Though exotic locations play a role in capturing the imagination of international business students, the true value in a Business Abroad program happens through experiential projects designed to enlighten students on global industries. Last winter, 10 International Business Distinguished Scholar students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln traveled to Costa Rica to immerse themselves in the coffee industry with the support and mentorship of alumni.
“Having students experience one of the largest industries in the world gave them a tangible understanding of the difference between ‘commodity coffee’ and ‘specialty coffee’,” said Marianella Baez Jost, ’94, who established a coffee farm in the mountains of Naranjo, Costa Rica, with her husband Jonathan Jost, ’90, ’94. “Most people don’t realize coffee is a commodity, and for decades farmers have been forced to sell at prices that cannot sustain their livelihood, creating a poverty cycle driving many to abandon coffee farming. My husband and I set out to establish direct trade with roasters who care about the well-being of farmers and are willing to pay fair prices.”
Cultiva in Lincoln, Nebraska, became the first retailer to sell the Jost's coffee, produced from their business venture Café Con Amor, which began in 2013. College of Business students on the Costa Rica trip gained insight into many aspects of coffee farming, the second-most traded commodity in the world.
“Being able to visit, listen and see with their own eyes how a global company like Starbucks manages their massive coffee research farm and utilizes marketing to achieve their top spot in the world provides a valuable example to understand why small farmers are struggling. By the end of the trip, there were many enlightening moments as students realized the importance and power of their own consumer choices, the social and economic impact of fair business practices, and the responsibility we all have to seek products that support sustainability,” she said.
Baez Jost strives to give back to international business students through firsthand educational experiences and serves as a mentor in the IB Connect program. She also knows the necessity of building connections when working in a distant land.
“I learned to learn,” she said. “As a foreign student myself, I was trying to figure out my way around a place, a community and a system that was very different from my home country, Costa Rica. I had to pay attention and observe people to gain confidence to immerse myself and become part of it all. It helped me build great friendships and relationships that have lasted many years.”
Allan Noddle, ’62, helps support the scholars' program, and serves on the International Business Advisory Board. After spending a lifetime in executive management positions for international companies, his vision for students involves providing opportunities that change the way they see the world.
“Giving students real experiences with real people and challenges in the marketplace is how students gain enlightenment into solving problems,” said Noddle. “Every major industry is competitive and to be successful students must know the ‘battlefield on the ground’ in detail so innovation can be brought to the marketplace.”
Noddle sees trips like the Costa Rica excursion being the perfect complement to complete what students learn in the classroom. He believes studying entire industries is essential.
“A reasonable blend of both travel and study is a great way to build a knowledge base on how to be successful. Students sometimes concentrate on companies and not the industry in which those companies compete in. I would always start with learning about which industries will win in the future and which industries cry out for innovation to win,” he said.
Baez Jost hopes students continue to open their horizons by going abroad. She believes experiencing the realities of cultures, people and places make the difference when trying to create positive change in today’s business world.
“It’s important to get out of our comfort zones and expand borders to appreciate our own backyard. I’m proud to be a Nebraska Business alum and have been lucky to have great jobs, but my biggest accomplishment is following my dream to start a coffee farm and build a small business with a mission much bigger than my initial dream,” she said.
Today, the Josts coffee can be found in many places around the world, including the Coffee Roaster, Canyon Coffee and Cultiva – all found in Lincoln.
For more information or to connect with the Josts, visit them on their LinkedIn page.
To learn more about current Business Abroad programs, including virtual offerings for summer 2021, visit: https://business.unl.edu/studyabroad.