Two Nicola Valley Institute of Technology students returned home this month from a two-week trip to Ethiopia, where they taught and learned about business.

The pair summed the experience up as “life changing.”

“For me, I wanted to get into working for companies,” said Mark Coutlee, second year business administration student. “Now, this trip has opened my eyes to wanting to own my own business. Before, I thought it would be more challenging to open a business.”

Coutlee said he’d like to return to Ethiopia to start a butter company.

“It’s so hard to find butter there. Everyone wants butter, but nobody has it,” he explained. “They import almost everything they have there, and they could just produce it [domestically].”

The local students said they joined several others from B.C., attending workshops for the first week and then learning about the local culture for the rest of the trip.

They stayed in a machine-gun-guarded hotel in Addis Ababa, and then regular hotels in Lalibela and Gondar.

For his classmate Tanisha Suzuki, she said her outlook changed after visiting Ethiopia.

“I went in thinking I wanted to own my own business,” she said. “Now I want to get involved with the Ethiopian people and help with their projects. A lot of them want to do stuff like start schools and it isn’t always just about profit.”

The pair not only learned about business, each of them also conducted their own workshop for a audience of about 100 people.

But after the business aspect of the trip, the pair turned their attention to the scenery and people.

“There were so many poor people,” Tanisha recalled. “They would want your money so badly. One person in our group was even attacked for her necklace, even when she was surrounded by people, but she got away.”

They also visited 900-year-old churches that were built underground near Lalibela.

The students qualified for the program ahead of a group of applicants. Coutlee and Suzuki were chosen for their high grades and volunteer work in Merritt, as well as for essays they wrote specifically for the application.

The pair left for Ethiopia on May 30 and returned June 15.

The Arc Initiative program was hosted by Ch’nook, in partnership with NVIT and the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

Arc intends to foster “bridge building” among organizations and other stakeholders in communities.

In the program, students can complete internships, workshops and mentoring activies.

The Arc philosophy focuses on a “two way flow of energy,” and that energy is manifested in ideas and knowledge.