Action Activities for International Business

By Les Dlabay
Professor of Business
Lake Forest College, Illinois

Do you say to your students, "It's time to go over the homework"? Or do you say, "It's time to present the results of your field research"? The difference between these two statements is the result of active engagement of students in the learning process.

Teachers frequently ask, "What are some effective ways to develop student involvement and interaction?" When teaching international business, some easy-to-implement activities can be used to expand student interest and enhance learning.

Country Analysis

Most international business experts consider "market analysis" to be the most important aspect of planning global operations. Students can learn about this process with culture and business environment activities.

Activity 1: Cultural analysis. When greeting someone in another country, should a person bow, nod, shake hands, or kiss? This decision will be one of many cultural actions that could affect international business activities. Have students conduct research and, if possible, talk with someone from another country. They should obtain information about various traditions, customs, foods, music, clothing, recreation, holidays, and religion in one or more countries.

Cultural web sites: Mexico, Canada-U.S. comparison (http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/culxcomp.html), cross-cultural comparisons (http://www.geocities.com/Broadway/1906/culture.html), Executive Planet (http://www.executiveplanet.com/), cultural profiles (http://www.getcustoms.com), and cultural beliefs (http://www.zompist.com/amercult.html).

Activity 2: Business environment. Beyond culture, various economic and political factors also affect global business activities. Income levels, inflation, infrastructure, business regulations, and government stability will affect a company's operations in foreign markets. Have students obtain economic and political information about a country. Ask them to prepare a short summary of their findings and explain how this information might affect business activities in that country.

Country information web sites: State Department (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/), CIA Factbook (http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html), country briefings from The Economist (http://www.economist.com/countries/), World Bank Country Data (http://www.worldbank.org/data/), International Monetary Fund (http://www.imf.org/external/country/index.htm), country Facts and statistics at http://www.worldfactsandfigures.com/ and http://www.nationmaster.com/.

Marketplace Analysis Activities

Many products sold in your area have a strong international business connection. For example, food companies based in other countries frequently sell in your local stores. In addition, many products used by students are manufactured in other countries.

Activity 3: Package, label analysis. Have students obtain food packages, clothing labels, or advertisements from other countries. These items may be used to identify the country of origin as well as to make observations about the culture, economy, and government activities.

Global packaging web sites: Foreign groceries museum (http://www.portigal.com/Museum.htm), Breakfast characters guide (http://www.lavasurfer.com/cereal-guide.html), Cereal Partners Worldwide (http://www.cerealpartners.co.uk), Star Wars cereal in various countries (http://www.toysrgus.com/images-food/cereal-chart.html), General Mills products by country (http://www.generalmills.com/corporate/businesses/international), country web sites for Pepsi products (http://www.pepsico.com/company/brands_links.shtml).

Activity 4: In-store observations. In many cities, ethnic stores and festivals are present. Have students visit to observe products, displays, promotions, behaviors, and other activities. Caution students not to be intrusive in the situation; they should avoid drawing attention to their presence. The best advice is to be a shopper who is carefully observing the environment. Have students describe their observations and explain the situations they viewed.

Field observation web sites: Culture slides (http://www.geog.okstate.edu/users/lightfoot/lfoot.htm), marketplace images (http://www.openair.org/opair/restwrld.html).

Field Research Activities

Student interactions with people who have lived in or traveled to other countries can be a valuable resource.

Activity 5: Interviews. Talking to others who are familiar with another country is an easy way to obtain cultural information. When conducting interviews, students should prepare four or five questions that will get people talking about the main topics they are studying. Then, students should ask follow-up questions to obtain more details based on the initial responses received. "Interviews" conducted by e-mail should include no more than five questions. Remind students to send individual e-mails, and not "spam" many people at one time. The results of interviews can be reported in writing or orally. Students should also be encouraged to use interview findings in research papers.

U.S. government contacts around the world web sites: U.S. Export Assistance Center Contacts (http://www.export.gov/comm_svc/eac.html), U.S. Embassy contacts (http://usembassy.state.gov) and (http://travel.state.gov/visa/questions_embassy.html), and foreign embassies in the U.S. (http://www.embassy.org).

Activity 6: Consumer survey. Have students create a short questionnaire-no more than ten questions. Topics of surveys may include opinions about international trade, quality of products from other countries, and international events. Results of the survey can be reported using posters, PowerPoint, or other visuals.

