After virtual collaboration, Tar Heels travel to Budapest to present alongside international peers

This spring, Carolina students participated in a new hybrid course model as part of BUSI 201, “Business in Europe,” in which they engaged first virtually and then in-person, traveling to Hungary to co-present projects with students from Corvinus University in Budapest.

Four people pose for a photo together.
From left to right, students Alex Mazer, Emma McElroy, Lydia Waddell and Nupur Shah.

This Spring Carolina students participated in a new hybrid course model as part of BUSI 201, “Business in Europe,” in which they engaged first virtually and then in person, traveling to Hungary to co-present projects with students from Corvinus University in Budapest.

BUSI 201 is a COIL Plus course, a hybrid iteration of Collaborative Online International Learning. This collaboration is the first to be supported by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs.

COIL is a flexible pedagogical approach to global education. With support from the OVPGA, Carolina faculty work with faculty at an international institution to design virtual collaborative activities for their students. When faculty add a travel component to the class, it becomes a COIL Plus course. The virtual and travel components combined offer students from both universities the unique opportunity to deepen relationships and reinforce intercultural and global learning.

“Students truly build a bond virtually,” said Michael Meredith, clinical associate professor of management and corporate communication, and instructor for BUSI 201.

Meredith began taking Carolina students to Corvinus University in 2018 and taught “Business in Europe” as one of several Global Immersion Electives available at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

During the pandemic, Meredith and Anna Hayes, associate director of global programs at UNC Kenan-Flagler, recognized an opportunity to deepen virtual engagement and coordination with his partners at Corvinus and applied for a COIL Curriculum Development Award through the OVPGA. This award allowed Meredith to hire a graduate fellow, Mary Leighton Mannen, who supported virtual programming and to plan synchronous class sessions with Miklos Kozma, associate professor in the Institute of Business Economics and Meredith’s faculty partner at Corvinus University.

Once travel restrictions were lifted, Meredith reincorporated the international travel element, embracing a hybrid model of international collaboration. “With the COIL component, we’ve been able to foster and enrich the student experience,” Meredith said. “This is the most robust model we’ve used yet.”

As part of this course, Carolina and Corvinus students were divided into groups, with two students from each university, and asked to analyze the business strategy of Hungarian-based company Cup Revolution, a company committed to reducing the waste created by single-use cups. Students first collaborated virtually and then presented their ideas in person as part of a case-style competition on the Corvinus campus over Spring Break.

Meredith found that the virtual connection allowed the students to engage with their international peers in a substantive way when they finally met in Budapest.

“When you can use technology to facilitate relationships, communicate through the COIL model to start that relationship, and then meet in person and give each other a hug, it’s powerful,” he said. “It’s changed my worldview.”

Nupur Shah, a 2022 graduate and business administration major, entered the experience unsure of what cultural differences to expect. She noticed that the uncertainty made her more open-minded and accepting as she built relationships with her Hungarian peers. She also found more similarities with her peers than expected.

“I was really shocked by how universal the experience is of being a young person right now. We have the same humor; we’re aware of similar things and have similar interests,” Shah said. “We’re much more similar than we are different.”

Emma McElroy, a junior business administration major and information systems minor, was both excited and nervous before meeting her partners in Hungary. Once they arrived, McElroy observed that informal interactions, like watching a Carolina basketball game together, played a vital role in strengthening team dynamics.

“The social events allowed us to become more cohesive as a team and become more comfortable with one another,” said McElroy.

But the benefits of this experience will extend well beyond these group projects. Shah said that the international collaboration not only enhanced professional skills, but it had a long-term personal impact.

“I think there was a human aspect to this course that you don’t get anywhere else because we weren’t just learning theory and frameworks,” Shah said. “It’s great professional experience, but the things you learn about yourself as a person are things you can’t get anywhere else. It has lasting impacts on your character.”