ŠKODA AUTO University cooperates with many universities and companies abroad, offering its students the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world. This fact was one of the main reasons why I decided to study at ŠKODA AUTO University. In addition to a large amount of partner institutions in Europe as part of the Erasmus programme, students can also study in China, India or the USA. With regard to the last destination, the number of available places is very low. For this reason, I was pleasantly surprised in December 2014 when I noticed an ad for two vacant positions on the noticeboard of the Academic Information System of ŠKODA AUTO University for the programme Global Village for Future Leaders in Business and Industry, taking place at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA. The offer included full tuition coverage with a scholarship to cover part of the other expenses.
An opportunity to study at a US university is very prestigious, so I immediately began to collect information not only on the Global Village programme ( “GV”), but also on Lehigh University, and after that the admission requirements at ŠKODA AUTO University. Considering the exclusivity of this offer, it was clear that there would be enormous interest from other students and competition would be tough. I also remembered my failed application to Bentley a few years ago, so I prepared all the documents meticulously. Shortly after the ad was published, I sent my CV and cover letter with a single goal – to get one of the two places.
The first minor success came in late January, when I received news of successfully passing the first round and an invitation to the final interview, where everything would be decided. However, eleven more applicants received the same message. The interview took place a week later before a three-member committee consisting of the management of our school. I had a good feeling after the interview, which took about 15 minutes and was in English. Sometimes people think: I could have done better. This was exactly the opposite case. And if I was not to be selected, I would congratulate the successful candidates without any remorse. Over the following days, I frequently checked my email, expecting the final verdict with excitement. The news came in after four days which seemed like an eternity and since you are reading this report, the result was obvious.
So what is Global Village? It was difficult to answer this question before completing the programme and I have to admit that it is even more complicated now when I have experienced GV for myself. Before leaving, I read that GV has been organised for the last 19 years by the Iacocca Institute, which was co-founded in 1988 by Lehigh University and its graduate, former president of Ford Motor Company and Chrysler, Lee Iacocca. The five-week event brings together students, young professionals and businessmen from different industries from around the world. During courses, panel discussions, tours in businesses and organisations, debates, consultation projects, national presentations, trips to New York City and Washington D.C. and cultural events, the participants learn skills and insights necessary to become a successful leader. An equally important task is to create the Global Village Alumni Network, which serves as an information exchange and means of cooperation after the programme ends. The ultimate goal of GV is to create “future leaders of business and industry”.
Going through all these details, my expectations were huge. I know from my own experience that staying abroad is a very enriching experience that allows you to meet people and try things you would never get to know within your comfort zone since they simply would not happen at home. I had the opportunity to spend a year in the US as an exchange student in high school and this experience, without exaggeration, changed my life. Given the much shorter duration of GV, I did not expect such a strong impact, but I was more than curious to experience the US university education system in person, which gave me a unique comparison. I was also looking forward to meeting people from almost 50 countries.
Not long after being selected at ŠKODA AUTO University, I was contacted by the actual implementation team of GV and a marathon of paperwork followed – letters of recommendation, lists of completed courses, certificates of my English skills. I was also granted access to a web application, which allowed participants to enter their personal information, personal and professional goals, expectations from GV, medical records, arrival information and many other data into their profile. Within this app, I could also select courses and customise my timetable according to my preferences. Courses and lectures were divided into four groups: Business & Industry Knowledge, Entrepreneurship, Leadership & Skill Development, Global Networking/Best Business Practices. Thus, everyone could create their own mix. We could also choose from trips to New York City and Washington D.C. Five options for the three days spent in these cities included such famous sites as the Thomson Reuters Corporation, AOL, the New York Stock Exchange, the Pentagon or the U.S. Capitol. Even though the preparations before the programme itself took a lot of time and I kept adding more information right up until June, I would like to commend the professional organisation of the programme already at this early stage.
GV 2015 started on Saturday, 27th June. I arrived in Bethlehem two days earlier together with my classmate and friend from ŠKODA AUTO University, Martin Dolejší. It was nice to return to the US after such a long time for another adventure. After the first night at the hotel, we were picked up by Mohamed, a member of the GV staff, and we headed to the nearby Lehigh University campus. It is considered one of the finest in the United States, with 150 buildings spread over the South Mountain on the south side of Bethlehem. The city itself also has an interesting history. The local steelworks, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, used to be the second largest steel producer in the USA and the largest supplier of armour for the US Army during World War II. After a troublesome 90s, the company went bankrupt in 2001 and the steelworks were shut down, which has had a negative impact on the entire city of Bethlehem and its citizens.
After arriving at the campus, Mohamed took us to the residence hall complex, which was to be our home for the next five weeks. It was obvious already during the registration process that the GV staff would be very friendly and open. Mary Frances, who was in charge of selecting the candidates for the programme, welcomed us as the first foreign participants. Only a girl from Ohio arrived before us. After taking care of the formalities, I took my luggage to our room. I was a bit disappointed with the 70s-style furnishings, but I thought I would not spend much time in the room anyway. More participants were coming during the rest of the day. I helped them with their luggage and introduced myself. Every newcomer was eager to introduce himself and get to know the others. Slowly but surely, our global village began to take shape. For a long time, this day was relatively calm. The timetable officially started on Saturday and then went practically non-stop until 1 August.
