The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Great Wall of China, the Egyptian Pyramids–while many of us have seen countless photos of these and other world treasures, those who have been there will insist that nothing can compare to experiencing them in person.
The same can be said for learning about global business. In an age where mergers and acquisitions lead to the international expansion of many companies and organizations, it is no longer enough to just learn about doing international business; it is necessary to experience it. Many undergraduate students participate in semester-long study abroad programs, immersing themselves in the culture of a foreign country. Graduate students, a great number of which have full-time jobs or families, may not be able to take this same amount of time to go abroad due to time or financial constraints. Does this mean that they can't benefit from the experience of an academic immersion in another country?
Associate professor of management Paige Wolf looked at the short-term study abroad programs at George Mason's School of Business in the article, "Short-term Study Abroad: A Transformational Approach to Global Business Education," published in the Journal of International Education in Business. Wolf, together with Michelle Marks, associate provost at George Mason University, and Karen Hallows from the University of Maryland, collected data from eight of these short but intensive trips—seven for the MBA program and one for the EMBA program—to find out if going to a different country, even if only for a short period of time, enhances global business education and knowledge.
The short-term study abroad experience at the School of Business, referred to as a "global residency," is a mandatory course for all graduate students. The semester long course is divided into three parts consisting of in-class meetings leading up to the trip, a seven- to ten-day study abroad, and in-class meetings after returning from the trip.
"Classroom experiences for the global residency course include readings and discussions about the social, legal, economic, political and technological conditions affecting business in that country," explains Wolf. "During the trip, students participate in activities closely integrated with course content including visits to multinational and local companies, meetings with government officials and senior executives, and trips to important landmarks. After the trip, students use the knowledge gained to develop a business plan they could implement in the country they visited."
As part of Wolf's research, students completed a survey after they studied and discussed background information in class but before they travelled abroad and then completed the same survey immediately after they returned from their global residencies. The survey asked students to rate themselves on their knowledge of the country's role in global economy, import/export patterns, role of culture in business, influence of legal and political institutions on business, and their ability to evaluate business opportunities in country. They were also asked if their experiences, first in their in-class learning and then in their visit, changed their perceptions of the country or doing business in the country.
Wolf and her colleagues found that students' self-ratings of knowledge significantly improved across the board. "We found there were significant differences between their basic self-efficacy, their belief about their knowledge, and their comfort doing business in other countries from the time they learned about it in the classroom and the time they got back," Wolf says. "Most students agreed that site visits were the most educational portion of the global residency course."
Wolf believes the opportunity to interact with people who do business in those countries directly gives Mason business students an edge, and though it's a short-term experience, her research shows that it does make a difference in students' perceived understanding and ability to do business internationally.
Students from the MS in Technology Management program recently returned from their global residency to Singapore. "The global residency is a highlight of the MS in Technology Management program," says Jean-Pierre Auffret, MS in Technology Management program director. "We try to select a destination that will give students an academic, as well as cultural, experience that broadens their horizons and helps them to further develop an integrated perspective about the rest of their class work."
Many of the students on the trip blogged about their experiences abroad and their blog posts are a testament to Wolf's research.
"Of the twenty grad students in our cohort, only one had an in-depth understanding of the Singapore business environment. The rest of us only knew about Singapore from an academic perspective. We had read through various case studies, journals and other resources prior to leaving but these provided a narrow view of the environment," says MS in Technology Management student Jason Titlow. "Going there and listening to the engineers and executives discuss why their companies and organizations had located to Singapore provided a vivid, in-person, first-hand account that is just not possible through academic readings."
Paige P. Wolf is an associate professor of management in the School of Business at George Mason University. At the School of Business, Dr. Wolf teaches both MBA and undergraduate courses in organizational behavior and human resource management. She is the recipient of the George Mason University Teaching Excellence Award and has been recognized for her innovation in teaching by the School of Business. She received her PhD in industrial-organizational psychology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and maintains her Senior Professional of Human Resources (SPHR) certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute. Click here for full bio.