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Getting real-world business experience through international study tours

When Jess Singh (Morning MBA ’18) started thinking more seriously about a career in international business, she realized there was only one way to see if it was the right move for her: she needed to jump in and give it a try.

During her MBA program, she completed two international study tours — which took her to China and South America — where she worked closely with firms in the region to develop solutions to real business problems.


“Until you experience the challenges firms face in those regions, you can’t fully appreciate how to run a successful business there.”

-Jess Singh (Morning MBA ’18)


For Singh, the experience was eye-opening.

“It’s easy to read about different business models that have been successful in various parts of the world, but until you experience the challenges firms face in those regions, you can’t fully appreciate how to run a successful business there,” says Singh.

A focus on hands-on, experiential learning is a key feature of all international study tours at Rotman. Every year, these tours, which are offered as electives, take MBA students out of the classroom to various regions of the world, including Silicon Valley, South America, Europe, India, China and the Middle East, to see entrepreneurship, innovation and Business Design in action.

Stepping out of the classroom and making an impact

Leading up to the recent 13-day South America study tour, which included stops in Lima, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Singh and her classmates spent a semester in the classroom examining the social, political and economic institutions that inform business practices around the world, with Professor Anil Verma.

Outside of class, the students held regular conference calls with executives from DKT International, a leading provider of family planning services and products, about their current business problems. Singh and her team agreed to take on a hefty challenge: develop a marketing strategy to increase condom sales among Brazilian youth.

“This is not just a business problem. It’s also a social and health issue,” explains Singh. “Once we landed, we knew we needed to roll up our sleeves and do more work on the ground to understand the culture and social attitudes around family planning in Brazil.”

In addition to conducting market scans and research, Singh and her team made an effort to talk to local youth when they landed in Brazil. And these efforts went a long way in strengthening the recommendations they presented to DKT in São Paolo.

“We didn’t just take a look at the facts and figures available in financial statements,” says Singh. “We leveraged the knowledge we acquired on the ground to offer bold, but applicable, recommendations.”

A peek inside the world’s most influential companies

In addition to working on real-life business problems, the students had the chance to peer inside leading organizations and speak with executives from around the world, another defining feature of the tours.


“Speaking with leaders in the Valley, who are immersed in innovation and entrepreneurship, has given me a big-picture view of the startup ecosystem.”

-Lucas Siow (MBA ’18)


For Lucas Siow (MBA ’18), who eventually wants to develop and launch a startup, the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley has been valuable.

“Speaking with leaders in the Valley, who are immersed in innovation and entrepreneurship, has given me a big-picture view of the startup ecosystem,” says Siow.

For the Silicon Valley tour, he and his classmates spent weeks consulting on a business issue for the Citi Ventures D10X program, Citibank’s internal innovation initiative, based in the San Francisco Bay area. Before setting off to the Valley — where the class toured Tesla, Slack and Google — they visited startup offices and incubators in Toronto and Waterloo. In addition to learning from experienced entrepreneur Professor Richard Blundell, the students also heard from founders and funders.

The most important lesson he learned was the importance of reputation, says Siow. “It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how brilliant your product is, you need to build your credibility and maintain good relationships so that others will be willing to put their support behind you.”

Looking at the world and business in a new way

Cailin Hillier (MBA ’18) also understands the importance of networking and making meaningful connections. Through international study tours with Rotman, she’s been able to double her network.


“Instead of seeing business problem within the scope of an organization or within Toronto, I now consider its potential impact, globally.”

-Cailin Hillier (MBA ’18)


“I now have this strong community of intelligent people from New York and Silicon Valley to speak with and draw insights from,” says Hillier, who also intends to launch a startup one day.

Before embarking on the Silicon Valley tour, she completed the Business Design-focused tour of New York City. The lessons and experiences she took away from these excursions gave her an advantage when it came time to apply for internships and full-time work after graduation.

“Seeing in person how organizations have incorporated principles of design and innovation into their practices has allowed me to stand out in interviews,” she explains. “I have that added experience, outside of the classroom, to draw from.”

More than that, the study tours have broadened her perspective of business.

“It’s altered my world view completely,” she says. “Instead of seeing business problem within the scope of an organization or within Toronto, I now consider its potential impact, globally.”


Written by Rebecca Cheung

International Study Tour
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