Study Abroad Emphasis Key to a Complete Business Education

Like many parents, when Jessica Spanier’s father heard his daughter say “study abroad,” he translated it to “party boat.”

Fortunately for Spanier, who completed the Semester at Sea program last summer, she had an uncle who convinced her father that, for an aspiring businesswoman, a semester abroad isn’t an excuse to party, but a chance to learn the customs of different countries and appreciate how business is done elsewhere.

Spanier, a Business and Technology major in her junior year, took classes and absorbed culture in nine countries, such as Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain.

“In global companies, you’re working with people from different countries, so you have to be sensitive to a different culture, especially if you’re trying to make partnerships in other countries,” she said. 

That sense of perspective is a common theme for students who travel. Bianca Caseiro, another junior B&T major, is studying at American University of Paris, where she takes courses with students from China, Africa, Russia and beyond. 

“I have learned how to really, truly work with others,” Caseiro said. “Team projects aren’t as simple when not everyone speaks complete English, has a heavy accent or different priorities.” 

But she’s grown comfortable outside that comfort zone. “No language barrier or time difference turns me off to the idea of a different way of life and work,” she said. “People here in France really value the little things, such as food, coffee, spending time together, the architecture, and more.” 

Business students may benefit most from such exposure. Dr. Bill Guth heads the Howe School’s efforts to internationalize the curriculum, and he rejects the idea that globalization is standardizing markets.

“Trade barriers between countries have come down dramatically since the 1950s,” Guth said. “But the culture, the political economy, the social structure of the country has not changed anywhere near as much as the policies for external trade. So to say because the trade barrier has come down, everyone’s the same, is really globaloney.”

He pointed to Wal-Mart’s failed entry into Germany as an example. The retailer didn’t do its due diligence on how German culture would disrupt the business model that made it a domestic success. “That cost them around 150 million bucks,” Guth said. “Talk about a dangerous assumption. And it’s all because nobody looked at the country, at the culture.”

Two upcoming trips — an undergraduate trip to London and a Beijing offering at the graduate level — are designed to complement in-class learning. Almost all courses include international concepts, said Dr. Ann Murphy, associate dean of undergraduate education at Howe, but “for students to truly understand what those concepts mean, the international experience is an important way to go about it.”

And Spanier said international travel is “like having work experience” to the recruiters she’s met with.

“You’re bringing the concept that you look at situations from a different point of view, a more open one,” she said. “Rather than ‘This is what it is,’ you’re like, ‘No, there’s so much more — and I’ve seen some of it.’ And that in itself is unique.”

Those employers know students who’ve gone abroad are comfortable in unique situations, also. 

“Being so far from my friends and family has really forced me to learn how to live on my own. … I even had to find my own apartment, and go through a French landlord,” Caseiro said. “It’s not always easy not being in your comfort zone or so far from home, but study abroad is truly an experience of a lifetime.” 

Three benefits to studying abroad

Perspective. A global economy benefits world citizens with firsthand experience in navigating new cultures.

Exposure. One of Jessica Spanier’s favorite classes abroad was a global sustainability course, which led her to try an environmental communications course in Stevens’ College of Arts and Letters.

Networking. “One of the real takeaways is developing a wider network — literally, geographically, but also in the kinds of people you know,” Ann Murphy said.