Joint MBA/MA and JD/MA: Chinese Language and Culture Program

An underlying premise of the Lauder Chinese Language & Culture Program curriculum is that effective cross-cultural management requires both a high level of language proficiency, which demonstrates abstract thinking and conceptual communication, and a correspondingly strong understanding of the history, culture, politics, and business practices of the Chinese-speaking world. The curriculum develops both dimensions and prepares students to understand the larger cultural context in which Chinese business takes place.

Chinese Language and Culture courses integrate applied language study and cultural analysis in a comprehensive program made up of the following phases:

May Courses
Summer Immersion
Academic Year

May Courses
Chinese program students take two classes in May, including International Political Economy of Business Environments (INTS 721) with all first-year MBA/MA and JD/MA Lauder students. In addition, the students take East Asian Area History (INTS 71X) with students in the Japanese program. Students also receive Chinese language instruction and do coursework in May to prepare them for the upcoming overseas summer immersion in June and July. May language course activities are required, and along with the summer immersion, count toward the first academic unit of the INTS Chinese Language and Culture curriculum. Activities related to the Chinese Language and Culture Program include, but are not limited to, a review of important people and events in Chinese history; an overview of current social, economic and political issues; introduction to the business culture and environment in China; preparation of self-introduction in Chinese; and one-on-one interviews in Chinese, all of which are geared towards increasing language proficiency and cultural understanding.

Chinese Summer Immersion
A core component of the program is the eight-week summer immersion in Beijing and Shanghai. Students may also have an opportunity to visit Taipei. The primary goals of the Chinese summer immersion experience are to advance students’ language proficiency for academic and professional contexts, expand their cultural literacy/knowledge and develop an increased disposition for critical reflection. These are achieved through in-language classroom instruction, seminars, excursions and company visits.
Students complete about 100 hours of in-language classroom instruction focused on economic, social, political and business topics during summer immersion. The content complements the East Asian Area History course from May and provides an opportunity for students to reflect upon the historic, linguistic and cultural context of the Chinese-speaking world. Over the summer, students develop the ability to discuss complex social, political, cultural, and economic issues; develop increasingly formal and culturally appropriate communicative abilities; and work towards obtaining a Superior level of language proficiency as defined by ACTFL guidelines. Students also conduct research and interviews in teams in order to write a short article on a business, economic, cultural, or political topic related to their summer immersion site. These articles are published by Knowledge at Wharton, as part of a new series called the Lauder Global Business Insight Report. Recent articles by students in the Chinese program have included such diverse topics as the consumption of luxury goods by Chinese consumers, Groupon and the concept of group-bargaining in China, the Chinese electric car industry, challenges facing female managers in China, consumer credit in China, corporate social responsibility after the Sichuan earthquake, venture capital and private equity in China, renewable energy, the development of China’s second- and third-tier cities, and Huawei Technologies' expansion into Africa.

Through a diverse agenda of national and multinational organization visits and guest speakers, students are exposed to the current economic and business landscape and future outlook of the region. While visits may change from year to year, previous visits have included Estée Lauder, Innovation Works, McKinsey, Google, Louis Vuitton, PepsiCo, General Motors and Phillips. During these visits, students discuss issues related to specific companies and industries as well as the social and political environments in which they operate.  Students can also expect to participate in cultural activities and gatherings with alumni.

Academic Year
Upon their return from the immersion program, students complete their academic degree requirements through INTS Chinese Language and Culture Program courses. The program complements the international MBA business and management skills developed at Wharton and in Lauder’s International Studies curriculum to prepare both MBA and JD students to confidently navigate a rapidly changing global economic, political, social and cultural landscape. The Language and Culture Program during each semester of the two-year program includes classroom instruction and specialized activities. Thematic content during the two years typically draw upon political, legal, socio-economic, and market issues; literature, history, and philosophy; contemporary business and industry concerns; arts, film, media, and sports as contemporary expressions of a culture and its values; and issues related to current events. Our small, focused classes emphasize mastery of the language, with the goal of reaching a Superior-level of language proficiency, and develop students’ ability for critical thinking and problem solving within the framework of Chinese culture. Students are expected to demonstrate their linguistic proficiency and content awareness through activities that range from debates, presentations, reports, reading and writing assignments and discussions. Some examples of specific themes that may guide the classroom include:

  • intercultural misunderstanding & communication between the east and the west
  • multinational firms doing business in China: past and present
  • China’s overseas investments in Africa and Latin America: opportunities and challenges
  • challenges in global economy: major issues facing China, Europe and the US
  • US-China relation & leadership transition: the issue of North Korea, Iran and leadership transitions in both countries
  • democracy development worldwide and its impact
  • the development of social media on internet and its important role in social issues
  • educational reform in China and educational experiments in developing countries
  • contemporary Chinese literature and movies

In addition to class, students explore the different facets of the target culture in contexts that take them outside the classroom. One example is the spring semester mini immersions. These extended in-language activities vary from year to year but are usually related to the themes of the academic curriculum. Last year’s mini immersion took the group on a tour of New York City’s Chinatown to understand its history and culture, followed by dinner and a viewing of the Broadway show Chinglish. Afterwards students met and discussed the idea and content of the play with the cast.

Lauder students complete their MA degree with a course sequence that includes International Political Economy of Business Environments and the Global Economic History, two approved electives from the School of Arts and Sciences, and the Global Knowledge Lab research project. 

Students in the Chinese Language Program have been chronicling their Lauder experience since 2012 summer immersion in a blog. Check back frequently for new entries about their experiences with Lauder after returning to Philadelphia and the ways that they develop insights, skills and abilities from the program.