Salomé Thériault is an MBA student at Laval University in Quebec City, specializing in marketing. The 22-year-old Acadian from New Brunswick did her undergraduate studies at Mount Allison University in English but opted to take her MBA at Laval partly to return to her mother tongue. Along with her full-time studies, Salomé is volunteering as an agent with the university's Trade Missions, a not-for-profit organization that gives companies across Quebec an opportunity to develop their businesses in an international setting. This is her fifth blog post in a series.
I am back from Turkey and one of the most incredible experiences of my life, both on a professional and personal level. There are no words to explain how amazing Istanbul truly is. This was my first time visiting Turkey, and I must admit it was one of the most beautiful countries I've seen.
Istanbul is where West meets East, where different nations and cultures have learned to live as one. In Turkey, you stand on two continents: Europe and Asia. Istanbul is a very liberal city with many European influences but has a history from multiple empires that have shared paths throughout the years. The beautiful Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophie, the Galata Bridge, Istiklal Street, the Grand Bazaar, the spice market, the multiple carpet merchants – the list could go on – are some of the daily encounters you walk by everyday. There is so much to see and appreciate in Istanbul, a city of more than 16 million residents.
The purpose of my trip, however, was more than just sightseeing. My Trade Missions colleagues and I were there to represent 15 Quebec companies and expand international markets on their behalf. Companies in the mining, construction, defence, food, appliances, logistics, education and chemical sectors were all represented by one of Laval University's trade agents.
The three-week journey was an intensive taste of the real business world. Like I mentioned in my last blog post, I got to represent a private school to recruit a student for a one-year stay in Quebec City in the school's immersion program. It was more challenging than anticipated, as I needed to target the right schools and find specific candidates who can communicate in English.
A regular day during the mission consisted of visiting one or two schools to pitch my project to the institution counsellors or directors. I also got to meet with exchange student agencies and give them information to promote the school. We were also fortunate to have business meetings with trade commissioners at the Canadian Consulate.
Even figuring out where to go and how to get to a meeting was a task in itself. Istanbul is huge, traffic is crazy and public transportation is not completely finalized. On the days when I had no meetings, I did research in order to understand the education ministry's regulations on international education and made cold calls with a translator. Communications in English were much more difficult than expected, and cold calling in Turkey was on a whole other level to what I was used to at home.
We woke up at 7 a.m. each day, went to our meetings, did some cold calling and research, had a group meeting every night at 6 p.m. and then did some follow-ups until almost midnight. It was an intense three weeks but very rewarding. How lucky are we, in our early 20s, to experience this kind of work, to experience international business development?
Even though I do not think I will end up in the educational sector in the future, this experience led me to truly understand how business works. I confidently know how to present myself in a business setting, to pitch, to cold call, to politely argue, to negotiate and so on. And I've become a pro at hand-shaking. I've also experienced first-hand that business does not always work as planned and sometimes the opportunities are not as high as expected.
Yet, even if it was difficult at times, I found one student who could potentially be the first Turkish student at the school I represent. She and her parents were interested in my proposition, even wanting her to graduate in Quebec City. With all things said, my trade mission ended on a very good note.
I must also comment on my colleagues' work. It is incredible how a group of students were able to find real business opportunities for their respective companies. Most of my co-workers found Turkish partners or distributors in their respective industries and some of them even made future sales. It will be interesting hearing the success stories of the other 35 agents who were in Brazil and Chile during their similar, three-week trade mission.