By Ruth Ormiston, Gustavson External Relations co-op student. Photo: Dayah Johal.

When Dayah Johal entered UVic’s Master of Global Business (MGB) program in January, she anticipated spending the upcoming year learning abroad and making new friends from around the world. She did not expect the declaration of a global pandemic a week before she was set to leave for her study term in Austria, completing the remainder of her program online, or starting an internship remotely from her hometown. Yet amidst the constant change, the anxiety, and the gloom of the past six months, Dayah has resolutely focused on finding hidden positivity and unexpected learning opportunities. Speaking over the phone from Vancouver, she relates, “I was supposed to be away from home for this entire year, so a silver lining is definitely that I got to spend more time with my family here. Also,” she adds good-naturedly, “I was able to take the time to Kon-Mari clean and spark joy in my new makeshift workspace.”

For Dayah, applying to the MGB program was a logical next step considering her past interests and experiences. “In high school, I went into the late French Immersion program, which is what first inspired my interest in learning about new languages and new cultures,” she says. She went on to do her Bachelor of Commerce at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, where her passion for languages and global cultures lead her to a double specialization in marketing and international business. While at UBC, Dayah also completed a co-op at Vancouver Airport Authority. After continuing to work there for five years, Dayah relates, “I decided to go back to school to be able to set myself up for success and be able to take on more a senior leadership role in the future. That’s when I applied and was accepted to the UVic MGB program.”

UVic’s MGB program can be completed within 12-16 months. Incoming students choose between four paths, each one providing them with the opportunity to study at two partner universities around the world after their first term at UVic, and to complete their degree with a global internship. Dayah was enrolled in Path 3, which meant that after starting at UVic in January 2020, she and her international cohort would head off to study in Austria and Peru. Sadly, one week before Dayah was set to leave for Austria to begin the first international module of her degree, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic and international borders began to close. “Just as the UVic portion of the experience was coming to a close,” she recalls, “that’s exactly when COVID hit, so in a way it was good that I hadn’t actually boarded the plane…because in mere days I was just about to.”

 

An Adapted MGB Program

 

Not only did this unsettling news mean that MGB students could no longer complete their coursework abroad, but it also meant that the program had to shift entirely to online learning. Fortunately, it was able to quickly adapt and keep its students on track to finish their degree on time. Although Dayah’s cohort was now learning online from their homes all over the world, both of their remaining international terms were still led by the program’s partner universities abroad. For example, Dayah says, “[Our] professors were actually from the partner university in Austria and Peru, and the companies we did a real-life consulting project with in the third term were located in Peru.” She adds that “still being able to have the professors and partner universities host … was a great learning opportunity as it showed you how to work internationally virtually. It also helped you gain a better understanding of what’s important in different parts of the world and enrich your cultural intelligence.” The logistics of virtual learning also provided unexpected learning opportunities for Dayah and her classmates. “I was able to learn how to use new technologies to host virtual meetings and we were able to create ways to be interactive online. It was great to work with international students and professors because we had to learn in real-life how to work around various time zones” she says. “Virtual learning and working are definitely the way of the future regardless of the circumstances caused by the pandemic, so this practical experience was invaluable.”

 

Staying Connected – Virtually

 

Virtual learning and being spread out across the world did not stop Dayah’s cohort from staying connected and strengthening their bond. “Social media, messaging, and video chat were all ways that we were able to keep in contact and continue building relationships,” she relates. “My cohort kind of became like my family even though we were only together for the first term in person.” In fact, digital communication allowed for some very unique – and very sentimental – moments among the MGB students. “At the closing ceremonies for both the Austria and Peru terms,” Dayah recounts, “our peers actually surprised us with these fun and sentimental video slideshows. For example, my Austrian classmates filmed a virtual tour around campus because we didn’t get to visit. They carried around a class photo of all of us so we had the chance to ‘visit’ metaphorically.” Her Peruvian classmates were also creative at the end of term: “[They] created a slideshow and shared personal video messages. That’s something that I can keep forever as a memory from my MGB experience, [and] would only have happened as a result of this adapted format.”

