Carl H. Lindner College of BusinessCarl H. Lindner College of BusinessUniversity of Cincinnati

Carl H. Lindner College of Business

Cross-Cultural Business

Marvin P. Kolodzik Business Scholar Lori Hufford Learns about Business and Culture through an International Co-Op

From the first time she set foot on UC's campus, Marvin P. Kolodzik Business Scholar and finance/real estate major Lori Hufford couldn't wait to get out of the country. “As soon as I heard about international co-op after starting my freshman year, I made that my ultimate goal,” she recalls. By the end of her fourth year, she was heading to Germany for a six-month co-op assignment with BMW Financial Services at the corporation's headquarters in Munich.

Lori lived and worked in Munich from March to September 2008. “The best part of the experience was getting to better my language skills and broaden my cultural experience,” she says.

Lori learned a lot about the traditional dialect, food and clothing of Bavaria, a state in the south of Germany of which Munich is the capital. She even had the opportunity to travel around Europe on the weekends. But that's not the cultural experience she's talking about: the most valuable lessons for a business student were exposure to the workplace customs of another country and experience working with a diverse group of employees. At BMW, Lori's co-workers were not just from Germany, but also from Sweden, Australia, Brazil and Spain.

“There are so many cultures out there,” she realizes. “Because of this experience, it's easier for me to work with people from other backgrounds.”

She also learned about European office culture. She remembers the workplaces as being “open and friendly.” Instead of offices—which were reserved only for the highest officials—or even cubicles, employees worked in an open-plan office, where desks are grouped near each other with only computer screens separating colleagues from their neighbors. This layout encouraged the group to collaborate and socialize.

Despite the many coffee breaks and celebrations for new hires, retirees, birthdays, etc., there was a strong work ethic at BMW. “A 35-hour workweek was considered full-time,” Lori recalls. “But that usually didn't get it all done; I definitely worked extra.” She also noticed her co-workers arriving early, leaving late and sometimes taking work home.

As the Munich location serves as the global headquarters of BMW, Lori gained firsthand experience with the corporate culture of an international firm. She saw how the company had to adjust communications for different branch offices in various regions.

Although she had a lot to learn, Lori already had a variety of skills to bring to her co-op with BMW. She says the most important lesson she learned from the College of Business, where she worked in the Dean's office while completing her classes, was how to be professional on the job. At BMW, she was able to put her coursework into practice, while adding to it with real-world experience. “I learned critical thinking and computer skills at the College of Business, but at BMW, I learned how to use those skills better and more efficiently,” she says.

So now that Lori is an expert in Germany's language and office culture, would she consider working overseas in the future? Perhaps if she could secure a contract for only a few years, as BMW occasionally does for American employees. “It's fun over there, but it's nice to see the end,” says this Ohio native.

Thanks to her international professional experience, she learned how to put knowledge into practice in an unfamiliar atmosphere and how to adjust to office culture while working with people from around the world.

“The experience was amazing, and I highly recommend international co-op to students looking to immerse themselves and truly learn about another culture,” she says.

Not to mention that international experience is a great line to put on a resume. In August 2009, Lori accepted a position with Bartlett & Co., an investment advisory firm that specializes in high-net worth clients. She knows that what she learned at BMW will have an impact on her new career. “Classes teach you the basics, but you have to put those skills into practice in a way that works for the company.”