In January 2022, the BYU Marriott School of Business Information Systems (IS) study abroad trip to Asia was canceled for the third year in a row because of COVID-19 border closures. The professors who organized the trip, Greg Anderson of the Department of Information Systems and John Gardner of the Department of Marketing and Global Supply Chain Managements, were forced to abandon their plans yet again.
However, they were determined to create a memorable alternative for their study abroad students. With the help of their wives, Anderson and Gardner spent long nights and weekends planning a new option: a summer study abroad program in Europe. The trip would include visits to England, Scotland, Wales, Switzerland, Italy, and the Vatican.
"The Asia IS study abroad program was my dream come true, so at first I was disappointed to hear the trip was changed so drastically,” says Rachel Daniel, an information systems student from New Hope, Pennsylvania, set to graduate in 2024. “However, after seeing all the work Professors Anderson and Gardner put into making the trip amazing, I was excited.”
The professors planned visits to several prominent historical and business sites, including the World Economic Forum, Westminster Abbey, and IBM studios. “We wanted students to see how technology affects cultural sites,” says Anderson. “The use of technology is good, but it might not be appropriate in every situation. We wanted the students to think about how tech enhances or detracts from experiences.”
One interesting setting for observing technology was a Parma Ham factory in Italy. As BYU students made their way through the building, they were greeted by the sight of dozens of ham legs hanging upside-down from the ceiling. “The factory workers cure these legs for six months to a year,” explains Anderson. “When they want to see if a leg is ready, they insert a horse bone into the flesh, then pull it out and smell. Our group wondered if there was a more technical way to complete the process. But maybe technology would affect this system negatively.”
Gardner taught students a lesson on supply chains at the White Cliffs of Dover in England. “Dover is a big shipping port,” says Gardner. “We saw dozens of semitrucks headed for the port to load and unload goods, and they were backed up for miles. It’s no wonder that we are currently experiencing supply chain issues. Students were able to see the bottleneck firsthand.”
Caroline Crane, a MISM student from South Jordan, Utah, set to graduate in 2023, learned new principles about business in an Italian pasta factory. “It was fascinating to hear that Italians have laws about their processes, such as the percentage of water that can be mixed in while pasta is made,” Crane explains. “There’s an actual limit—no more than 12.5% water can be present in your product for it to be considered pasta. I enjoyed learning about these processes and regulations and how they help maintain culture. We all know Italians have better pasta, and this is partially because of the regulations.”
In between learning opportunities, the group enjoyed plenty of sightseeing opportunities. Students and faculty visited Harry Potter studios, a Swiss chocolate factory, the Rome Italy Temple, an Italian olive oil factory, and several other destinations. While in Scotland, some members of the group hiked Arthur’s Seat, a trail covered with yellow wildflowers, and had a picnic lunch at the top of the hike.
One of Crane’s favorite memories was convincing the group to jump into the freezing lakes at Interlaken, Switzerland. “At first only five of us wanted to do a polar plunge,” she says. “We all ran up to our rooms to change into swimsuits, and word spread. In total, 18 of us actually went. The experience was so memorable because we all bonded.”
The group also took full advantage of Europe’s various food options. “I ordered a total of 54 scoops of gelato over the course of our two weeks in Italy,” says Daniel, laughing.
Ultimately, the most memorable parts of the trip didn’t have to do with food or fun outings. “The most important lesson I learned is that despite our best efforts to enhance and improve technology, nothing can replace human connection,” says Daniel. “Social media aims to foster greater connections between us, but during the trip we reflected on how close we all grew as friends. That was because of the time we spent together, the conversations we had, and the common experiences we shared.”