Every January HBS sends hundreds of first year business school students to an emerging market for 10 days of cultural and business immersion. Dauntingly, in those 10 days students must acclimate themselves to the new market and complete a project for a global partner, a local business chosen by the School.

This year, I was one of those students. Like many others I was worried about living up to my global partner’s expectations. Fortunately, the professors at HBS do a great deal to prepare us. They provide instruction in human-centered design thinking, a problem solving approach that relies on extensive customer interviews and prototyping. In addition, professors make themselves available to discuss industry trends. Students can also lean on the distinct skills of the other members of their six person team. Finally, students work with their global partners, through video chat to complete preliminary work before traveling to the market.

My global partner was an Istanbul, Turkey based retailer with several hundred locations in Turkey that wanted to make its retail experience more appealing to young consumers. Istanbul is a dense and modern city with a strong shopping culture.

Upon arrival we started using customer interviews to determine whether the approach we drafted in Boston was acceptable to local consumers. Our interactions indicated that our overall approach made sense but that we needed to make a few tweaks for the local market. We discussed our findings with our global partner and they allowed us to test our ideas in one of their highest grossing stores, which was a highlight of the trip for me. Our prototype solutions were a success and during our final presentation the company agreed to try some of our ideas on a larger scale.

On the way back I came to realize how unique the FIELD experience is. It was the first time that I, or the rest of my group, had total control over the development and presentation of a company defining strategy. Most people do not get that experience until they become an executive in a company or found a start-up. The customer interview, prototype development, and presentation components of FIELD enabled me to develop the soft skills needed to succeed in post MBA leadership positions.