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Home X-Culture Stories X-Culture Global Symposium: Post-Event Reflections

X-Culture Global Symposium: Post-Event Reflections

July 23rd, 2017, by

Summary:

  • 150 students from 43 countries, plus 20 professors took part in X-Culture Symposium in Miami
  • Hosts, partners: Hard Rock International / Seminole Gaming, American Airlines, UPS, JWU, UNCG
  • Meetings with top managers and behind-the-scenes tours of Port of Miami, Miami International Airport, Hard Rock Casino and Hotel
  • Career development workshops, seminars, meetings with top managers, community leaders, academics.
  • Training and competitions: Hard Rock Challenge and Presentation, Elevator Pitch, Resume, Job Interview, Social Media
  • Social: Welcome Dinner, Pool Party, Salsa class, Hard Rock reception, a series of cocktail and networking events, Gala Dinner
  • Most attendees got some form of travel funding
  • Successful test of the X-Culture Research Hackathon pilot

X-Culture Team X

 

The 2017 X-Culture Global Symposium in Miami: Many “Firsts”, “Biggests”, and “Bests”.

 

As I am heading back home from the X-Culture Symposium in Miami, here are my thoughts and reflections. These are from my personal point of view. I hope to see similar posts by other event participants.

 

Background:

We’ve been organizing the X-Culture Student Symposia for several years. Since 2012, we would partner with the Academy of International Business and would bring 50 or so best X-Culture students to the annual AIB Southeast Chapter meeting.

 

Starting 2013, there would also be a local business partner. The first one was Mercedes-Benz. Since then, our Symposia have also been hosted by The Home Depot, Louis Vuitton, JCB, Sykes. Each company one of the best players it its industry.

 

However, almost 40,000 students have gone through X-Culture now and the demand for the face-to-face meeting grew far beyond the group size that AIB can accommodate.

 

Thus, for a while, we’ve been working on the idea of organizing an independent bigger Global Symposium. And then Dr. Leilani Baumanis took it upon herself to organize the event.

 

The X-Culture Symposia organized in a partnership with the Academy of International Business are more about research and academic careers. This one – we tried to make it all about student career development.

 

Our goal was to make the event packed with workshops, training, business competition, meetings with entrepreneurs, field trips, behind-the-scenes company tours, as well as ample sightseeing and networking opportunities.

 

We also tried to make the participation as affordable as possible to the students. Thank to the Dr. Baumanis’ negotiation genius, we were able to keep the cost to a student below $100 a day. That’s including lodging, food, transportation to all events, all conference materials, prizes, gifts, snacks and beverages, etc. For comparison, most conferences charge $100-200 per day, plus attendees must spend at least a much on hotel, meals, and optional tours. And we’ve done it in Miami, one of the world’s most expensive cities, where a decent hotel is way over $100 and the food can easily add up to $20-40 a day. Better yet, the students lived on the beautiful JWU campus, where the event took place. So most of the event venues were within walking distance.

 

Invitations:

Out of almost 40,000 X-Culture alumni, we invited about a thousand of most interesting students. Those with the highest performance ratings, original work, who provided interesting input and had something special about them.

 

About 500 expressed interest to attend. The rest could not attend mainly due scheduling or financial constraints. From this group, we invited Top 150.

Unfortunately, about of them 20 did not get the U.S. visas or could not participate for other reasons, so we had to replace them with people from the waiting list.

 

Notably, although the selection was based on performance and originality, we ended up with a very diverse group: 43 countries, a mix men and women, mainly ages 20-30, but a few a bit older. A truly global diverse group.

 

This was also the first time that we involved local ambassadors and coaches into preparing and running the event. The ambassadors were all JWU students who helped a lot with managing the local affairs, while the coaches came from the X-Culture Coaching Program and provided advice and training related to the challenge.

