US students experience business in Africa

JUNE 6, 2016

Fourteen Masters of Accounting students from Kansas University (KU) in the United States have just wrapped up a two-week “study abroad” trip to South Africa – hosted by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) – to get a taste of business in Africa.

The students attended lectures and information sessions at NMMU – and also visited key industries in the Bay, including Volkswagen and SAB – to gain insight into South African business culture.

They also travelled to Cape Town, where they visited two other universities – the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

In between, they gained a glimpse of South Africa’s past and its many socio-economic challenges, through visits to Robben Island in Cape Town, and several townships in Nelson Mandela Bay. 

For just about all of them, any pre-conceived ideas they had about the country were shattered – and most are already planning a return trip.

“South Africa has been so much more than I ever imagined it to be,” said Mel Mihelic. “It’s a beautiful country with beautiful people and an amazing future ahead of it.”

“I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to travel to South Africa and have my image of the country changed,” said Charlie McCool. “I’m already thinking of when I might be able to come back.”

Rylee Fuerst said she was so grateful to have such an “eye opening experience … we saw the good and the bad and I can’t wait to come back”, while Dinah Lin described the visit as “mind-opening”.

Morgan Shapiro was struck by the vast differences between South Africa’s Chartered Accounting (CA) qualification and the United States’ Certified Public Accountant (CPA) programme. “Comparing our CPA to the CA was intriguing. [The CA is] way more technical than ours.”

NMMU’s Head of the Department of Applied Accounting, Prof Houdini Fourie, was instrumental in organising the visit. He visited the School of Business at KU two years ago to research the highly-successful teaching model they employ to ensure “at-risk” learners in massive classrooms don’t “fall through the cracks”. Working with Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), the system has been adapted for a South African context and will soon be piloted at NMMU’s Second Avenue Campus and at TUT’s Ga-Rankuwa Campus.

While over there, he also learned of the School’s various “study abroad programmes”, which expose their Masters of Accounting students to business in other countries.

A few conversations later, and KU had planned their very first trip to Africa.

Fourie said KU’s “study abroad” visit to NMMU had been so successful, it will be an annual event. The two universities are also considering a broader exchange programme.

 “A visit like this opens up the eyes and horizons of students, who may one day end up doing business with South Africa.”

Prof Lisa Ottinger, Director of the Masters of Accounting programme at KU’s School of Business, said the trip was twofold: it was a “personal journey” that would no doubt impact the students’ “personal philosophy, beliefs and knowledge about themselves and others”; and it gave the students insight into business systems that differed from those they were used to, which will assist in their professional development. “Many will go into accounting firms that are global.”

“From a business perspective, they tend to think the world runs businesses like the United States and Western Europe. The business climate here is different compared to where we’re from … In the part of the United States we’re from, South Africa isn’t even on the radar screen, but some of these students may develop connections that will carry over into their careers.”

Prof Bill Fuerst, former Dean of KU’s School of Business at KU, called the study abroad programme a “great rounding experience for students”.

“The real learning opportunity for students is in thinking through those differences [between the US and the country visited] – it will make them better students and better professionals.” He said other countries KU had visited included China, India, Costa Rica, Germany and Israel.