More than half of all graduates from the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) participate in an international experience during their time at Georgia Tech. One of the most popular options for ISyE undergraduates is the ISyE Summer Program in Asia, a faculty-led experience in which students visit three of the most influential locations in global supply chain: Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and Beijing, and take classes at partner universities with local students.
“The three locations are very different from each other,” explained Chen Zhou, associate chair for undergraduate studies and associate professor in ISyE. “We begin in Singapore, which is a very modern city with excellent public transportation and many of the similar comforts of the Western world. In contrast, when we visit Ho Chi Minh City, there are fewer luxuries, it is very crowded, and very few people speak English. In China, the students see the rapid development of the country and gain a better understanding of what it is like to work with Chinese companies.”
The ISyE Summer Program in Asia is 12 weeks long, and students complete a full summer course load while abroad. Classes include three upper-level industrial engineering courses taught by ISyE faculty and professors at the local universities and an Asian history course. This past summer, students from ISyE and Vietnam’s International University visited the War Remnants Museum, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and the Mekong Delta to learn about the history and geography of the area. They also learned about the different cultures through planned excursions and company visits in all three locations, leading to a better understanding of the people and cultural variances in each of these areas.
“The interactions between the Georgia Tech students and the local students are the most valuable aspect of the experience for many of our undergraduates,” said Zhou. “They take classes together, work on projects together, and participate in activities together outside of class. So, when our students are looking at a scenario, they get the local students’ perspective, which in many cases is very different from that of an American student. That education you cannot learn in a book.”
Classes are held Monday through Thursday each week, leaving long weekends to further explore Asia. Trips for some of the students included camping on the Great Wall of China, feeding and bathing elephants on a reservation in the northern mountains of Thailand, and climbing 1.8 km to a peak on Mt. Huashan in Huayin City, China.
Participants also learned how to navigate foreign countries without speaking the local language. “The language barrier was very difficult to overcome in Asia, particularly in China,” said ISyE third-year Andrew Yowell. “Even though Google Translate is always a handy resource, it is never flawless. I have certainly become better at communicating with only hand symbols!”
“Every weekend we were getting on a plane, bus, or train and heading to a new location,” said Farhan Digonto, a fourth-year ISyE student. “We went to places like Cambodia and South Korea and fit as many activities into our free time as possible. It was definitely a work hard, play hard experience.”
Spending three months abroad has given Digonto a new outlook. “I think my experiences have heightened my sense of adventure and willingness to explore boldly,” he said. “Furthermore, being engrossed in different cultures really has opened up my perspective of how different cultures can operate in different ways and that there is no right way to live. Specifically, I think going into the future, this program has helped me become more open-minded.”
The international experience will also set the students apart after graduation from Georgia Tech. “In today’s global economy, the likelihood that these students will one day work with an organization that imports something from Asia is pretty high,” said Zhou. “Having visited these locations will help them make better decisions because they will have a better understanding of the various cultures and local industry.”
“It was an absolutely unbelievable experience,” concluded Yowell. “I learned so much about the world and my place in it.
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering