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The second half of the academic year only just started when Nikita Lathouwers, a final year Commercial Engineer at the VUB’s Solvay Business School is about to board a plane along with 20 fellow students. They are off to spend 3 weeks in Nairobi (Kenya). The goal is to set up a real trade mission to one of East Africa’s booming economies, under the all-seeing eye of Professor Dooms.
“Each participant is expected to carry out an assignment for a Belgian company they represent and for which the country in question is still uncharted territory,” says Professor Dooms. “For example, VLAM, Arcelor Mittal, Puratos, Soulco, the VUB and some others send the young VUB lions off to carry out market research and to look for potential customers, suppliers or distributors of their products.”
A unique opportunity
“We keep the safaris and beaches for the 4th week of the mission,” says Nikita. “The aim of the trip is to gain experience, which we can then put on our CVs. After all, working abroad is still different from studying abroad. It’s taking the immersion into local culture to another level and adapting to local customs,” says Nikita. Independence is also expected during this trip. “Reaching agreements with companies to bring our assignment to a successful conclusion is entirely our own responsibility. Fortunately, we receive a lot of help from partners like Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT), the trade commissioner and the ambassador here in Kenya. But in any case, we will be in contact with a lot of interesting people, and our networks will be bigger after the trip”.
Professor Dooms only sees advantages with this unique project. “For our students, who often end up in an international environment, this is a huge asset. Some of them also consciously choose the VUB because they can then be part of this experience. In fact, there is only one other university in the world which offers such an opportunity.”
“The VUB has been trying to teach its students skills such as entrepreneurship, independence, international/multicultural skills and networking since 1991, when the first trip to Moscow took place,” explains Professor Dooms.
And it is clear that students grab the opportunity with both hands. “This is not a compulsory part of the course, so the whole group here is very motivated to start the adventure. It also means that, unlike our friends who stay at home, we miss some classes. But the lecturers do everything they can to support us. For instance, classes are recorded and we can ask questions about the study materials afterwards,” says Nikita. “And, due to its success, the trade mission will count towards the master thesis for students, as of the 2018-2019 academic year,” says Professor Dooms.
“I can’t wait to start the adventure,” Nikita tells us. “The 8 months of preparation are soon being put into practice. And I don’t know what to expect, because that part of the world is completely unknown to me. That’s why the first week of the trade mission I will take over the VUB’s Instagram account so that I can keep my friends and others at the VUB up to date on our adventures there. And who knows, maybe I’ll inspire other students to make this trip in the future.”