Students without borders: Integrated Business and Humanities cohort embarking for Ecuador

| Hamilton
Contributed by Andrew Baulcomb, Communications Officer

A professor and students sitting around a table in an IBH class.

“In this part of the world, people do things differently. We’ll be talking about western and indigenous ways of thinking, as well as profits, work distribution, and individual versus community rewards,” says Emad Mohammad (left-centre), IBH Director and Associate Professor, Accounting and Financial Management Services.


Have you ever taken a canoe to an outdoor educational site deep in the Amazon rainforest?

Come October, second-year students in McMaster’s Integrated Business and Humanities (IBH) program will be able to tick that box during an eight-day trip through Ecuador.

While abroad, students will spend time in Quito, the capital, as well as the lush Cloud Forest, the Amazon basin, and Minga Lodge, situated on the banks of the Rio Napo.

The aim of the trip is to expose IBH students to some of the unique business and cultural practices in the heart of the country. It’s not a volunteer excursion, though. Participants are there to learn, observe, and take part in community building in a manner that is natural and non-intrusive.

“Students are going to learn something very important on this trip: We’re not saviours,” says Emad Mohammad, IBH Director and Associate Professor, Accounting and Financial Management Services.

“In this part of the world, people do things differently. We’ll be talking about western and indigenous ways of thinking, as well as profits, work distribution, and individual versus community rewards,” he continues.

Students will depart Oct. 5 and learn a few basic phrases in Spanish as part of their introduction to Ecuador. From there, they will take part in a series of case studies, workshops, tours, and outdoor activities on a rotating basis.

While in the Amazon, mornings will typically include meditation, workshops, and educational learning provided by the IBH program and logistical partner ME to WE. During the afternoon, student groups will swap activities. Evenings will be reserved for debriefing and personal reflection.

Experiential activities will include everything from touring a rural cacao farm to meeting with a local shaman. Students will also assist at build sites for three days near the end of the trip, before returning to Canada Oct. 14.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t use something I have learned in IBH. I believe I have become a more informed student, and I have worked hard to push myself beyond my comfort zone.”

Emma Hamilton, second-year IBH student

Hamilton native and second-year IBH student Dylan Pacheco has never been outside Canada. He describes traveling to Ecuador as a “special opportunity” that will surely impact his global outlook.

“I cannot express how eager I am to experience the ways of another community so far away from home,” says Pacheco, who described himself as shy and timid prior to entering the IBH program.

“I look forward to sharing knowledge and experiences with local community members, and embracing the similarities and differences between our daily lives.”

Emma Hamilton, originally from Innisfil, Ontario, says the IBH program has inspired her to learn while pushing her own boundaries.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t use something I have learned in IBH,” Hamilton says. “I believe I have become a more informed student, and I have worked hard to push myself beyond my comfort zone.”

Hamilton, who has never been south of the United States, describes the upcoming trip as one big adventure. “This trip will be our first hands-on experience, and a check point to see how far we have come in just under 14 months,” she adds.

Others, like Abiha Hassan, are approaching the trip with a more methodical perspective.

“I am hoping to learn how communities in Hamilton and Ecuador are both similar and different, in terms of business and culture,” explains Hassan, who is also from Hamilton.

“I want to learn about our shared weaknesses and strengths, and how we can partner up and support each other in order to address certain issues,” she continues. “One expectation I have of the trip is that we as students will have the chance to hold direct conversations with local Ecuador residents.”

Is this a social enterprise? Is this a corporation? “These are the kinds of questions the students will be asking as part of the learning process,” says Mohammad. “They’re out of the classroom, but not out of school. They’re driving their own education in a very unique way.”

Nancy Doubleday, Professor, Department of Philosophy, and McMaster’s Hope Chair in Peace and Health, knows how valuable it is for students to embrace interdisciplinarity in all aspects of their lives.

“In the Faculty of Humanities, we understand the importance of diversity, as well as actively respecting one another, in order to build futures that are more sustainable, peaceful, and just,” she says.

“To do this, opening ourselves to other cultures and ways of knowing, without motivations of appropriation, matters,” Doubleday continues. “There is no doubt IBH students will be changed by this experience.”

Jointly developed by McMaster’s Faculties of Business and Humanities, the IBH program was conceived to produce the country’s next generation of business leaders. It launched in September 2017 with approximately 50 students.

The inaugural cohort was selected based on academic standing, leadership qualities, extracurricular activities, volunteerism, and community engagement. In addition, each student took part in a wide-ranging online interview prior to admission.

The majority of coursework involves real-time case studies, with students and faculty examining current issues around the globe. Fittingly, nearly half the inaugural cohort – the one departing for South America – can speak more than one language.

Graduates of the program will possess sharp critical thinking skills, personal and ethical values, and emotional intelligence to help transform communities at home and abroad.

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