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Value of Global Experience, Not Dead

June 2014

By Hanna McLeod, Manager, Research, AACSB International

The NAFSA Colloquium on Internationalizing Business Education was held last month during the NAFSA Annual Conference in San Diego, California—an event that AACSB International had attended for a number of years. As the name suggests, the Colloquium centers on the importance of implementing global and international experiences into business curriculum, and the value such activities present to the development of students', and business schools', global and cultural perspectives. Internationalizing business education has long been an important area of interest for AACSB, one that has been the focus of various events, initiatives, and publications, such as the 2011 report, Globalization of Management Education: Changing International Structures, Adaptive Strategies, and the Impact on Institutions. In the past, AACSB presented at NAFSA Colloquia on themes of the above mentioned report, as well as on the Accreditation Standards' implications for cultivating greater international collaboration.

Attending the Colloquium for the first time, I participated in a full day of presentations by business school program directors, administrators, faculty, and business leaders. Attendees engaged in group discussions on best practices, challenges, and opportunities for creating a global mindset among students, as well as within the business school culture. Throughout these discussions, I realized just how far these global business schools have come and how much they have already achieved in this space. Sometimes the process of identifying gaps and challenges can be an enlightening practice for realizing the positive impacts business schools have made. Many individuals shared their schools' involvement in challenging and interesting immersion experiences, rigorous study abroad projects, student reflection exercises, and internship programs—all with the objective of expanding students' perspective of the world and understanding their place in it.

Many of the barriers that attendees expressed were ones many business school leaders have heard and/or experienced: understanding millennial learning and social habits; encouraging and incentivizing faculty to experiment with new teaching methods and coursework; implementing unique and worthwhile international student experiences in the midst of dwindling budgets; finding the appropriate balance of hard and soft skill development; feeding employer needs and demands into the curriculum; establishing greater collaboration across the university and other disciplinary units; as well as accreditation's implications on establishing partnerships. These are all very real and important challenges that business schools must strive to overcome in order to successfully deliver on their missions and effectively prepare future business leaders.

During an informative panel discussion with individuals representing industry, career services, and business school alumni, attendees were provided with a sketch of the ideal young job candidate: one who excels in clear verbal and written communication, has the ability to make decisions and solve problems, can efficiently process and use data and information, possesses necessary technical skills, and finally, exhibits professionalism in various business and cultural contexts. As companies continue to globalize in their operations and markets of penetration, this final skill becomes even more crucial and challenging to find.

As I sat at my table during the group lunch, I went through these and other points discussed during the meeting, thinking on just how high expectations of business schools have become. Technical skill development, such as in accounting, finance, and economics, are no longer sufficient, and business schools feel the pressure of developing these hard skills in addition to creating well-rounded, positively active global citizens.

I shared my thoughts with individuals at the table, who happened to be an eclectic group representing various parts of the world. It was helpful to reflect together on the challenges discussed at earlier sessions, and I found it interesting to learn a bit about their international backgrounds and experiences. One attendee from the Netherlands shared her support for her teenage daughter's enthusiasm for international experiences. Knowledgeable in more than three languages, she was in the middle of preparing for a high school semester abroad, and already making plans of where she would like to study abroad as a future college student, including a cost-value analysis of institutions she already had in mind. Another attendee spoke about his time working and living in almost every region of the world, moving his family from country to country, and taking away with him valuable lessons that each culture had to offer. International experience was clearly an important part of each of these individual's personal lives as was reflected by their stories. However, not all young adults are exposed to such global experiences, and as educators these individuals expressed their commitment to instilling in their students the curiosity and enthusiasm for expanding their horizons and taking advantage of the global opportunities presented to them by their business schools.

As companies are increasingly held accountable for how their operations impact communities on a global scale, business schools must aim to create that same mindset in their students. Although challenges will remain, it is reassuring to see the number of individuals who make this a priority within business schools around the world.