X-Culture Global Symposium in Calgary: Post-Event Reflections



As I am flying to the 2019 X-Culture Global Symposium in San Antonio, I cannot keep putting off writing up my reflections on the last big event in Calgary. Starting tomorrow, my head will be filled with the information about this next event and I won’t be able to fully recall all the details of the Calgary event.


So here it goes.



  • Starting in 2013, we started inviting the best X-Culture students to an in-person meeting/conference/workshop that we call the X-Culture Global Symposium.


  • Initially, we organized them these symposia once year, usually in October, in collaboration with the Academy of International Business, the Southeast USA chapter annual conference.


  • Normally, about 40 students are invited, plus about 30-40 X-Culture professors attend these events.


  • However, these October conferences were not satisfying the demand from our students. Many more wanted and deserved to attend than the AIB-SE conference could absorb. Thus, in 2017 we started organizing an additional separate bigger event each summer. It’s longer (a whole week) and we invite more people (up to 150 students and 50 professors). We call it the X-Culture Global Business Week.


  • Past events have been organized in Istanbul, Ft. Lauderdale, Washington-DC, Savanna, Tampa, and many other cities, and even onboard a cruise ship. The full list is here:



  • The logistics of the October symposia is handled by the Academy of International Business. The conference organizers take care of the venue, food, and all the other logistics. The X-Culture students pay the conference registration fee and get access to all conference events and infrastructure. However, several local and international professors organize a series of additional workshops, training sessions, presentations, and networking events exclusively for the X-Culture students.
  • Importantly, there is also a local host company that presents a challenge and our students spend about 6 weeks prior to the event working on the challenge in international virtual teams, and then finish up their proposals on the site, working face to face. The company visit, the meetings with the company management, and presentation of the solutions to the client company is the highlight of the symposium program.
  • The bigger summer event is an all-X-Culture event. We organize it completely on our own, which requires incomparably more work. Dr. Leilani Baumanis manages the endeavor, helped by about 10-15 colleagues, normally: Karen Lynden, Tim Muth, Lisa McLaughlin, Doug McLaughlin, Alex Assouad, Sherry Andre, Yev Frankiv, Valerie Bell, Vol Onofriychuk, Tim van der Meijde, Kim Nesper, and of course our wonderful local hosts Ernesto Tavoletti (the Macerata/Italy event) and Leighton Wilks (the Calgary/Canada event). The complete list is too long to mention here.


  • Additionally, we invite a team of about 20 student Ambassadors, typically graduates from the X-Culture Coaching program. They are doing much on-the-ground preparation and management.


  • X-Culture Research Hackathon (Xackathon) is also part of the program, attended by about a dozen professors each time (more info here).



  • The Calgary event was probably the best organized one yet. Everything went very smoothly.


  • However, it was also the most exhausting for me. In fact, the reason I am jotting down my reflections now, three months after the event, is because I am still tired after the event.


  • It went very well, but somehow it also was more demanding than usual.


  • I am extremely proud that the post-event satisfaction survey showed that the students and professors were, generally, very happy with the event as a whole, and each component of the program in particular.


  • Based on responses of 125 attendees (about 70% response rate), the overall level of satisfaction was Students: 4.7; professors 4.9.


  • The most popular events (nearly a perfect 5.0) were the trip to the mountains, the opening ceremony and whitehatting, and the training session on LinkedIn.


  • Overall, networking opportunities, sightseeing opportunities, and safety got nearly perfect 5.0 scores. Dormitories (housing) got only 4.1 (Good) and support for obtaining external funding got 3.7 (the lowest of all ratings, but still a respectable between OK and Good – but something to improve next time).


  • Interestingly, all previous events had some elements that everyone didn’t like. For example, in Miami we packed so much in the program that the students didn’t even have the time to go to the beach. They loved the program, but they could hear the ocean, but had no time to go to the beach. Lots of compliments about the program overall, but almost everyone said they wished they had some free time.


