X-Culture Project Tests Students in Global Virtual World

Stacy Rabat, left, and Greg Yaple both participated in the X-Culture Project, each working with a team of students from around the world to complete a group project for an international client.

Stacy Rabat, left, and Greg Yaple both participated in the X-Culture Project, each working with a team of students from around the world to complete a group project for an international client.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

If you think it’s tough to complete a group project with a team of classmates, try doing it with students in four time zones speaking different languages.

That’s exactly the challenge the X-Culture Project presented to students in Dr. William Johnson’s MGMT 461 International Management classes. Each student was placed on a virtual team with a half dozen students from around the globe.

“It’s the closest thing students can get to a real global virtual strategic team before they join the workforce, where this type of effort is becoming increasingly utilized and valued,” said Johnson, an associate professor of management.

The X-Culture Project is the brainchild of a North Carolina business professor who coordinates the virtual business collaboration. Last year, nearly 3,600 students from 102 universities in forty-one countries participated.

“My teammates were from Pakistan, Romania, Italy, and Brazil,” said Stacy Rabat, a senior Marketing major who worked with her international counterparts to develop a strategic marketing plan for a startup company in Belgium. “The language barrier and time zones definitely put a strain on how efficiently the team worked together, at first anyway,” she said.

But as with any new learning experience, the initial frustration led Rabat’s team to find creative solutions to avoid stumbling blocks and successfully complete its assignment.

Greg Yaple, a senior majoring in both International Business and Marketing, participated on an X-Culture Project team with students from Brazil, Estonia, Italy, and Iran.

Yaple’s team worked with a Belgian start-up company that had created a mobile application that allows users to order and pay for their meals at participating restaurants.

“Our job was to analyze their current business strategies, evaluate them, and create an improved business plan,” he said.

It was made more difficult, of course, by the diversity of the team.

“Every group member was different in terms of age, culture, profession, and education,” Yaple said. “But the further we progressed, the easier it became to overcome those things and work together to deliver a well thought out business strategy for our company.”

Johnson said the biggest hurdle for most American students in the X-Culture Project is related to cultural differences in time management.

“Some cultures are less specific and structured about time, relying on the famous ‘ish’,’’ he said. “So a team may agree to meet at 4:00 p.m., but, to some, that might mean anywhere between 2 and 6 o’clock.”

The experience can be frustrating for American college students who are accustomed to structured schedules. Johnson said it’s all part of the X-Culture Project lesson.

“Learning how to deal with people and get work done in a messy world, where not everyone you have to work with has the same values and sense of what is important, is a valuable skill to develop in today’s global business environment,” he said.

Rabat and Yaple both said the X-Culture Project was one of the best hands-on learning experiences they’ve had as students in the Black School of Business.

“It was a rewarding experience overall,” Yaple said. “We made international contacts, learned what to expect while doing business on an international level, and had an opportunity to utilize the strategies and theories we’ve been learning to help a real company.”

X-Culture Project organizers were pleased too.

“Based on peer evaluations and performance records, Behrend students were very well prepared,” said Dr. Vasyl Taras, X-Culture Project coordinator. “They put an impressive effort into working with their teams, made significant intellectual contributions, and made a very positive impression on their team members.”