 

Very happy that the vast majority of the attendees received funding. X-Culture offered a number of $500 travel stipends to the students and coaches. Many students got funding from their universities. We sent out hundreds of support letters to potential sponsors identified by the students and in many cases, they helped – students did get the sponsorship. Aiming to raise even more funds for the students next time.

 

Pre-conference:

We placed the students in teams about a month before the event. We later had to add a few more as some of the students from the original roster dropped out due to the visa or other problems.

 

We did more pre-conference work than usual. First and foremost, we organized a series of webinars not only with the host company top management, but also a series of training workshops on writing, presenting, teamwork, and more.

 

We also created a Facebook Group which turned out quite active. Students were coordinating their pre- and post-conference sightseeing activities, arrivals and ride-sharing, and just meeting one another.

 

Plus, of course, the students worked closely in their smaller teams well before meeting in person in Miami, plus each team had coaches and local ambassadors available to them.

 

So, the students arrived reasonably prepared: with a good part of the Hard Rock International challenge completed, knowing the people, knowing where to go and what to do.

 

During:

The Symposium was packed with workshops, competitions, presentations, field trips, and networking events. So much that, in fact, we received some complaints about a lack of free time for anything else.

 

Not sure how to take it. On the one hand, people come from thousands of miles away and we don’t want them to just sit and do nothing. Every minute counts. On the other hand, it should not be all about business and learning. Just having a quiet minute on the beach is important too. Especially when you’re in Miami right on the Atlantic Ocean shore.

 

The most memorable parts of the program were:

  • The Opening Ceremony: meeting each other in person for the first time, a moving Welcome speech by the JWU President, first tears of joy as the Coaches and Ambassadors prepared a gift for Jasmine Resendes (I did not realize they had grown so close even before the event).
  • All kinds of presentations and workshops by top managers, entrepreneurs, academics, city officials, and more. Even I have not seen such a concentration of powerful and successful speakers before.
  • The Hard Rock International Competition: the company was represented by almost their entire Top Management Team. The students first had ample opportunities to meet, ask questions and learn from and then had to present their work to a sizable group Directors and VPs for Hospitality, Hotels, HR, Food and Beverages and other top managers of Seminole Gaming and Hard Rock International.
  • A behind-the-scenes tour of the Miami International Airport and meeting with the airport management, one of the world’s biggest airports. The most memorable moment: during the tour the VP Marketing says about 80,000 people work at the airport and a student from Grenada says it’s almost as many as the population of his country.
  • A presentation by the top management of American Airlines. Especially fascinating was a look at their underbelly cargo operations.
  • A behind-the-scenes VIP tour of the Port of Miami, the world’s largest cruise port and one of the largest cargo ports. They let us into places that are so secure and sensitive that we had to go through a security clearance weeks in advance and we were escorted by several security vehicles at all times.
  • A scavenger hunt and cocktail reception at the Hard Rock Casino. Wow! You have not seen a casino the way we saw it. And on top of that, we got a very-behind-the-scenes tour guided by their #1 Man Jimbo Osciola himself. We got to see their suites for very special clients (those who play with $1,000,000 and more), private gaming room, employee cafeteria, and other places that are off-limit to regular guests, and some so special that they can’t be bought and are reserved only to the super rich and special guests.
  • Elevator Pitch competition: We literally put the “investors” in the elevators and they were riding up and down for half a day as the students pitched their business ideas on the way from the first floor to the top or back.
  • Resume Competition: A great way to learn how to write a job-getting resume.
  • Job Interview Competition: Again, a great way to learn and rehears job-interview skills.
  • A pool party for the students.
  • A salsa class and party.
  • Receptions at Sole at the Ocean and The Pier.
  • The Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony: it was magic and enchanting. The only problem with these events is that not everyone gets to be a winner. Our students are extremely competitive, so some were sad a bit when their teams didn’t make it to the top. But the great food, music, and company made it fun for all.
  • And, of course, the first inaugural X-Culture Research Hackathon (a whole separate story on this event coming later).

