By Gerald Narciso
In a different time almost three decades ago, Kevin deWolde, then a business undergraduate student, made a decision that would alter his lens on the world and his career:
He picked up his passport and left North America.
Spending a semester abroad in Amsterdam, deWolde, now an associate professor in the UFV School of Business, expanded his knowledge of global business while simultaneously building relationships and immersing himself in Dutch culture.
“I tell my students all the time, that was the best semester of my college years,” says deWolde. “And by going somewhere else, you realize there are different perspectives of how people look at life in the world.”
A few years after his experience in the Netherlands and working in industry post-graduation, deWolde returned overseas, this time enrolling at the MBA program at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.
It is no wonder after an 18-year career in accounting, where he worked in both the public sector and the agriculture and manufacturing industries, deWolde pushed to help create an accredited international business program at UFV once he became a full-time faculty member in 2010.
“Having an International Business option at UFV creates some real tangible long-term opportunities for current and prospective business students,” says deWolde. “Our BBA students need to be equipped to operate in a global marketplace. I feel like that aspect was missing from our program in previous years.”
Part of the mandate of the new IB major is to help prepare students to succeed in this global environment by providing opportunities to develop intercultural competency in business settings. The program involves a study-abroad semester — including taking three upper-level business courses — at one of UFV’s 60 international partner universities, which include schools in Europe, Asia, and Australia. The program also requires students to take a foreign language course. (Of course, this semester will have to wait until COVID-19 restrictions ease.)
“We have a lot of faculty who already have vast experience in international business,” deWolde says. “Many of them have dual citizenship in different countries and have worked abroad.”
DeWolde believes that the program will not only benefit those students with globetrotting career ambitions but will also help those who plan to remain based in Canada. It’s important for all business grads to understand cultural differences, be aware of exchange rates and tax information as they relate to foreign vendors, and have some knowledge of the global economy and its impact on acquisitions and mergers.
“Here in Canada, we have such a multicultural workforce of first-generation Canadians, recent immigrants, and second-generation Canadians who still have close ties to their country of origin,” says deWolde. “That brings a need to have cross-cultural skills in a business setting.”
Prior to the IB program, UFV experimented with a pilot program that included a two-week field school course that included travel to UFV’s international partners in Switzerland and the Netherlands. It was designed for UFV students looking to gain a memorable international experience in a condensed format but with the global pandemic, the course was cancelled in both 2020 and 2021. The school of business plans to revive the program in 2022.
As global travel slowly resumes to normalcy, deWolde believes that the launch of the International Business program at UFV will help facilitate those same face-to-face interactions with like-minded business professionals from around the globe. Much like it did for him 30 years ago.
“Get outside of your comfort zone!” deWolde stresses. “There is something to be said about being a fish out of water and being uncomfortable. You just learn so much about yourself and the world through the context of other people in other cultures. It really changes your perspective on how you look at life and the global reach you can have in business.”