In 2013 USC Marshall, in partnership with two international business schools, launched its World Bachelor in Business Program (WBB). It promised its first class of 45 students an experience that would take them to study at three business schools on three continents, leading to three degrees — all in four years.
Spring 2023 marks the program’s 10th year. It’s an impressive milestone for a truly unique undergraduate experience that has grown in popularity and remains as competitive as ever.
“It’s been a real journey,” said Gerald Giaquinta a professor of clinical business communication and the academic director for the program.
The WBB is the brainchild of Marshall thought leaders who wanted to showcase the school’s commitment to international business learning and innovative undergraduate education. In partnership with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and the Bocconi University in Milan, USC Marshall built a unique global business education that remains unparalleled.
This year there are 58 students representing 19 countries. Sixty-six percent of the cohort is female, and 69 percent are foreign nationals.
Students arrive at USC Marshall for their freshmen year, they spend their sophomore year in Hong Kong, and their junior year in Milan. Students choose which school they want to attend for their fourth and final year.
Adaptable and Culturally Fluency
The program set out to educate truly global citizens, but after 10 years it’s clear the better word to describe its graduates is “adaptable.”
“What sets WBB students apart, especially as they approach the job market, is their adaptability, maturity, and cultural fluency,” said Giaquinta. Distinct from an exchange program or a year abroad—both very valuable educational experiences—the WBB is four years of full immersion. “WBB students are thrown into the regular coursework of very rigorous business programs for a year, conducted in a language they may or may not already speak,” he said. “And they don’t go home at the end of the year, they leave for the next continent.”
“We see that employers put a premium on their cultural adaptability,” he said.
Four Years Around the World
The WBB has always been selective and has grown more so over the past decade. It’s also a self-selected cohort. It’s not every freshman who can handle the uncertainty brought on by studying in a country where they might not speak the language or understand the culture.
Manuel Espinal ’21, MSF ’22 said that getting well out of his comfort zone was the whole appeal of the WBB. By his own admission, he grew up fairly sheltered in Honduras, attending an American Christian school in Tegucigalpa. “I wanted to experience the whole world,” he said. “And when I toured USC and learned about the WBB, I wondered why everyone wasn’t signing up for this.”
For him, the year in Hong Kong was the biggest challenge. “It was the first time in my life I’d left the American continent,” he said. The culture shock, a different system of education, and the language barrier were all tough to absorb and overcome. But he acclimated, and now feels empowered. “I feel that I’ll be fine now wherever I go,” he said. “Now I know I can’t break easily.”
For Apple Jin, WBB ’23 it was arriving in Milan for her junior year that proved the most challenging. “I’d never been in Europe before, and they just kind of drop you in,” said Jin, who grew up in Shanghai but spent her high school years in Northern California.
But like her other classmates, she rose to the challenge, then thrived. She’ll have plenty of time to explore more of Europe when she begins her full-time job as an associate consultant with Bain & Co. in Copenhagen next summer.
Another example of WBB resiliency? Even when countries shut down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the students then studying at HKUST decided they wanted to finish out the semester together instead of returning to their home countries. A large group rented an AirBnB in Thailand, which wasn’t locked down at the time, and finished their classwork online as a group from there.
“That’s the kind of resilient and entrepreneurial people WBB students typically are,” noted Giaquinta. “They did that on their own. It shows they can pivot and still achieve results.”
At the first-year student orientation back in August, Giaquinta did his best to explain what four years in the WBB would be like for students.
“You are in for an undergraduate business education that is incredibly unique,” he told them. “Take advantage of your global experiences.”
Sophia Lim WBB ’17 certainly did. A native of Hong Kong who grew up in an American education system in China, she was part of the first WBB cohort.
“I didn’t know where I’d work professionally, Hong Kong, the U.S. or the U.K.,” she said. “The WBB gave me the opportunity to explore all of my options during university.” Today Lim is an associate with McKinsey based in London.
“In the WBB I got a business education beyond the textbooks. It was a once-in-a-lifetime cultural immersive experience that afforded me so many life lessons along the way,” she said.
Before he starts his job as an investment banker with Moelis & Co. in July, Espinal wants to travel and visit friends from his WBB cohort. “That means getting to New York, London, Greece, Cairo, Singapore, Hong Kong, and India,” he laughed.
“The WBB really does shape your understanding of what’s possible for you out in the world.”
BY USC Marshall