Students in Singapore

FLEX MBA students, their significant others, and the program director at Thian Hock Keng Temple during their "Amazing Race" adventure. The temple is dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess, Mazu, and is the oldest and most important temple of the Hokkien people. (J. Van Voorhis)

FLEX MBA Students Travel to Singapore Over Spring Break

Fourteen students spend six days learning about business and culture.

While traveling during spring break is not unusual for many college students, a group of part-time MBA students took adventure to a whole new level. The Graduate Programs Office of Lehigh’s College of Business sent 14 FLEX MBA students to Singapore in March 2023. The six-day trip was part of the newly relaunched Global Immersion program. Leading the program were Professors Douglas Mahony and Joshua Ehrig, and Megan Van Voorhis, FLEX MBA program director.

Singapore, the ‘little red dot’ on the map, sits at the crossroads both for commerce and for people. It represents a gateway to South East Asia and plays host to regional headquarters for many global companies. Beyond its strategic role in shipping, Singapore is now among the top three global financial centers as well as a vibrant business innovation hub. With Lehigh’s numerous alumni connections in the region, Singapore was a natural location to host MBA students.

The students followed a packed itinerary in which they connected with nine different business and government organizations. The host companies ranged from leading global organizations (including: Bain & Co., Bank Julius Bär, Fitch Ratings, and White & Case) to regional companies such as Grab and GoVentures, and even included two start-ups (FomoPay and Mo Batteries) across several industries. The visit with the Singapore Economic Development Board helped frame the active role the government plays in ensuring Singapore’s global position as an innovation and businesses center.

In between those busy days, the rich cultural diversity and unparalleled food scene provided a backdrop for everyone to explore and learn about the dynamic city. And of course, the group members sampled Chili-Crab—a quintessentially Singaporean dish. “Singapore served as a canvas for the students to explore,” says Mahony, “to test their own sense of the world, and enhance their global mindset.”

Singapore was chosen for the global immersion destination as it is a city-state that sets itself apart from other nations. It is a unique business hub and one that offers myriad opportunities for students and faculty to interact with business and government leaders.

All of the students are working professionals, many in senior positions, whose work experience ranged from slightly less than 10 years to more than 20. “Yet, for many this was their first time being in the region and their first time participating in a program like this,” says Mahony. The trip was part of an elective course created with the dual purpose of providing the opportunity for our students to come together and forge strong and lasting personal connections with their peers and to do so while being immersed in a global business hub where they would be exposed to the complexities and opportunities of operating in Southeast Asia.

FLEX MBA students with two of MO Batteries' co-founders

FLEX MBA students spoke with two of MO Batteries' co-founders, Olivier van Hardenbroek (left) and Tom Streitberg, about their business operations in helping customers go electric in Southeast Asia. (Megan Van Voorhis)

Two of the students who opted to participate in this year’s global immersion program were Forest Harger, chief of staff, Burton Snowboards, and Venkata Mandala, senior manager, digital product owner of Covid-19 franchise, Pfizer.

For Harger, a key benefit was the opportunity to broaden her business perspective. Harger says that while at Boeing she spent a lot of time working on international teams and did some overseas travel for the company, but the FLEX MBA Singapore program piqued Harger’s interest. She says it not only offered the chance to learn about how business works outside of the U.S., but also, she could finally meet the peers she had collaborated exclusively online with for two years.

It was a much bigger, more robust dimension to my learning, because all of a sudden, I met a bunch of people that I have spent time with online,” Harger says.

Echoing these sentiments, Mandala was surprised by just how quickly they bonded. “In just those six days of us all being together, the kind of bonds that we created, the kind of knowledge that we shared about each one of our work experiences,” says Mandala. "I would say that’s a lot more valuable to me than anything else.”

The FLEX MBA students who attended the program largely reside in different pockets of the United States, ranging from California to Vermont, which made the opportunity to engage with one another in-person all the more meaningful. For all, the most memorable moments of the Singapore experience were created by the immense power of sharing an in-person experience, according to Van Voorhis. “It was,” she says, “especially unique to have that level of camaraderie while you are an 18-and-a-half-hour flight away from Lehigh’s campus.”

For a few, the first opportunity to bond came via Singapore Airlines during the non-stop flight from New York to Singapore. But for the rest, the first chance came Sunday over lunch at the famous Lau Pa Sat Hawker Center. Following lunch the students all departed on the FLEX MBA version of the “Amazing Race.” Less race and more of tour, students were given the chance to weave their way through diverse cultural neighborhoods created by some of the country’s first inhabitants. As Mandala notes, “It was an enjoyable way to encourage exploration of the city.”

Opportunities like the FLEX MBA program in Singapore help expand what people may find possible for their future career trajectories, from a business as well as a personal perspective. “Students come back energized,” says Mahony. “They come back thinking, ‘Wow, I can go work there or somewhere similar.’ Whereas before, they often thought it was not feasible.”

Whether they go on to have an international assignment or not, each returns with new experiences and perspectives to bring back and apply to their own careers. Van Voorhis added, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. While I hope the MBA program will continue to offer global immersion opportunities for students, it will never be duplicated in quite the same way; it was a wonderful group of students and faculty who created lifelong bonds during our adventures in Singapore. It was an unforgettable week, one which greatly impacted me and based on student feedback, will serve as a highlight of the 14 students’ MBA experience for years to come.”

Learn more about Lehigh Business FLEX MBA Program.

Story by Anna Piecuch

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