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Virtual Exchange at William Davidson Institute

Instructors in the Business & Culture Virtual Exchange run by the William Davidson Institute reflect on the experience, student impact, and lessons learned in this “Front of the Classroom”. The innovative program linked undergraduate students in the USA, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon to learn about how to do business across cultures. The program was designed to equip young people in the U.S. and MENA regions with the skills they need to communicate, problem-solve and collaborate on a global team —all essential 21st century skills in an interconnected world. In this edition, WDI flips the lens and reports on the instructors’ perspectives.

Background of Virtual Exchange at WDI

Launched in 2019, Business & Culture is a virtual exchange program convening students from Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and the United States to gain the tools, learn the benefits and manage the challenges of conducting business across cultures. The participating educational institutions include the American University in Cairo (AUC), the American University of Beirut (AUB), the Benghazi Youth for Technology and Entrepreneurship (BYTE) and the University of Michigan (U-M). The virtual exchange is supported by the Stevens Initiative under the aegis of the United States State Department and is implemented by the William Davidson Institute (WDI) at UM.

The Business & Culture Virtual Exchange program aims to equip students with the knowledge and skills of cross-cultural business necessary for success in the global economy. With classrooms connected across borders, with the aid of the internet, professors from each participating institution lead eight interactive sessions. Students work in cross-cultural teams to complete assignments, practicing new knowledge and skills. The program affords students an opportunity to get to know their peers from other countries and to experience different cultures, without the need to travel.

Designed to be modular, the Business & Culture Virtual Exchange is embedded in different courses at each of the participating institutions. At AUB, the course is entitled “International Management,” and the Business & Culture virtual exchange component provides students with much-needed cross-cultural learning. At AUC, students follow a course in international marketing, and the emphasis of the Business & Culture virtual exchange is on a consulting project, which they extend after the virtual exchange has concluded. At BYTE, the Business & Culture virtual exchange is an extracurricular activity for high-performing university students. At UM, the Business & Culture Virtual Exchange is part of an undergraduate course on cross-cultural business.

As of April 2023, the Business & Culture Virtual Exchange has run five times. Upon completion of the fifth offering of the virtual exchange, WDI asked the five program instructors for their perspectives on virtual exchange in general, and specifically on the Business & Culture Virtual Exchange.