UF MBA students at a large conference table with a UF MBA banner

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone with UF MBA

By Jonathon Little, MBA ’19

I had hesitated to participate in the Global Immersion Experience as part of my time at Warrington, but after several conversations with friends and UF faculty who had previously participated in the program, I decided to go for it. I had never left North America before. I hadn’t even been on a plane longer than three hours, but here I was, preparing for a 13-hour journey to Seoul, South Korea.

I partially chose Seoul for personal reasons, my father, who had been my strongest cheerleader in returning to school and passed away one week after orientation, was a veteran of the Korean War. I also selected Seoul because if I were to leave the continent for the first time, I wanted to experience something completely new and unique.

One of the commitments the University of Florida makes to its MBA students is “transformation guaranteed,” and this trip certainly delivered on that promise. This was an experience that is impossible to compare to a classroom setting, and one that truly challenged me not only intellectually, but also my pre-conceived notions about a nation and city that border the most volatile country on the planet.

Early in the trip, we visited the Holt Ilsan Center, a home for the developmentally disabled that could be reached from the Korean Demilitarized Zone with a well-struck 3-iron. We spent an afternoon with their residents, most non-verbal, escorting them to a local mall so they could purchase essentials with the money they earn doing jobs like making reusable grocery bags.

When visiting different businesses throughout Seoul, we were treated as colleagues rather than students. Experts across multiples industries – from banking to beauty – were eager to share their experiences, and also ask questions to learn from us. One company in particular, Outin Futures, engaged our group and was eager to ask for input on how they could better target their social media marketing to their American clientele.

We also visited the U.S. Embassy, where it was fascinating to learn about the international community from a diplomat who has served all over the globe. As someone with a background in politics, I thoroughly enjoyed gleaning first-hand insight on how our country is viewed abroad and how we are shaping the geopolitical landscape.

As previously mentioned, I had never left North America before, but our business visits were far from the only thing that encouraged me to open my eyes to new experiences. I can also now say I know what it feels like to have an octopus, one that just five minutes prior had been carefree and bouncing around a tank in a fish market, attach itself to the inside of your mouth as you take the first bite.

As I prepare to graduate next month, this experience will by far be the highlight of my time at the University of Florida, and one I will remember for the rest of my life. Thinking back to the residents of the Ilsan Center, I am honored to have been part of the first GIE group to participate in service learning and have the opportunity to give back to the country that opened my eyes to a new culture, and of course a new culinary experience.

I can’t recommend the GIE enough to all students working toward their MBA, especially as our world overwhelming becomes more global. I am incredibly grateful for this experience.