Conducting survey web sites: Online survey information (http://www.surveysite.com/ and http://free-online-surveys.co.uk/), information on conducting surveys (http://www.mapnp.org/library/commskls/surveys/surveys.htm#anchor4294401805 and http://writing.colostate.edu/references/research/survey/pop2b.cfm).

Geography Activities

Location, climate, terrain, waterways, natural resources, and other geographic factors are fundamental to understanding international business.

Activity 7: Geography Analysis. Have students prepare a summary with maps of the climate, waterways, and terrain of a country to explain the influence of geographic factors on international business activities. They may also identify natural resources and agricultural products that could create a global business opportunity for a country.

Map and geography web sites: Atlapedia (http://www.atlapedia.com), University of Texas map collection (http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/index.html), World Atlas.com (http://www.worldatlas.com/aatlas/world.htm), About Geography (http://geography.about.com/), Earthweek (http://www.earthweek.com/), Geographic.org (http://www.geographic.org/), Geography Network (http://www.geographynetwork.com/).

Activity 8: Trade relations. A country's trade activities are affected by location, waterways, and other geographic factors. Have students study maps to identify geographic elements that could encourage and discourage trade within a region. Ask students to write or tell a brief summary, with maps to visually explain their findings.

Regional trade agreement web sites: Association of Southeast Asian Nations (http://www.aseansec.org/), Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (http://www.apec.org), CARICOM (Caribbean Economic Community), CARICOM-Caribbean Economy Community (http://www.caricom.org), Economic Community of West African States (http://www.mbendi.co.za/cb17.htm), European Union (http://europa.eu.int/index_en.htm), MERCOSUR (http://www.rau.edu.uy/mercosur/), North American Free Trade Agreement (http://www.nafta-sec-alena.org).

Currency Activities

The money of a country provides tangible evidence of the nation's past as well as information about its economic activities.

Activity 9: Banknote analysis. The images on paper money reflect the history, geography, economics, and culture of a country. Many students have access to sample banknotes from other countries. In addition, images are available online. Using actual paper currency or online images, have students describe the visual features (both front and back) of banknotes from one or more countries. Students should point out evidence of historic, geographic, economic, cultural-social, political-legal influences on the images portrayed. In addition, students could conduct research to identify factors that have affected the value of the currency.

Global banknote image web site: Geographical Directory of World Paper Money (http://aes.iupui.edu/rwise/notedir/mappage.html)

Activity 10: Changing Exchange Rates. Each day, changes occur for the value of a country's currency in relation to other countries. Have students prepare a chart (with visuals) of recent values of different currencies. In addition, students should be able to discuss factors that may have affected recent changes in the exchange rates of these countries.

Foreign exchange rate web sites: Universal Currency Converter (http://www.xe.com/ucc/), X-Rates (http://www.x-rates.com), Oanda (http://www.oanda.com), Currencies of the World (http://fx.sauder.ubc.ca/currency_table.html), the Euro (http://www.euro.ecb.int/).

Team Projects

Working in teams is a vital skill desired by almost all employers. The use of team projects can result in several benefits for students. Possible project topics include:

Case analysis. Student teams can be assigned an actual situation (from a news article) or created scenario about a company planning to do business in another country. Team research should involve background information on the company and country. Students should organize their findings as recommendations for action by the company.

Field research. Team projects might bring together field observations, interviews, and surveys to obtain information on an international business topic. The study could involve using various research techniques to analyze a country or to plan global business operations.

A business plan for International. A team project may involve various elements of an international business plan, including: (1) identifying a product; (2) analyzing the foreign market; (3) planning financing methods; and (4) creating a marketing strategy.

In the team project process, several steps are usually involved. First, forming teams and identifying topics. Next, conducting research and organizing findings Finally, reporting results with a research reports, team presentation, or in a visual format, such as a video, newsletter, or web site. Written reports should include visuals such as maps, photos, and posters to enhance the presentation.

Team project and presentation web sites: Virtual Presentation Assistant (http://www.ukans.edu/cwis/units/coms2/vpa/vpa.htm) effective presentations information (http://www.kumc.edu/SAH/OTEd/jradel/effective.html) effective team projects (http://www.csufresno.edu/cetl/FacInfo/QuickTips/Teams.html).