Vietnam winter program unites Love School of Business students & alumni

Led by Assistant Professor Brittany Mercado, a January visit to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City provided more than just corporate lessons; it presented current students the opportunity to be mentored by accomplished graduates.

A popular study abroad course for graduate students in the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business was offered with a twist this winter in the Elon MBA’s first return trip to Asia since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Master’s candidates were joined on their 10-day program in Vietnam by Elon MBA alumni, providing participants the ability to mentor or be mentored while discovering the historic and cultural forces shaping the economy of the Communist nation.

The group saw how politics influenced business priorities and practices: in the capital city of Hanoi, bottom lines trumped sustainability or inclusion, which were stronger forces on corporate culture in Ho Chi Minh City. Participants also ventured to the Mekong Delta where agriculture is under threat by the effects of climate change.

The class visited the night market in Ho Chi Minh City with tour guides from XO Tours. The all-female organization seeks to provide opportunities for women in the tourism industry, from which they have historically been excluded in Vietnam.

“Our goal was to have exposure to a new way of life and not just a new way of doing business,” said Assistant Professor Brittany Mercado, who led the overseas program for the second time since joining the Elon faculty in 2017.  “We were able to see how culture was influencing corporate practices, and how the political system was impacting business.

“There’s a large component of gratitude and privilege and awareness that comes with participation in this experience.”

For their part, students took note: several noted the work ethic of the Vietnamese business leaders and employees with whom they met. Material comforts aren’t as plentiful as those found in the United States, they said, but there also appeared to be an aura of happiness more readily apparent than in America.

Students explored the war bunkers beneath the Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City.

It was also a benefit to have alumni accompany the program. The current students, some of whom are nearing the completion of their bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the same time as part of Elon University’s 3+1 accelerated program, learned from working professionals about concepts and approaches to business that are only discovered through time in industry.

“An ideal graduate experience exposes students to diversity of experience, diversity of age, and diversity of professions,” Mercado said. “The students on this trip were earlier in their careers. I enjoyed seeing them benefit from spending time and networking with graduates who already have 15 or 20 years of career experience.”

She then chuckled. “It’s also nice to hear from someone who’s not your professor.”


“Traveling abroad to Hanoi and to Ho Chi Minh City showed me that economic development really is happening around the world while introducing me to cultures I’d never experienced. And while I knew COVID had a huge effect on all markets, it was interesting to learn of supply chain shortages and how Vietnam overcame things with more businesses now moving there instead of China.” – Colby Ehrhart ‘23, who graduates in May with a bachelor’s and master’s in accounting as part of Elon University’s 3+1 program

“I deal with construction at John Deere, so seeing how business is done overseas on the supplier side is very beneficial. Asking questions and learning how the supply chain for commodities has been affected by COVID, and how people are adjusting to it, was very, very good for me. And the people? The food? The culture? The school’s ability to plan something like this, with all our experiences, was amazing.” – Aaron Ofori G’23, Candidate for Elon’s Master of Business Administration and a supply base manager for John Deere

“Rather than learn accounting over the winter by reading a textbook, I was looking for a hands-on opportunity to learn about international business through company visits. Everyone in Vietnam was so kind and inviting, which was great! People had an appreciation and a love of learning, and those we met were grateful yet hardworking as they strived to improve their lives. I was able to learn so much from this experience.” – Jane Ragland ‘23, who graduates in May with a bachelor’s and master’s in accounting as part of Elon University’s 3+1 program, along with a B.S.B.A. in economic consulting