Monday evening was the official opening in the Iacocca Hall, which is built on the top of the South Mountain, offering a wonderful view of not only Bethlehem, but also the surrounding area called Lehigh Valley. All the participants wore national clothing for the gala dinner, creating an unforgettable atmosphere. It was also a great opportunity to get to know the other participants as well as some of the lecturers. The whole evening concluded with dancing, which gave a hint that the following five week would be incredibly fun.
The first few days focused on getting to know the other participants as well as the staff. In addition to employees from Lehigh University, the organisation team consisted of eight graduates from previous GV years who acted as guides. Each of them was assigned about 12 participants. The guides discussed and monitored the goals selected by the participants in advance and were generally helpful with any questions or issues. Apart from this, the groups organised their activities as part of weekly meetings such as cooking together, doing sports, playing games, eating out etc. For me, this was the most favourite part of the schedule. The reason was the people – a great guide and interesting people from all over the world.
From the second week, the programme went “live”. The day started with Country Presentations. In these presentations, pairs of usually neighbouring states would introduce their countries briefly and then they had to come up with a new business model that could be applied between the two countries. The presentation had a very strict time limit. The listeners got scoring sheets to assess the style and content of the presentations. The sheets were later available and served as very useful feedback. I consider this system to be well-thought-out and successful. The Czech Republic was divided into two groups, one cooperated with Italy, the other with Germany. I was in the Czech-German team, and creating a new business opportunity in the automotive industry was not only fun and creative, but also culturally enriching. Overall, watching the presentations was very informative, because it allowed me to learn about business practices directly from people of different origins.
The next half an hour was dedicated to the organisation of the current day or the next day. This part was not popular among the participants because information that could be provided in a simple email was presented at length. With such a busy schedule, this approach seemed like a waste of time. What followed was the first block, consisting mostly of courses or debates. Two hours for lunch passed very quickly every time, followed by the afternoon programme usually until six o’clock. The schedule often continued until ten in the evening. As for the courses, they covered the subject matter only in general terms. Therefore, if you selected courses that fit your profile and you had some knowledge in the field, you wouldn’t learn much new information. Unfortunately, this was my case. Furthermore, by the time I found out, it was too late to change the schedule. Debates and panel discussions were more interesting, especially given the fact that the guests were businessmen, employees of international companies or people coming from other fields outside education. This prevented the typical university lecture scenario full of theory, which is unfortunately what I am used to from home, when lecturers “lecture on the contents of a book” with students sitting quietly and listening with no sign of interaction. Naturally, there were cases of lecturers who were rather boring. These were the ones I quickly forgot and now I remember only several very successful and motivating people, who caught my attention with their performance and charisma throughout their presentation.
A large portion of the scheduled time as well as of our free time (which is something very scarce during GV) was dedicated to a consultancy project. The task of each six-member team was to come up with a solution to a problem assigned by a real client. I was assigned to a team with a client from the automotive industry who needed an expansion strategy for foreign markets. I was really looking forward to the consultancy project and expected it to be one of the most valuable parts of the whole programme. To my disappointment, I have to assess this part of the GV as the weakest one. Due to the limited time for work in the afternoon, there was not sufficient time to create a quality project and the engagement of some members was quite ineffective, not only because of the fatigue. The result was demotivation and reluctance to work on the project. Despite the negative aspects, this was an activity with a potential of giving you useful insights for the future – I believe this is one of the main reasons why this project is a part of GV.
The weekends, unlike the weekdays spent mostly in classrooms or halls, offered a variety of activities. We started with a visit to an amusement park which served as teambuilding for teams working on the projects. After that, there was an optional trip to Philadelphia, which allowed me to expand my knowledge of US history and I was also happy to run up the famous Rocky Steps. The remaining two weekends were dedicated to New York City and the US capital. The schedule in these amazing cities was very busy. Of course, we also got to experience the local nightlife. There were also two cultural evenings, which could be briefly described as “around the world in the backyard”. National clothing, dishes, drinks, souvenirs, music, dancing. This was only a short list of the most important parts of these evenings, which for me were the highlight in terms of exploring other cultures. I also cannot forget the Miracle League, an organisation that gives disabled children the opportunity to play baseball. One day was dedicated to these disadvantaged children. Each GV participant was assigned a child to take care of and help him or her during the baseball match. I had no personal experience with this type of event and am very glad I could try something like this.
In the preceding paragraphs, I attempted to describe what the GV is. Nonetheless, at the end of the programme, all the participants agreed hat “there is no way to describe GV, you need to experience it for yourself”. It is only now when some time has passed that I can fully assess the benefits of the five weeks. GV is not about learning. It is primarily about experiences that allow you to become aware of many other things and contexts. Firstly, it is about realising that everything depends on the people. Imagine you are doing something you really do not like. It can be work, studying, personal life or anything else. If you are working on this thing with people that inspire you and from whom you can learn, the activity immediately acquires a completely different dimension. Another conclusion is that people differ immensely. They are not better or worse, they are simply different. It is important to remember this, since this is the only way different cultures can respect each other. Interaction with people from all over the world, talking with them in the residence hall, in the kitchen when preparing meals, in the common room or just in the corridor during breaks was the most beneficial and the most interesting experience that GV gave me. Now when I look at the map, I don’t see countries, but faces. For me, it is new friendships and contacts that make the GV a very unique experience.