  • In Macerata, everyone absolutely loved the location and the program was great. But no AC in dormitories drew some criticism. Also, we had three company visits planned for one day and the students had to choose and could attend only one. Lots of FOMO (fear of missing out). Students loved their company visit but complained that they wished they could visit all three.


  • We fixed all these problems in Calgary and there was no single issue that received negative evaluations. There were a few students who didn’t like the food (no halal option), but most loved it. There were a few students who felt the dormitories were not luxurious enough, but again the vast majority thought they were more than adequate. I am very happy about that.


  • One issue that seemed a bit contentious at the time was a mini rebellion of the Ambassadors. We have loaded so much work on them and expected such high level of performance that at some point, Day 3 I believe, there was a little argument between the Program Director and the Ambassador team about the need to wear the uniforms on the trip to the mountains. Notably, all parties behaved very professionally and all issues were resolved. Looking back, that was actually a very good learning moment for all of us, both the Ambassadors and the professors. The lesson for me: aim for perfection, but take it easy when something is only 99% perfect. It’s OK. Don’t always push your team to achieve 100%. Trust that everyone is shooting for 100% and don’t get upset if sometimes we get only 99%.


  • We also had a team of X-Culture Kids (15-16-year-olds). Several of them came with parents, so it was nice to meet the entire families and hang out with them. The kids did a great job and, while they didn’t win the competition, the actually did better than some university student teams. Kudos!


  • I personally also LOVED that it was Calgary. Both of my kids were born in Calgary. I got my Ph.D. at the University of Calgary. I was very nice to come back home and see good old friends. It was very emotional for me to see the people who taught me and worked with me at the Haskayne School of Business. The fact that they still remembered me and, it seemed, were very happy to see me. Live your life so that you’re always welcome to visit placed and see people you used to work with.


  • However, there were a few admin challenges we didn’t experience in the past, and this is probably why this event was so much more exhausting that the previous ones.


  • First, many more than usual students didn’t get the visas to attend the event. We lost about 50 people due to visa rejections. Worst part, we didn’t know that until a few days until the event. Students would apply for the Canadian visa, but would not have the appointment and would not get their rejection until right before the event. We were able to replace most of them with people from the waiting list, but that was very stressful and disappointing.


  • Second, and a consequence of the visa rejections, was dealing with the refunds. I have spent HOURS on issuing refunds to some students. For example, you can’t just hit “refund” to send money back to Ghana. It’s an extremely complicated process that required countless emails with the student to get all the banking information right, wire the money, and  then still several payments were lost in transit, we had to spend hours on the phone with the banks, launch investigations, find the money, and then try to send it again. One refund is still pending. The money had been lost due to mix up between an “account number” and “international account number” the student’s bank is using. So, it’s not over for me yet.


  • All these administrative challenges are expected though. In fact, I am surprised that we experience so few of them. Think about it: with no external funding and support, relying almost exclusively on volunteer help, we bring together 200 people from 40 countries and offer a world-class week-long training program. And everybody goes back home not only safe, but also very happy with the event.


  • All of this takes a lot of work. By my estimate, Leilani Baumanis has invested about 3,000 hours in preparing and running the event, Leighton Wills, our local host was probably close to that, too, and several of us on the organizing committee also clocked quadruple digits.


  • Looking back though: Totally worth it. Not only the students learn new things and met new people, but also improved their cultural intelligence and international collaboration skills, prejudice went down, motivation to work with people from other cultures went up. In this divided world – I’d say it’s an important outcome.


I’ll see if I can write up a more detailed report someday, but now switching my attention to San Antonio. This time, we have 40 students from 37 countries. As with Calgary, about 25 people got visa rejections. But we still have a very international group. Can’t wait to meet them all in person.


More information and photos here: https://x-culture.org/2019-calgary-canada/

1 Comment

  1. Vas, Leilani and Leighton you did an amazing job planning the calgary symposium. Bless you!! The experience was amazing