Made in the American South experience

A new phenomenon at American institutions of higher education is domestic study away offerings, which are experiential learning trips within one’s home country. Domestic study aways have been rising in popularity for a variety of reasons and are now becoming increasingly available at universities such as Brown, Georgetown, Tennessee, William and Mary, Cal Berkeley, and South Carolina. 

From the rooftop of Nashville Underground

Sobania (2015) stated that large countries are best suited for domestic study aways due to their inherent regional geographic cultural differences, and Huffman et al. (2017) noted that these trips are “able to broaden … perspectives about social factors and culture beyond geographic or ethnic boundaries” (p. 205). Sobania and Braskamp (2009) remarked that “diverse cultures within a local, regional, or national community should be recognized for providing learning opportunities and experiences that can also be transformative” (p. 23).  In regard to the regionalism of the US, Sobania (2015) asserted that “growing diversification – regionally, demographically, culturally, and socio-economically … is a doorstep to the planet and presents opportunities for global learning” (p. 25) via domestic study programs. Additional outcomes associated with domestic study aways point to personal growth and real-world know-how (Klinegores, 2012) as well as development of community-based competencies (Hall & Holder, 2021).

Short-term study abroads, or trips to other countries that last several weeks or less, have been increasingly common in American universities for several decades. The Cooperative Center for Study Abroad (2020) found that domestic study aways are similar to traditional study abroads in that there is the same “ability to view concepts and ideas in person” (p. 2) but at less cost, and Hall and Holder (2021) confirmed that “an additional benefit of domestic study-away opportunities is that they are generally less expensive” (p. 36). Sobania (2015) stated that compared to study abroads, domestic trips “equally expand students’ horizons, their knowledge of global issues and processes, their familiarity and experience with cultural diversity, their intercultural skills, and sense of citizenship” (p. 27), and Huffman et al. (2017) noted that these trips “achieve similar learning outcomes as study abroad programs” (p. 196).

In addition, domestic study aways provide opportunities that study abroads may not be able to facilitate.  Hall and Holder (2021) state that domestic study aways are able to expand typical study-abroad-related “learning and personal growth opportunities” (p. 36) to more students.  In particular, Sobania and Braskamp (2009) argue that domestic study aways allow for more opportunities to include domestic minorities and immigrant populations who might not be able to take advantage of traditional study abroads, and Sobania (2015) also confirmed that students from groups that are typically under-represented in study abroad programs are more likely to participate in domestic study away programs.  In addition, Edenfield (2020) noted that domestic study aways offer more opportunities for first-generation college students as well as more accessibility for “students with work or family obligations that might limit their participation in a longer experience” (para 3).

This trip’s title, “Inward Foreign Direct Investment: Made in the American South experience”, reflects the central theme of this trip, which is America’s global intercultural influence in the American South, exemplified by two fast-growing cities: Nashville, TN, and Charlotte, NC.  In particular, the multinational automobile industry is an economic catalyst propelling this geographic region, along with other culture-specific phenomena which, like the Nissan and BMW factories, have attracted not only inward FDI but also global consumer spending.  The over-arching theme of America’s global intercultural influence was reflected in experiential learning related to regional phenomena on this trip, which embeds these quintessentially American concepts, products, processes, or cultural attributes that originated in the American South, were embraced domestically, and ultimately became attractive globally. 

In Indiana, where many graduates of the Polytechnic gain meaningful employment upon completion of their bachelors’ degrees, the automobile industry and its supply chain have become very important. Millions of dollars pour into Indiana’s economy from the multinational automobile production facilities of global manufacturers such as Honda, Subaru, and Toyota, which all produce in Indiana.  The number of automobile-related industrial jobs in Indiana is an astounding 459% of the national average. Indiana’s economy is largely dependent on the multinational automobile industry, and the same can be said about this region of the American South, which has attracted billions of dollars of investment from multinational automobile organizations.  Like in Indiana, where this industry has thrived, the American South provides a similar and even more attractive destination for future growth in this industry. 

