As I reflect on my Darden Worldwide Course (DWC), I am thankful for a packed week in Sweden. Although there were countless takeaways, three parts of my experience in Sweden really stood out to me: experiencing a new culture, growing with my peers, and intensely studying sustainability and innovation. These themes all led to lessons that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

A Whole New Culture:

Despite reading the briefing book and scouring the internet about Sweden before the course, there is nothing that could have fully prepared me for the business experiences I had in Stockholm. I knew small talk before meetings would be different, and there was something in the culture called “fika”, but actually having these cultural business experiences was quite special. Attending meetings in a foreign land helped me better understand how to operate with a business culture different from my own, which I could not fully understand by just reading. Since I hope to be a global leader, I appreciate the opportunity to better understand a new business culture.

Experiencing the business culture will help me adapt and interact with cultures different from mine in the future. I am better able to recognize if someone actually wants small talk or not, as well as the need for a mental health break or “fika”. An equally eye-opening part of this course happened outside of our formal engagements. Through casual conversation, I learned that our tour guide kissed wolves and camped underneath the Nordic lights. I spoke with a young woman at a bakery who has lived on the archipelagos all of her life. She takes the ferry to go to school or see her friends. Multiple people we talked with have given up air travel for the sake of sustainability. So many of their experiences and perspectives are so different than anything I have ever seen before. I will take these lessons back to the States with me as I have now seen a new way of living that has broadened my horizon.

Old Friends in New Places:

I was in the same section as seven students on this Sweden DWC. This means I had spent countless hours in the same room as these seven people, plus, I knew the majority of the rest of the group quite well through other Darden activities. However, my relationships with my peers grew so much more than I had previously thought possible. In the past, I have often chosen comfort when hanging out with my friends. However, this course to Sweden taught me the value in doing something outside of your comfort zone in order to build relationships. Taking fika with my classmates, walking the streets of Stockholm, or enjoying a drink as we stared at the water led to a quicker growth in relationships than I have experienced in the past. I am thankful for the opportunity to take a class abroad to push me to learn and grow with my peers outside of my comfort zone.

Sustainability Takeaways:

Although I might have been able to learn about sustainability in a classroom in Charlottesville, the Swedish leaders we interacted with helped me see it in action in a different environment.. Sustainability is engrained in every single leader that we talked to in Sweden- it is a mindset and just part of doing good work. Although specific roles ranged from Ericsson providing sustainable equipment for operators, to Fredrik Magnusson who designed and created consumer products focused on sustainability, and Digiplex which did not interact with many businesses or consumers when lowering heat waste. These sustainability projects include both business to business and business to consumer, and so far, behind the scenes, only the municipality will know. This range of sustainability efforts leads to my main takeaway: no matter the job or who you are interacting with, there is a way to create a more sustainable impact.

I have also learned from this trip that changes for the sake of sustainability will not always be easy. For example, business to business sustainability is quite difficult considering it has less of a firsthand tangible impact on the end consumer. Or consider the higher prices Roder Innovation products command considering the sustainability component, which may hurt the profit margin. However, Ericsson and Roder Innovation both found a way to fight through these issues. Seeing so many companies succeed with sustainability has prompted me to be more conscious of what I can do moving forward. A leader at Ericsson said it best when she answered our question on how to stay motivated about sustainability stating, “I need to see our house is in order. No matter what other people are doing on sustainability or climate change, I will take care of my house.” Recognizing that every single individual is responsible for sustainability, and everything can be more sustainable, will help me be a more impactful leader in the future.

As I wrap up my first year at Darden, I do not believe I could have ended it on a better note. Experiencing Sweden with thirty dear colleagues and friends while learning how our business ambitions can make a positive difference on this earth is a great way to close year one.

James (left) with Darden classmates on the DWC in Sweden