As part of the elective curriculum (EC) within the MBA program students have the opportunity in their second year to enroll in an Immersive Field Course – or “IFC” for short. These courses are driven by faculty research and industry connections, and provide students another opportunity to get out of the classroom and put the skills they’ve learned to practice in the field. The course takes place over the fall semester – with several on-campus sessions leading up to a 10-14 day off-campus immersion during the January term. The immersion locations vary each year based on the IFC portfolio, but can be anywhere from Los Angeles, California to Tokyo, Japan! 

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1. IFCs Have Been Running at HBS for 11 Years 

Immersive Field Courses were first developed in 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, LA and its surrounding area.  At that time, a group of second-year MBA students who were eager to lend their support to those affected in the region spearheaded the first “immersive,” off-campus field study to New Orleans.  Not only were these students driven by the opportunity to help, they were looking to apply their MBA skills to a real-world context and learn first-hand how businesses could assist in the effort to rebuild.  

After seeing the power of that first, immersive, student-led adventure to New Orleans, faculty and staff at HBS realized that these field-based opportunities might be worth offering to a broader group of HBS students as part of the second-year curriculum.  Since then, IFCs (which are now faculty-led) have expanded to include both domestic and international regions, a very diverse portfolio of topics and focus areas, and are offered to participating students for full academic credit.  

2. About 200 Second Year Students Participate in IFCs Annually

Each year the IFC enrollments tend to hit maximum capacity – which can vary by IFC. Typically, about six IFCs are offered each year with capacity for about 40-45 students in each. This is the equivalent of about ¼ of the entire second year (EC) class! 

Unlike the RC year FIELD course, EC students have a choice about which IFC (and therefore, which travel location) they wish to enroll in. Specific IFC offerings and locations vary year-over-year, but the 2016 portfolio included the following:

Africa IFC: Building Cities (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

China IFC: Global Supply Chain; Two Sides of the Taiwan Strait (Shenzhen, China; Hong Kong; Taichung and Taipei, Taiwan)

Japan IFC: Tohoku; The World’s Test Market for Authentic Entrepreneurship (Tokyo and the Tohoku region, Japan)

London IFC: Beyond The “Square Mile”; Investing, Private Equity, and Real Estate (London, England)

Los Angeles IFC: Hollywood; Distribution and Marketing Challenges in a Digital World (Los Angeles / Hollywood, California)

Additionally, students enrolled in each IFC have the opportunity to submit preferences for which project(s) they would like to work on as part of the course.

3. IFCs Differ from the First Year FIELD Course in a Few Key Ways

An Immersive Field Course (IFC) differs from FIELD Global Immersion (FGI) for several reasons:

• It’s an elective course in the second year (rather than a required course in the first year)

• Students have the ability to preference an IFC for a variety of reasons including the immersion location, the industry/subject focus, and the faculty member teaching the course

• The immersion component often lasts closer to two weeks (rather than just one)

• Each IFC has a specific focus which exposes students to projects and contacts within an industry they might wish to learn more about, or maybe even already know they wish to work after HBS

• Some IFCs are open to cross-registrants (or students from other schools at Harvard, outside of HBS) – which provides MBA ECs with a great opportunity to expand their network of peers

The biggest similarity between an IFC and the FGI is that it gets students out of the classroom and into the field. Additionally, they are given the opportunity to continue building on the cultural competency, team building, leadership, and design-thinking skills they started honing during FGI.

FGI prepares students for an IFC by getting them outside of both the classroom and their comfort zone – practicing the skills they’ve learned alongside a new set of teammates and with a new project partner. After FGI, many students are left wanting more “real world” experience – and luckily, there is an IFC for just about everyone.

4. Faculty Members Design IFCs around Their Research Interests

Faculty members provide students with contextual knowledge about the IFC location and topic area throughout the IFC experience.  Starting in the fall semester, faculty lead a number of on-campus course sessions designed to prepare students for travel, and also work with HBS staff to develop meaningful content that IFC students can experience during the January immersions.  Together with external company partners, IFC faculty develop discreet projects that are well-suited to the skills of HBS MBAs and can potentially add value to participating firms. In addition to project work, students gain exposure to local business environments through hands-on site visits and guest speaker panels featuring key business leaders from the IFC location.  

As elective courses, IFCs bring together cohorts of students whose interests are uniquely aligned.  Not only are students eager to experience the same IFC location, they also share an interest in the IFC’s focus area, be it real estate, entrepreneurship or entertainment.  Students are often excited by the opportunity to experience the business environment of a new geography, but sharing in this common experience with a group of like-minded peers makes the experience that much more engaging and enjoyable.  For these reasons, many students have remarked that the bonds they have developed with their IFC classmates are some of the closest they have made while at HBS.