The Greenville-Spartanburg region of South Carolina has developed into a world-renowned industrial epicenter. Greenville was once called the textile hub of America and was the fastest growing city in America between 2015 and 2016, whereas Spartanburg was known as hub city due to it’s supply chain capabilities associated with the railroad industry. Combined, are a model of regional economic development. Over the past few decades, a massive influx of inward foreign direct investment from global multinational industry has flowed into the area where the BMW factory is located.  Tanoos and Ncube (2011) found that newer production-related positions are more likely to be located in the South than the North, particularly in newer manufacturing organizations, and surmised that “while the North historically has been the manufacturing belt of America, the South continues to rise as a more preferred destination” (p. 136).

The BMW factory in Spartanburg has seen an injection of over $11.4 billion in total investment since the early 1990s, with over 70% of the vehicles being exported. The South is increasingly supplanting the North as the regional destination for new international industry investment, and “is now the preferred destination for new manufacturing investment, particularly commitments from global sources/majority owned US affiliates and new contract work, causing the South to better mitigate against the national deindustrialization trend” (Tanoos & Ncube, p. 130). There is no better example of this trend than the November, 2021 announcement that BMW Group is injecting a $100 million investment to build a multi-faceted logistics center nearby. Study-away participants were disappointed that the tour of the BMW factory was cancelled in advance of the trip, but we were adaptable and re-focused our resources. We were still able to visit BMW Zentrum on the BMW campus, the only BMW museum in North America (see pictures below).

NASCAR is a cultural staple in Charlotte, North Carolina, home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There wasn’t enough time to visit this venue, though. One could say that the Greenville-Spartanburg region’s NASCAR culture hasn’t become mainstream nationally or globally, but it certainly helped in attracting their multinational automobile industry. There are similarities with central Indiana’s history with racing and its current multinational automobile industry. Whereas the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the Indy 500, the Charlotte Motor Speedway track hosts the prestigious Coca-Cola 600. Truly, America’s global economic influence ​is enhanced by not only the quality of its exports but also what comes into the country via inward foreign direct investment; regional phenomena such as this area’s NASCAR culture and central Indiana’s IndyCar culture and how they leverage the multinational automobile industry ​and related supply chains not only propel the economy but also facilitate promoting and advancing American cultural values, and the Charlotte region as well as Indiana are poised to be the regional epicenters of multinational automobile economic activity (see pictures below).

Southern success of the past had an aristocratic flair, but large Southern plantations were contradictions of capitalistic success because the workers there were usually enslaved. Although many of the general attitudes held on these plantations don’t hold up in modern society, they still are considered a quintessentially Southern phenomenon. Perhaps no other estate represents historical Southern capitalistic success better than Belle Meade (French for beautiful meadow) Plantation and the Southern gentlemen who developed it. As the headquarters of the Battle of Nashville during the Civil War, its generations of enslaved inhabitants are crucial to the success of Belle Meade, through their influence from slavery through emancipation. Its biggest success was as one of the top thoroughbred-breeding farms in the world in the mid-to-late 1800s, when the plantation stabled more than 400 horses at a time, and Belle Meade became the first entity to auction its horses. During this era, the enslaved people living on the plantation learned about the equestrian industry and thoroughbreds and eventually became experts in breeding, blacksmithing, and stonemasonry, highlighted best by African American horse trainer Bob Greene, who is buried there. Upon emancipation, many African Americans continued to work there alongside the employees and family. The tour guide noted that since horse racing and alcohol were intertwined at the time, the burgeoning temperance movement in Tennessee in the early 1900s transferred Tennessee’s grip on the equestrian industry to Kentucky (see pictures below).

Bell Meade plantation

The Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina represented ultimate American economic success in the late 19th century. The Biltmore mansion is still considered the largest domestic dwelling in the country at 170,000 square feet. As a classic American industrialist from a classic American family, George Vanderbilt built his empire from industries whose advent propelled America to its position as a world industrial leader in supply chain capabilities. The estate was a pioneer in sustainable land management, built on a philosophy of field-to-table self-sufficiency. George Vanderbilt’s most successful ventures involved modes of transportation including railroads and steamboats. Students compared him to Elon Musk during this tour of his mansion (see pictures below).