In addition to providing firsthand insight into the potential of virtual communication, taking the MGB program during the pandemic also expanded Dayah’s understanding of international business. For one, she was seeing cases she had studied in class play out in real time: “It’s interesting,” she explains, “because we had a lot of case-based learning where we would analyze companies that went through crises and were able to either come out of it stronger or plummet and fail. To go through a similar experience that we [had read] about in real life [was] definitely a historic moment and something that forced us to think outside the box more than I ever thought I would as a Master’s student.” The unique circumstances of her program also proved that “you can build relationships, conduct meetings and complete quality projects via virtual learning.”

 

Making the Most of the MGB during COVID-19

 

As Dayah and her classmates finish up their MGBs, this fall’s incoming cohort has just started their first term of virtual learning. When sharing what advice she would give to new MGB students going through the program online, Dayah stresses, “Take the time to hang out online with your cohort and get to know them. Use social media to your advantage to keep in touch and help your cohort learn more about your own interests and experiences. It’s a unique way for us in these days to share more about ourselves.” She adds that even small gestures like keeping webcams on during breakout rooms can make a big difference “not only in the engagement of others, but your own engagement as well”.

Dayah also recommends that MGB students make the most of their time with each other by sharing what they’re proud of from their home country: “Share your stories and your anecdotes because even though you feel like you might be talking to a computer screen, your classmates are listening and just as eager as you are to learn about your [countries]. Don’t be afraid to share your observations on your own home or the international destinations that you’re going to be working with. That’s seriously valuable insight to your cohort and your professors.” Overall, she emphasizes that taking the initiative to connect with other students and professors “makes the team cohesion better [and] makes the online classroom environment more enjoyable as well.”

 

Looking Back and Thinking Ahead

 

While incoming students are embarking on their MGB journey, Dayah is finishing up the last stage of her degree by completing an internship with the BC Public Service while working remotely from Vancouver. As a Market Development Officer for the Ministry of Agriculture, she is working on the Buy BC Program, which supports and promotes local BC restaurants, farmers, and food producers. Dayah explains that the ability to do an internship was one of the primary reasons she chose the MGB program, and does not take the opportunity for granted: “During COVID, [when] work can be hard to come by, especially for students and new grads, I feel really fortunate that I had access to the co-op centre at Gustavson.”

In fact, despite the turmoil and ever-changing circumstances of the past year, Dayah remains hopeful for her future career and grateful for her time in the MGB program. “Originally I chose the MGB program specifically because I didn’t want to [do] online learning,” she says, “but I still feel like I was able to heighten my cultural intelligence and leadership skills, and become more of an adaptable, resilient person.” She specifically names the program’s second language requirement as a highlight, admitting that she feels like she learned new language skills not only in the classroom, but also through her classmates. Looking back, she cherishes the time she spent with these “adventurous, curious, driven individuals,” saying that “we really became a tight-knit family even though we were only able to physically be together those first three months of the term.”

Meanwhile, Dayah looks forward to applying all the unanticipated learning opportunities from her online MGB to her future career. “The experience I had online, including doing a consulting project with a real company from Peru and working with people [from] different backgrounds, was invaluable,” she explains. And, of course, she is excited for when the time comes for her to safely travel again, stating that Austria and Peru will be the “first places I plan on travelling now that I’ve made some great friendships through the program.”

While Dayah’s time in the MGB program has unfolded in unexpected and uniquely challenging ways, she is determined that it was the right experience for her to have this year. “Even though I’m really disappointed that the international travel part was gone due to COVID restrictions, I’m confident that this was the right year for me to do the MGB,” she says. “There’s been a lot of heartache and a lot of hardship in 2020 so far, but I truly feel like I’m coming out ahead despite the pandemic, thanks to having the MGB to show for it.”