An International Learning Experience

By: Aria White

A Q&A with a past study mission attendee on the value of international learning.

One of the best ways to learn about international markets is to travel abroad with your colleagues. Peter O'Neil, CAE, executive director of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, says one of the benefits of the ASAE & The Center study missions is learning from other association professionals. O'Neil recently shared his study mission experience with Associations Now.

Associations Now: Tell me about your study mission experience.

Peter O'Neil: I went on the India mission and on the Singapore/Dubai mission, and I thought they were incredibly cost effective given all that was included in the prices. There's so much ROI. For me, looking at the program that was being offered and at the itineraries, it's just not a program you can put together on your own. The content of the meetings were incredible, and I think it helped put two countries in particular, Singapore and India, into a context that I don't know that I could have gotten on my own.

What was the most valuable part of the missions?

I think the study missions are a fantastic way to not only experience a country but experience it with your colleagues in a way that you learn two times as much; you learn what you learn as an individual and you learn what your colleagues learn and you're able to share it during the down times. I think people sometimes look at the cost of the trip and don't understand all that it includes; they immediately write it off. There's no easy, inexpensive way to get out to these countries and see them, and the bottom line is that you can try to do it on your own but it would not be done as well.

The next study mission will go to Argentina and Brazil in April 2010. This study mission includes traveling to Buenos Aires and São Paulo with an optional extension to Rio de Janeiro. For more information, visit www.asaecenter.org/studymission.

Aria White is editorial assistant for Associations Now. Email: [email protected]


Online Extra: Extended Q&A With Peter O'Neil

Was there anything you learned that was surprising to you?

We had already been doing some work in India when I went on the India mission and we were already looking at doing some work in Singapore. There were certainly things I learned in Singapore that surprised me, but not necessarily from a business perspective but more from understanding the culture and from understanding the region better which I think will help us market and communicate about the meeting we're planning to have there in 2011 a little differently. I think that when association professionals go to a country with their membership, we go and look at a country somewhat myopically, we're looking at what associations do there, what industrial hygienists do there, what chemical engineers do there, and we don't really stop and look at it holistically. I think for my organization, the India trip helped me see the country holistically in a way I really hadn't before. I'm well-read and it's not like I don't read about the economy and the government and all that kind of thing but when you experience it with other association professionals and you're given access to people you wouldn't necessarily have on your own, I think it helps put the country in a context that's just different. So, we are approaching India a little differently as a result.

What's changed about the way you do business since going on the missions?

I wouldn't say that we're approaching the business end differently; I think that as result of the study missions it was made even clearer that we really had to partner with local, in-country organizations. I think we knew that before but I really understood that when I left. Our business model didn't change.

Is there anything you'd like to add about your study mission experience?

I run a $16 million organization with 60 staff and 12,000 members and some people think those trips are for organizations like mine that are "big" but we've had people on our missions from all sized organizations. The mission really hits home for all of us because we're all learning from each other, we're all trying to do the same or similar business in the same global economy so I think it's a great investment of time and money and it's a trip that you simply can't do on your own, not with the contacts that ASAE & The Center has.

The next study mission will go to Argentina and Brazil in April 2010. This study mission includes traveling to Buenos Aires and São Paulo with an optional extension to Rio de Janeiro. For more information, visit www.asaecenter.org/studymission.

Aria White is editorial assistant for ASAE & The Center. Email: [email protected]