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 with another opportunity to get out of the classroom and put the skills they’ve learned into practice in the field. The courses takes place over the fall term 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, with destinations ranging from Los Angeles, California to Tokyo, Japan!

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1. IFCs Have Been Running at HBS for 14 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 experience 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 service trip to New Orleans, faculty and staff at HBS realized that 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 into domestic and international immersive experiences, with a diverse portfolio of topics and areas of focus. Students receive academic credit for participating in IFCs.

2. Approximately 200 Second Year Students Participate in IFCs Annually

Each year IFC enrollments tend to reach maximum capacity – which can vary by IFC. Typically, about six IFCs are offered with capacity set at approximately 40-45 participants. This is the equivalent of about ¼ of the entire second year (EC) class!

Unlike the RC Field Global Immersion course (FGI), EC students are able to choose their specific course and location during the summer EC enrollment process and pending availability. Specific IFC offerings and locations vary year-to-year. The 2020 portfolio included the following:

  • Asia - China’s Belt & Road Initiative (Shenzhen, China; Hong Kong; Yangon, Myanmar; Colombo and Hambantota, Sri Lanka)
  • Cuba - Economy, Trade, and the Role of Business and Global Markets in the Future of Cuba (Havana, Cuba)
  • Israel - Startups and Venture Capital (Tel Aviv, Israel)
  • Japan - Innovation through the Fusion of Digital and Analog (Tokyo and the Tohoku region, Japan)
  • Hollywood - Distribution and Marketing Challenges in a Digital World (Los Angeles, USA)

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

3. Immersive Field Courses (IFCs) differ from the FIELD Global Immersion course (FGI) in several ways

  • IFCs are elective courses for second year students (versus a required course for first year students)
  • Students have the ability to preference an IFC based on a variety of criteria including the immersion location, the industry/subject focus, and the faculty member teaching the course
  • The immersion component often lasts closer to two weeks (versus one week)
  • Each IFC has a specific focus which exposes students to projects and/or business contacts within an industry they might wish to learn more about, or maybe even already know they wish to work in after HBS
  • In rare cases, and depending on the pedagogy of the course, IFCs are open to cross-registrants (students from other Harvard graduate schools). This provides ECs with a great opportunity to expand their network of peers

The biggest similarity between an IFC and the FGI experience 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. After FGI, many students are left wanting more “real world” experience – and luckily, there is an IFC for just about everyone.

4. Faculty Design IFCs around Their Research Interests

Faculty provide students with contextual knowledge about the IFC location and topic area throughout the IFC experience. Starting in the fall term, 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 students can experience during the January immersions. In some instances, IFC faculty develop projects with companies and organizations that are well-suited for a group of MBA students and which will potentially add real value to participating firms. In other models, faculty will design their courses to have students focusing on a particular research topic or subject. With either model students will also gain exposure to local business environments through site visits, guest speakers, panels, and cultural activities.

As elective courses, IFCs bring together groups 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 IFCs area of focus (e.g. real estate, entrepreneurship, entertainment, doing business in a specific country, etc.). 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.

This blog was updated on October 16, 2020.