The Technology Management MBA Program (TMMBA) traveled to Berlin, Germany and Tallinn, Estonia in March 2017 for the International Study Tour. Below, TMMBA student Slava Agafonov shares his reflections and thoughts from the trip.
First off, our trip was a blast, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I learned a lot about my teammates, and I had the opportunity to spend quality time taking my global mindset to the next level. My reflection of the trip will focus on a few main things that I found interesting from company visits and my teammates, and I want to touch base on culture differences, new skills, and unexpected surprises.
The cultural differences were surprising to me. I found a lot of people were smoking in the streets, bars and even in usual places like parks. I am originally from Europe, and I knew smoking is more prevalent than in the USA, but I was not expecting such a big scale of this unhealthy habit.
The new things I learned were significant and broad. I found it interesting to see my teammates from a different angle, and I think some of the people were able to shine more when it came to history knowledge, tips about infrastructure, and international trip experiences. However, it was a challenge for some people to adjust to differences in culture. I learned how to use the local train and buses, and how to check many things online. Technology and new apps on the phone were very helpful to make my experiences more enjoyable.
The Estonian food cuisine and drink selections were incredible. My classmates amazed me with a lot of questions about churches, local people, life, and traditions. I felt like I was at home or close to it with aboriginal Ukrainian culture in many ways.
I found that the startup environment we have in Seattle is so different in many different ways, but we are so similar in others. I found it interesting how other teammates shared feedback with specific questions in our company visits, and how they were able to come up with great ideas for business improvements in the short amount of time. One of the places I learned the most was in the Q&A sessions with new startup companies and incubators that we visited, like Technopol in Estonia.
These folks are very efficient, direct and productive with resources, time, and infrastructure. I learned how Skype developed in this incubator and how important connections along with great advice can boost productivity in the new companies created every day. The best surprise was learning about Estonia’s e-government with the new technologies and startups in Estonia.
“Estonia created an open, decentralized system that links together various services and databases. The flexibility provided by this free set-up has allowed new components of the digital society to be developed and added through the years. It’s that power to expand that has allowed Estonia to grow into one of Europe’s success stories of the last decade. “Interaction among government agencies, and between the government and citizens, has been completely transformed in e-Estonia, quickly making bureaucracy a thing of the past and making the running of all levels of government more efficient than ever before.”
–e-Estonia.com, The Digital Society
The e-Estonia portal fro the Estonian government integrates voting, taxes, medical services, and other features. It is an incredible idea. It seems so easy and convenient to use. It takes 20 minutes to register a business from any country in the Euro Zone with the help of this system, so it has an entrepreneurship spirit too. It is very secure according to the presentation in our visits because it is a distributed system with many nodes in the graph. I think the USA and other countries can learn a lot of things from this system about security, scalability, and the savings it can provide.
Many startups from “Estonian Mafia,” as they call a collective of Estonian startup companies, are very interested in USA market, and our feedback was valuable for them not just as MBA experts, but also as Americans. I figured that our school lessons were very helpful in real life cases and I saw the big difference between our group and folks without the education that we received at the Foster School of Business.
In my opinion, trips like this are necessary because all the leadership lessons we received in school were applicable on the trip–from group organization to conflict resolution.We did so many random things in the new environment, and I think we represented our school very well as a group. I believe we inspired some of the folks in startups and empowered them for new actions, but we also refined our facts from them, and we returned with new perspectives. My personal development and my global mindset during the immersive trip and follow up discussions with my group were very positive and substantial. I will never forget this journey, and I am grateful that I was part of it.
Last but not least, I want to say a big thank you very much to trip organizers from the Technology Management MBA Program and everybody who was involved. Especially big thank you to Eric and Tal who were our guides abroad and who answered all our questions about country, history and interesting places to see – it was an awesome trip!