 

The most memorable moments for me personally:

It was extremely emotional to see the X-Culture logo in a physical form in so many places: on the shirts of the Coaches and Ambassadors, bags, pens, program booklet, signs, awards, etc. Even the ribbons in our main reception room were arranged to remind the X-Culture “X”. Until then, I created and saw the “X” only on my computer screen. I literally had a minor meltdown when I walked into the reception area.

 

It was VERY NICE to see our students in person. X-Culture is an inherently online project. Ultimately, the real people appear before my eyes only as a few letters on my computer screen. Sometimes I don’t even know if it’s a man or a woman. And here they are. Almost 200 of them. In person. I had to make an effort to start my welcoming speech at the opening ceremony. So many people travelled thousands of miles because we promised they’ll learn something new and grow professionally. Based on the extremely positive feedback, it looks like we delivered on our promise. But the first meeting was very emotional and I felt the immense pressure of my personal responsibility.

 

In fact, I met in person for the first time two of my own students. They took my UNCG course online, so I never had a chance to meet them until the Miami Symposium.

 

It was the first time I did not control the process and every detail. For 7 years, every single bit of information related to X-Culture was either generated by me personally, or went through me. This time, almost all organizing was done by somebody else. Lots of planning I was not aware of. It was a very unusual feeling. A mix of panic and gratitude. The biggest shock was when I stopped by a daily planning session of the organizing team. It was basically an entire command center. They were planning things like water and mosquito repellant for the pool party, the sequence of the events, materials, roles, etc. For the first time, my role was that of an observer. Very weird. Scary. Hard to let go. Worrying what if they forget something or do something wrong. And yet extremely satisfying. For the first time, I did not have to keep everything in my head. In fact, I did not have to do anything. Just show up.

 

Seeing the Head Ambassador shed a tear when she got a gift from the Coaches and Ambassadors at the Opening Ceremony. That was when I realized how much work they had completed before the conference even started. So much, they had become good friends with a deep respect for one another even before they met in person. Again, it used to be that I did all the work – and here I saw a manifestation of a huge a huge body of work completed by the X-Culture Team I didn’t even know about.

 

I truly liked the presentation by Dr. Richard Griffith, the Director of the Cross-Cultural Management Institute of the Florida Institute of Technology. Man! How can I learn to talk so clearly and engagingly about culture? I know he has decades more of experience than I do, still how can someone be such an interesting and effective speaker? I’ve also heard an extremely positive feedback about some of the executive panelists, but I could not attend those meetings as the Hackathon program overlapped with some of the events.

 

The closeness and true friendship between Jimbo Osceola and his team members. The man leads a team of thousands at the world’s largest gaming company. Yet, he seems to know them all by name, including those in the lowest ranks. As he was giving us the behind-the-scenes tour of one of his casinos and hotels, the staff would high-five him, hug him, talk about their personal stuff. His cafeteria offers free food for team members of all ranks. They use “team members” instead of “employees”. I didn’t believe it all, but made an effort to interview several of the employees, sorry, team members, and they all confirmed those things. Very humbling and inspirational.

 

A number of students did not receive the U.S. visas. Some had to go to another country to apply for one. And then the disappointment of being turned down. Very sad. But then some would reapply, I would write supporting letters and all. And all who reapplied got the visas and came to the event. Very nice!

 

Dr. Sherry Andre. The woman did so much for X-Culture, yet was extremely low profile, almost never talked, and when talked was very focused on the topic: brief and precise. Rare breed. Never before did I see such a high Work:Talk ratio.

 

Doug McLaughlin. We always had problems with photography. This time, we made some arrangements, but none worked out perfectly. But Doug saved the day. Without being asked, just showed up with his equipment and took stunning professional-quality photographs. Usually you ask and don’t get. This time it was the opposite. Made a huge impact on me.