Biltmore Mansion

This region of the American South draws massive consumer spending from abroad. Nashville has successfully branded itself as Music City, drawing 16.2 million pre-pandemic global visitors every year (an increase of 19% over five years).  The pandemic not only hurt domestic travel but also negatively impacted consumer spending by global travelers in the US. Baratti (2020) reported that 16% of the $195.1 billion spent on tourism in America in 2019 was from global consumers, but overall economic spending from global tourism in the US dropped by $35 billion in 2020 (Wood, 2021). Certainly, the various music genres are directly associated with Nashville, and music-related tourism suffered immensely during the pandemic.

Truly, a case can be made that a recording industry focused on youth culture, which eventually became world culture, was born in Nashville. Today, Music Row, which is a strip of record labels, recording studios, and entertainment offices, is thriving in Nashville. Students from nearby Belmont University routinely gain experiential learning at organizations on Music Row to facilitate their knowledge of the music industry. One prominent inhabitant of Music Row, RCA Studio B, is a major catalyst and early influence on the music business, as the place where Elvis Presley recorded most of his hits (see pictures below).

Elvis had red lighting installed for when he recorded rock hits, and blue for ballads

The Grand Ole Opry is the longest-running weekly radio show of any sort in American history and is now a venue in and of itself. It includes a wide variety of musical genres but the most common are country, gospel, folk, and Southern rock. Membership continues to be one of country music’s crowning achievements (see pictures below).

The Grand Ole Opry

Ryman Auditorium is referred to as the “Soul of Nashville”. This quaint performance venue was the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974 and is considered a pivotal venue in the history of the acceleration of any musical genre (country music, in this instance). Originally opened in 1892 as a gospel music venue, it was one of the first buildings in America to witness a community backlash against its proposed-demolition in the early 1970s and was attached to the preservation movement in Nashville for a generation. Just off Broadway, it has recently seen a resurgence of live acts of all genres (see pictures below).

The Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville was established in 1961 and was originally located on Music Row before it outgrew that location and relocated to downtown Nashville in 2000, across from the hockey stadium, after the National Hockey League expanded in 1998 to add the Nashville Predators. In 2012 Taylor Swift donated $4 million to add an education center to the museum (see pictures below).

The faculty leader was in Nashville just three days earlier for the Purdue bowl game and enjoyed 73-degree weather. And although the trip was planned in the American South in part because weather was likely to be better there than in Indiana, unfortunately, the snow at Belle Meade foretold more snow later in the trip. The plan for the final part of the trip was to learn more about the equestrian industry, with a visit to the Kentucky Horse park and adjacent museum in Lexington planned for the ride home. However, a once-in-a-decade blizzard hit and this part of the trip was cancelled. Everyone on that bus remembers the trials and tribulations of being trapped on the bus in standstill traffic for nearly 5 hours. The next day, it was reported that the highway saw the most crashes on the Kentucky interstate system in memory. However, adaptability has more value than ever in a post-pandemic world, and perseverance was on everyone’s minds.

The pre-trip and post-trip curriculum for this domestic study away prompted students to analyze why these regional ideas, concepts, products, brands, industrial capabilities, and other means of economic development are unique to this region of the United States in the past, present, and/or future. Students were challenged to research more about how these local concepts spread across state lines, nationally, and globally and shape our national culture and how others perceive us around the world and were tasked with further investigating, inquiring, and critically examining how these concepts could be expanded in the future and become even more widely adopted domestically and globally, as well as how their careers could be facilitated by them.

The most memorable experiences on trips are usually those that are self-initiated, as these side-trips and the memories they make tend to be the most special. Immersion into the fabric of the local community has an underestimated impact on success in one’s job, so these proactive adventures are encouraged. For instance, conversations with fans attending local Titans or Hornets games were common. While each student has their own version of these explorations, some representative experiences include trips to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, honky-tonk hopping at the Broadway live music strip, attending the Hornets game, and get togethers to cheer on the Purdue basketball team.

Although participants in this domestic study away were forced to adapt because of COVID and the weather, the trip successfully its purpose, and everyone got home safe, just in time for the Spring semester. Students represented themselves professionally and displayed characteristics that prove why they are true Boilermakers. Boiler Up!