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South African Students Savor Taste of American Business


On a recent summer afternoon a group of students from Fordham’s exchange program with the University of Pretoria walked out of JP Morgan Chase’s headquarters and onto the bank’s modernist plaza. They were escorted by Simon Bland, a managing director at the bank.

“This is the sixth year we have partnered with Fordham,” said Bland, a fellow South African. “If you think of how this program started with just nine students—and now we have more than doubled that—it’s pretty great,” said Bland.

Bland himself got a toehold in the United States’ banking industry as an exchange student; he thus understands the value of the program firsthand.

“You get a taste of the city and you see things you’ve only seen on TV, like these buildings,” he said of the New York skyline. “It demystifies a lot of this and shows that if you have the confidence and you work hard, you can do it too.”

The program is a partnership between Fordham’s International Political Economy and Development (IPED) program and the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Students from Fordham go to South Africa to study the economics of emerging markets, while South African students come to New York to take courses in Political Risks and Strategic Financial Management. As part of their New York experience, they also familiarize themselves with the American way of doing business, said Henry Schwalbenberg, PhD, director of IPED. The partnership between Fordham and the University of Pretoria has also grown to include the Ubuntu program, which is a semester-long academic service learning and exchange program for undergraduates.

This summer’s cohort has a unique twist in that 15 of the students are young working professionals from South Africa’s private and government sectors, who are studying alongside nine graduate students from the University of Pretoria.

“It’s a great opportunity to be in the same program as them,” student Keaoleboga Mncube said of the professional students. “It’s a bit of a challenge back at home to get into the workplace, so getting to know them gives us an advantage in networking for job opportunities.”

Some of the South African professionals were comparing notes with their American counterparts. Ropfiwa Sithubi is an audit manager with KPMG in Cape Town. She said that she was surprised by the diversity of the American bank employees, but she wasn’t referring to the way the term is usually employed—she meant diversity of educational background.

“In South Africa, most people choose their career from an early age and that’s what they study, but here we have met people who have studied other subjects, such as engineering, and now they are in banking,” said Sithubi.

Booi Themeli, PhD, associate professor of economics and exchange program director, said that interacting with policy and decision makers outside of the classroom feeds back into the curriculum. Many of the students said that they found their American professors to be well versed in the theory that they study in South Africa, but that the American professors provided more practical knowledge and used more case studies than their professors at home.

Schwalbenberg said that there is also a very profound purpose to the program that should not be forgotten.

“South Africa had a political system of apartheid and people were left out of the economy, and now we want people who were left out to be in the education system,” he said. “That usually takes a generation to change things, but we want to do it faster.”

“Our program is a small part of something big.”


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