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US Business Schools Are Collaborating With Russia, Despite Political Divides

B-school initiatives are fostering progressive relations with the Russian business community, where politicians are not

Not a week goes by it seems, without some exponentially bizarre news story involving America’s one-time red nemesis hacking, spying, or otherwise meddling in American beeswax. Not since the Cold War has the mention of Russia elicited such hysteria Stateside.

It certainly doesn’t take a pundit to understand that US-Russian relations have endured a constant steady collapse, particularly in the last year. Plenty of ink has been spilled about the Trump family’s Russian real estate connections—soured diplomatic tensions clearly haven’t affected international trade—but how have American business schools and students linked with Russia fared in recent years?

Two prominent study abroad programs weighed in on the state of affairs between the two countries.

Mohan Venkatachalam, senior associate dean for executive programs at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, spoke of his school’s “rich history in the region,” which began with the 1989 Manager Development in Russia program.

It was “an important milestone historically for the school,” Mohan believes, “as it helped cement our values in reaching across differences and geographies to develop relationships and collaborations.”

Elsewhere, the University of Virginia Darden School of Business runs a global immersion course that focuses specifically on Russia. Its aims are to help students develop empathy, deeper global perspectives, and enhance their ability to lead in a global context.

“[Our program] gives students the opportunity to explore the current business climate, how companies manage businesses across Russia, the strengths and challenges in the market, and unique cultural aspects of the country,” explains Marc Johnson, the school's senior executive director for global affairs and enterprise initiatives.

“Global leaders today need to be able to work across borders,” Marc continues, “and to develop relationships in unfamiliar contexts, in times of stability and uncertainty.”

One boundary-hopping American student who took the plunge and studied abroad is Hunter Cawood. His journey took him from Kennesaw State, outside of Georgia, to St Petersburg University’s Graduate School of Management (SPUGSM), in Russia.

Hunter was initially drawn to Russia because he “wanted something original.” He longed to rebel against “the cookie cutter American Dream” that had been pitched to him his entire life.

“I came here for the opportunity I saw in the form of economic mobility,” he says, “an emerging market with incredible potential, and the opportunity to join a network comprised of the best and brightest across Russia.”

The summer after Hunter finished his Bachelor's degree at Kennesaw State, he saved up for graduate school by working at a pizza restaurant for the summer, which he describes as the only job he could find after college.

He was equally dismayed by his graduate academic options, which were, by and large, out of his price range.

After researching, Hunter discovered a full-ride scholarship competition for international students in Russia. He applied, and won. SPUGSM’s high-quality, affordable education ultimately sold Hunter on Russia.

“Russia's educational system doesn't waste money on unnecessary amenities. This is in stark contrast to the financial flamboyancy you see at a typical American university, and it's something that drove me away from studying in the United States for my Master's,” he says.

At SPUGSM, Hunter continues to take full advantage of a strong network he hopes to develop and rely on in the future.

“I’ve met Russian movers and shakers, spoken at corporate events hosted by companies like BIOCAD and Ingria, and even participated in a TEDxTalk.”

To Hunter, the recent political turmoil, which he describes as “political drama at its worst”, has had a visible impact in terms of business relations.

“In 2012, President Obama was quoted as saying, ‘The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.’ In my mind, the 80s don't just want their foreign policy back, but they also want their Cold War mentalities back. Today, Russia is not the USSR, and Russia is not our adversary.

"If we're going to foster a sustainable, long-term relationship, then there needs to be a mindset shift in the United States that involves our media and politicians updating and evolving the way they see the world.”


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