The benefits gained include insights into other cultures and ways of doing business FOR MANY STUDENTS, the week spent overseas is the most memorable in the course and when they learnt the most in the shortest time. Some also said the experience helped bring their class together as a team. The Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) has been offering MBA programmes since 1995, but only recently included an overseas trip as part of the course. Students who took part in this year's optional five-day study tour to Malaysia - which counted as a credit towards their final mark - said they felt it had enriched their learning experience. 'It was a tour full of complexity, in terms of the places that we visited,' said Jimmy Chan, an entrepreneur and graduate of OUK's MBA programme this year. To get a broad perspective of the Malaysian business environment, 23 students and their course organiser visited nine organisations - ranging from the Ministry of Finance and the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange to government-linked company Proton Tyres. The group also visited the Multimedia Super Corridor, Cyberjaya on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia's Silicon Valley. Eliza Au, an analyst for Standard Chartered Bank and an MBA student at OUHK, said the tour gave her a different perspective on Malaysia. 'This was my third visit to Malaysia, but the first two times were just sightseeing. This was my first time to see how Malaysians handled their business,' she said. Malaysia's diverse ethnic mix means it faces different challenges from Hong Kong. Mr Chan said: 'Culturally, it's a very complex country. It has an Islamic side and an Indian side, and then you have the Chinese population - Malay Chinese and pure Chinese.' He said although there were some inequalities, the different races got along well together. Ms Au said: 'They were very friendly and we were very well received. The director of one of the companies we visited told us they allowed Islamic staff members to perform two worships daily - one at 1.30pm and the other at 4.30pm. As foreign investors, we must respect the local culture.' Mr Chan has been running his own business, Kin Yip Silk Flower Factory, for seven years. With his business expanding, he decided to look for a course that would make his work more efficient and organised. 'I had been working for 15 or 16 years, but not very systematically. I wanted to learn how to put things in the right drawers,' he said. When his son entered upper kindergarten in 2001, he took the chance to put his spare time to productive use by doing an MBA. Ms Au also began studying for her MBA in 2001, and is working on her final course. She expects to complete the degree in February or August next year. A firm believer in lifelong learning, Ms Au was persuaded to do an MBA by her husband, who had started an MBA course at OUHK the previous year. 'We both pursue similar interests. He was enjoying it and finding it very useful, so he suggested I should join the course too,' she said. For Mr Chan, the visit to the Proton Tyres factory was one of the highlights of the trip. 'We went to visit the production line. That really was an eye-opener, because we just don't have that sort of thing in Hong Kong,' he said, adding that it was also interesting to see how the company operated as it was partly government-owned. 'There was a lot of bureaucracy - it's not really the free market. Proton Tyres has something like a 75 per cent share of the market in Malaysia, and I think a lot of that is due to the import tariff imposed on foreign tyres,' Mr Chan said. The Malaysia trip was OUHK's second overseas study tour. The first was to Singapore last year. Mr Chan was one of the few students who took part in both tours. He said it was interesting to see the differences and similarities between the two countries. But the students said the course was important for more than the basic information they gleaned. It was also a bonding exercise. 'I really believe it is more than learning. It's a good way to learn, but we also got to know each other well,' Mr Chan said, adding that it helped the students to improve their networking skills. Course organiser Irene Siaw Sau-chu said these benefits were all the more important for the OUHK MBA due to the way its courses were taught. 'Through this event, a close rapport is developed between academic staff and participating students through sharing and disseminating experiences during and after the tour,' she said.