Redefining Virtual Study Abroad

As we finish up the project and semester, it’s difficult to wrap my mind around the idea that our group truly encountered a once in a lifetime opportunity, when it comes to “virtual study abroad.” While I obviously prefer to not be in a pandemic, and incorporate travel into international programs, it has been extremely interesting learning how to engage in global business from my South Oakland apartment. When the pandemic finally runs its course, the business world will be forever changed, and therefore experiencing this need for flexibility and comfort with remote interactions is critical to our future endeavors.

Beyond our individual learning impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an even greater impact to the functionality of entire countries, one of note being Germany– home to our client Possehl Online Solutions. Our group has done extensive research into the digital trends of this country and based on our findings that the nation has been slow to digitization over the last few years, I am sure the surge in demand for virtual everything was quite a shock to businesses and their e-commerce capabilities. This shocking dilemma comes with pros and cons however, the disadvantage being that Germany was likely widely unprepared for the need for consumers to attain their goods virtually and business to be conducted from home with makeshift offices. On the other hand, the pandemic entices opportunity for Germany, because due to the lack of digitization, businesses can only go up from the status quo. Possehl Online Solutions is a perfect sample of this notion, considering their services play the role in digitizing manufacturers’ avenues of marketing, from e-commerce, to consulting, to SEO, to user experience. The pandemic caused devastation worldwide, challenging businesses to catalyze trends that would likely arrive years in the future, making them work in an environment that may or may not be ready.

Specifically, Possehl, is able to rise to the challenge on behalf of its already digital business model and offer aid to B2B markets that now have a demand for their services. Based on these circumstances, I believe our project has a new layer of purpose and significance, to not only partner with Possehl and provide insights to marketing strategies, but also help in creating a resource to German manufacturing companies who have a new need for e-commerce.

Despite Possehl’s ability to leverage silver linings, a major shift in the way business is conducted comes with its challenges. While I do not want to generalize, I have noticed in my own personal observations that working in an online environment, while granted us the ability to gain adaptability and well-rounded business skills, has grown tiresome and consequential after over a year in the making. The Zoom fatigue and inability to engage off body language seems to have created a great obstacle in communication between peers in all collaborative school projects. I believe this has made it more difficult to accurately convey and build off one another’s ideas due to the lack of community derived in typical in-person classes. This has subsequently affected our ability to communicate conversationally or socially. In an online environment, there is no need to say more or less than the specific subject matter at hand, because of the option of hiding behind a screen and becoming distracted with your individual surroundings that no one else can relate to. I believe this would have posed a much greater threat to the efficiency and effectiveness of our project, had we been working with a more high context country. Personal relationship-building in Germany is extremely less vital to the success of business as opposed to countries like Bolivia, Trinidad, or Puerto Rico. The low context trends of the country’s business etiquette offers a large agenda of business topics to be covered, and therefore more opportunity to fill silence with purposeful questions directly related to the project. Had we been working with a country that builds their business etiquette on personal relationships, we would have had a domino effect of challenges.

Additionally, when it comes to our group personally, a lot of collaboration is lost from Zoom fatigue as well, because students campus-wide prefer to leave their Zoom calls in general, and complete their components of the assignment on their own. This eliminates opportunities to bounce ideas off one another, but simultaneously staying on longer would result in greater Zoom fatigue, and thus lesser ability to contribute to the project– a seemingly lose-lose situation. That being said, I think our group has done a wonderful job of overcoming the Zoom fatigue, to ensure we always have our questions answered, deadlines met, and progress in the project achieved. This circles back the adaptability skills we all have attained throughout the pandemic.

I am extremely proud of our group for remaining focused, determined, and innovative, in a time where it is becoming increasingly difficult for students to do so. Additionally, I am very excited to present our findings and recommendations to our client in just a couple weeks!