Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Students visit Scandinavian countries to yield business lessons

Before Darl Bien, a former DU professor in the physics department, died of cancer in 2004, Dennis Wittmer told him he’d keep a tradition alive that Bien had started: An annual student trip to Scandinavian countries.

“I became so persuaded by the value of the trip and I wanted him to know we would continue it,” says Wittmer, associate professor of management in the Daniels College of Business. Wittmer has taken over the trips — part of the University’s Interterm program that offers classes between quarters — for the last three years.

The next trip, slated for June 9 through June 27, allows nine students to visit between 15 and 20 businesses during the three-week trip.

Wittmer says the trip starts in Helsinki, Finland, then moves to Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark, before concluding in Oslo, Norway. Some of the companies students have visited during previous include Nokia, Ericsson, Absolut and Carlsberg.

Wittmer says Bien created the program about 15 years ago, “before it was fashionable to do international trips.”

“It’s a chance for the students to get outside of the books and experience the culture, get a sense of how marketing is done in other places, to visit international companies and to see what products work and don’t work,” Wittmer says.

Wittmer says one student told him the trip was “10 times better than sitting in class and just reading about this.”

Sometimes students rub elbows with top management. On one trip senior executives from a Finnish home building company spent a half hour answering students’ questions and then had lunch with them. “That’s pretty special for students to have that kind of opportunity,” Wittmer says. “It’s great exposure, and the students really do value it.”

Brooke Meyer, a graduating international business  major who took the trip last summer, says it was “unparalleled” by any other experience she had at DU. “Meeting with Fortune 500 companies every day and experiencing six cultures … is incomparable,” Meyer says. “It doesn’t matter what your degree is, you can’t get this experience anywhere else.”

She adds that the trip helped her gain “long-lasting and personal connections” with international business leaders.

Wittmer says students often are surprised by the perks employees get in Scandinavian companies. He recalls one visit to a business where students met a woman who was returning to work from her second 18-month maternity leave and who re-entered the vice president position she had held before leaving.

“The way people live there and operate, the egalitarian culture, focus on families and social welfare system really amazed a lot of our students,” Wittmer says.

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