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The Steinberg Conference Center at 38th and Spruce. Credit: Jake Werlin

Even CEOs have to silence their BlackBerrys sometimes.

In the Advanced Management Program, part of Wharton's Executive Education department, high-level executives and government officials leave their busy lives at work and return to taking notes in the classroom.

In the most recent group that graduated last week, 66 participants from 23 countries came together to share their knowledge about the business world with each other.

For six weeks at a time, these executives live on Penn's campus and are schooled on leadership skills, finance and business tips all day, six days a week.

During their stay at Penn, participants live and attend classes in the Steinberg Conference Center on campus, rarely getting a chance to explore the campus or the city.

But participants say they like the change in routine.

"For the past 20 years of my life, I don't think I've been locked up anywhere for this long," said one AMP participant, a Nigerian bank executive who requested to remain anonymous because of his company's restrictions.

"But this kind of solitary confinement really helps you with self-examination and finding out who you are."

David Wessels, a director in the Executive Education program, teaches an AMP course on finance and working with business portfolios.

Being on campus really invigorates the participants because "it's been so long since they were on a college campus surrounded by undergraduates just as interested in learning as they are," he said.

Participants also say the nature of the program gives them the chance to build lasting friendships with others in the group.

"The best thing about coming here is establishing relationships with others and learning from them," said AMP participant and United States Army Colonel Mike Cardarelli.

But everyone needs a bit of a break, and the executives did have a few chances to venture off campus.

Early on in the program, History professors gave the group a tour of Philadelphia, teaching the international participants about the economic history of the city.

"It was insightful to see that America is more than just the land of milk and honey that people abroad think it is," said the Nigerian participant.

The group also took part in rowing exercises on the Schuylkill River, meant for team-building and leadership. It also got the participants acquainted with each other relatively fast.

"From then on, things opened up, and people were much more relaxed. Socialization that would normally take a few weeks was done in the course of a day," said Cardarelli.

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