it would be a rare opportunity to see companies abroad across vastly different industries, particularly ones I have never been exposed to. Companies on the list of visits included Coca-cola, Starbucks, Lee Kum Kee, Lee & Fung, DHL, and Expeditors International.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

My favorite part of the trip was touring the companies and meeting their executives. One particular experience that stood out was visiting a supplier that Nordstrom (my employer) does business with. It was amazing to get insight into their operations. I learned what their priorities were and how they related to those of Nordstrom. I was able to connect our company’s challenges with the challenges they faced. It was eye-opening and exciting to be the “intermediary” between two businesses that are geographically so far apart, but so close in daily email communication. Additionally, I found it intriguing to see the ins and outs of companies outside my industry.

How do you think this experience has impacted you?

From a personal aspect, I was able to travel to countries I had always wanted to visit. To do it with friends and classmates in an educational setting was a bonus. After two years of the MBA program, I can say I’ve been to 6 countries – the two from each of the study tours, Macau as an extended day trip when we were in Hong Kong, and Italy as an extension of my trip to Spain.

Professionally, I feel extremely fortunate to be able to see the internal operations of companies abroad.  It was rewarding to experience first-hand and see examples of globalization; this was possible because the tour had a focused topic for companies to present on (Supply Chain Management). I also got a chance to expand outside of my cohort and meet professionals and other students in the full-time MBA program, the Masters of Information Systems (MSIS) program and the Masters of Supply Chain (MSSC) program.

What will you remember the most?

The most memorable snippet from my first trip was the fact that Vietnam is saturated in coffee!  Yes, insignificant a fact as that sounds, I learned quickly that although Starbucks is global, known here in the U.S. to be the biggest coffee company in the States, they actually have a very small market share in Vietnam. The local companies dominate by sourcing domestically. With Starbucks only a recent entrant into the Vietnamese market, the growth opportunity is huge there. Starbucks, with its small footprint, has had a major influence on the local industry. They introduced refrigeration to the supply chain as well as established a new standard for speedy service.

Riding a scooter on the XO food Tour in Saigon

The second thing I will remember the most is the extra-curricular tours we did outside of company visits. In Vietnam, we went on a food tour where each of us was assigned to a tour guide. We hopped on the back of their moped and zipped around the city, from restaurant to restaurant in more “off the beaten path” spots to try local food. It was the best experience because I felt like we were integrated into the Vietnamese way of life; taking a scooter to an unassuming restaurant and eating great food. The tour, given by XO tours, also included the history behind each town or neighborhood we visited.

What was a challenge you faced on your trip?

The most challenging part of the trip was the weather. It was hot and humid. It was exactly what I expected, but not anything I was able to get used to. The good news is, we were on the bus quite a bit and we had air conditioning. But when we had our free time, we didn’t have that same luxury when we took public transportation. There was a lot of walking, but nothing more than what one would expect from a trip abroad.

You also went on a second Study Tour. How did the experiences differ?

The study tours were very different. The one to Hong Kong &Vietnam was a two-week trip with one week in each country. It was a lengthy trip with plenty of time to plan your own excursions during free time. The 2018 tour to Europe was on a one-week trip. It was short, but still just as meaningful. The two trips also involved two very different destinations, which is partially why I went on both.

How have you grown from this experience?

My growth has been through seeing, first hand, the operations of companies abroad. One may have the opportunity to travel abroad in their careers for business, but most cannot say they have done so across multiple industries across various companies. To be able to tie business practices between a Coke bottling plant with the DHL air supply chain hub is a unique experience.

What is something that surprised you?

I was surprised by how companies are so open to supporting the learning and education of a university that was abroad. It was amazing to experience their gracious hospitality and their willingness to give us their time. I enjoyed asking questions that they were so eager to answer.

Overall, what do you think of the Evening MBA Program’s study abroad opportunities and how do they set Foster apart?

The study abroad programs at Foster run through the Global Business Center are special.  There are abroad programs in other business schools, but Foster’s program is unique because they involve such a broad student body (Full Time & Eve MBAs, Technology Management MBAs, Supply Chain Management Masters Candidates, Information Systems Masters Students, and alumni). The tour gave me the opportunity to extend my network beyond expectation.  We still have reunions with people from the trip two years ago!

Sam Choi is a member of the Evening MBA Class of 2019 and currently approaching 16 years as an employee at Nordstom. He took the traditional career route in retail by starting as a salesperson in footwear, quickly moving his way up to managing and buying, and having lived in San Diego, Hawaii, and San Francisco for work. Currently, he is a Merchandise Planner at Nordstrom’s private label division. Sam is passionate about fashion and merchandising, while also has a knack for applying data analytics, driving business decisions. Outside of work and school Sam enjoys dog watching, running by the waterfront, and dreaming about buying a 1963 Lincoln Continental convertible.