 

The fountain of energy and the web of connections Dr. Leilani Baumanis. The Symposium was her idea. Despite my hesitation, she went ahead and did it. But the amazing part is, she seems to know everyone in Miami. She’s good friends with the CEOs and city officials, but also knows by name every clerk and driver. How someone can be so likable and connected?! I was thoroughly impressed.

 

The X-Culture Research Hackathon was a huge success, at least as far as showing us the idea works. First time, some things went not as planned. But the concept definitely worked and I can’t wait until we have the next one to test the new ideas. This thing will become an institution. Mark my words.

 

At the Gala, I got an extremely valuable gift: Jimbo Osceola and Eagle Billie gave me a real hand-made Seminole Indian jacket. Big honor for me.

 

And then, of course, the many dozens of Thank You notes I’ve already received. Very, very touching.

 

Oh, and what made me especially happy was hearing dozens of times the CEOs say to our students, “Please send me your resume, we need to talk”. It looks like quite a few of our students will be getting internship and job offers as a result of their participation in X-Culture.

 

 

Aftermath:

Huge success. Extremely inspirational. The X-Culture Global Symposium model definitely works. And we will do it even better next time.

 

We had 150 hormone-intoxicated young people from 43 countries in one of the world’s biggest and most dynamic cities, yet nobody got in trouble and all stayed safe and focused.

 

We are still to wrap up this event, finalize the budget, pay the bills, and send out the Thank You notes, but we’re already planning our upcoming meetings.

 

The next X-Culture Student Symposium co-organized with our reliable partner the Academy of International Business – Southeast USA Division will take place in Washington, DC in October. 50 best students interested in academic careers will attend that one.

 

But then the next independent X-Culture Global Symposium will take place in Bogota, Colombia in 2018. We will be inviting 250 best students.

 

For 2019 we are considering Germany or Italy (good contacts there, but a bit expensive), or Spain or Greece (also good contacts but much cheaper), or Dubai (a very convenient central location for the world), or India (close to our huge Asian X-Culture Alumni network).

 

Any tips on what would be the best location? Or perhaps your university wants to host the event?

 

Also, while this first independent X-Culture event was extremely successful, we also spotted many areas that could be further improved. For example, we learned next time it’d be good to allocate time for presentation rehearsals. We also have a better way to announce the winners, see more ways to involve students even more in preparing the event, raise more funding for travel grants, and create even more opportunities for internship and job offers. Plus, good ideas for making it easier for more professors to attend and for involving even more companies.

 

In addition to Dr. Leilani Baumanis and Dr. Sherry Andre, whom I already mentioned above, also a big THANK YOU to
Jasmine Resendes (most of the coordination and logistics),
Tim van der Meijde (coordination of coaching efforts),
Tim Muth (hugely important input in the academic side of the program),
Amanda Myott (local logistics and coordination),
Karen Lynden (coordination of various competitions),
Anne Marie Zwerg (coordination of various program components and preparation of the next meeting),
Dr. Richard Griffith (came all the way from Melbourne, FL to share his wisdom and experience),
and of course the Seminole/Hard Rock team, particularly Jimbo Osceola and Eagle Billie, our reliable partners and hosts.

 

Lessons:

There is a huge demand for professional development and cultural enrichment events like this.

We can deliver quality experience.

Effective program can be put together with minimal sponsorship yet at a reasonably low price.

 

Best part:

Events like this greatly contribute to the X-Culture’s mission of bringing cultures together. If as a result there will be a bit less cultural prejudice and conflict in the world, all those thousands of hours were not in vain.

 

For more photos and feedback just search #xculturemiami on Facebook and Twitter.

Event page and participants here.

 

Galleries

Workshops and Seminars

 

Port of Miami

 

Miami International Airport and American Airlines

 

Seminole Gaming / Hard Rock International

 

Fun

 

Gala Dinner and Award Ceremonies

 

People

 

 

 


By Vas Taras

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