When Elke Neumann, Julia Gralka and Carina Hohenadel graduated from Brock’s Goodman School of Business Thursday, June 16, no one could fault the double degree students for returning to their native Germany and getting on with their careers and lives.
They successfully completed their studies in the program that consists of two years at Brock and two years at a partner university in the International Partnership of Business Schools (IPBS) network. For most graduates, there wouldn’t be much else to do except take their next steps.
But the trio, who are the first students from double degree partner Reutlingen University ESB Business School to graduate from Brock, have a vested interest in the happenings here. They didn’t just come for degrees. They came for the chance to meet fellow students and future colleagues.
To facilitate that, Neumann, Gralka and Hohenadel took on the heavy lifting of creating an official club — the Goodman IPBS Club — initially to help fellow double degree students connect with each other. But their mandate grew to support all Goodman students interested in living and studying abroad through any IPBS exchange and networking opportunity.
“This helped Canadian and international students become aware of each other,” Neumann says. “It was nice to see other faces and get to know them.”
It was no easy feat at a time when social distancing was emphasized as a means of staying safe during the pandemic. Then again, meeting people isn’t exactly low-hanging fruit at the best of times when you move 6,000 kilometres from home to study.
When Neumann, Gralka and Hohenadel enrolled in the double degree program at Reutlingen University four years ago, the world was in that nostalgic state of normal. The three friends chose Canada as the place to spend their final two years of the program.
“I felt North America would give me the opportunities other students wouldn’t have,” Gralka says. “A lot of students in Europe study in other European countries. But North America offered a different perspective.”
Their ETA was September 2020, but with the advent of the pandemic six months earlier and all the travel bans that were imposed, the trio wouldn’t arrive until November that year — not that the world was in a better state.
Ontario was on the verge of another lockdown and Goodman students were largely studying virtually at the time. Neumann, Gralka and Hohenadel arrived to a situation that made it nearly impossible to get to know fellow students.
“Those first few months, we concentrated on university only,” Hohenadel recalls. “I found it difficult to meet anyone. We didn’t know anyone here or have contact with students in the years above us. It was hard to connect and interact.”
It was challenging meeting their Canadian colleagues, many of whom had already formed their circle of friends in their first year or two of study.
The Goodman IPBS Club was their solution to finally create a social network of their own. It would give the chance for students from overseas or about to head to their partner school to meet; learn about the traditions and cultures of their host country; and hear from program alumni about life after graduation.
The experience, in many ways, gave them a taste of running a business. They got to choose the club executive — a mix of Canadian and international students — which included a social media co-ordinator and event organizer.
“We got close with these people as we met with them the most,” Neumann says.
The Goodman IPBS Club has held three networking events since its inception less than a year ago, including a virtual trivia and pub night, and a guest speaker, alumni Andre Chabot, who shared his experience studying as a double degree student in Germany.
The trio plan to stay in touch with their successors in the club to help keep it going without them — Neumann and Hohenadel plan to return to Germany while Gralka intends to spend more time in Canada after graduation — and help it become all they envisioned.
“We hope the club will be of great support to all GSB students interested in international exchange and looking to make new friends,” Gralka says.
There’s a sense of accomplishment when they consider all the work they put in to not just graduate with two degrees but leave a Reutlingen legacy at the Goodman School of Business.
“Going through the process and seeing the result, we can be proud of ourselves, especially going through our last year and all our courses, and writing our final-year research paper,” Hohenadel says. “It’s not something we leave behind. We can build on it and if we want to build another club in the future, we know what to do. And who knows? Maybe we’ll be invited to speak about our experience with club members one day.”