The Benefits of International Study

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Monday, March 11, 2024
By Matt Lilley
Photo by iStock/agrobacter
When you put yourself in unfamiliar environments, you gain a global network, an edge in the workplace, and skills that last a lifetime.
  • If your degree program includes an international component, you will learn to work alongside diverse peers and develop cultural empathy.
  • You will acquire the real-world knowledge you need to address today’s business challenges, which are frequently global in nature.
  • Your options include participating in study abroad programs, attending a school that is part of an international network, or choosing a school with campuses in multiple countries.

No matter where you’re from, it can be challenging to take yourself out of a familiar environment and throw yourself into something completely new. This is especially true if you’re a student embarking on undergraduate or postgraduate education outside of your home country. You might find yourself anxious about managing the intensity of study or fitting into a new social environment.

Even so, I encourage you to consider international education because of all the benefits it provides. When you are out of your comfort zone in a new city or country, you build skills that end up serving you well—not only in school but throughout your lifetime. International study brings both short-term and long-term advantages, in five specific ways.

1. You Grow and Change

Education is about more than a degree; it’s about undergoing transformation and setting yourself up for success. The probabilities of both outcomes increase when you’re learning through an international lens.

Pursuing an international degree shows curiosity and optimism. You learn not only from the curriculum, but also from the culture and environment around you.

Being in a new environment and taking on the role of outsider can stimulate your learning. When you’re in unfamiliar surroundings, you become resourceful as you seek out new support networks, learn to adapt, and find your grounding. As you face new challenges, you become more resilient and improve your problem-solving skills. You’ll also get a cognition boost if you learn a new language.

2. You Gain Cultural Intelligence

I would argue that understanding cultural and workstyle differences is critical to professional success today. It builds empathy, leads to open-mindedness, and enables individuals to build strong problem-solving skills.

At schools where global immersion is part of the DNA, international awareness is intrinsic to the overall educational experience. Often, these schools don’t just provide international study experiences for students; they also enroll students from all over the world. For instance, at Hult International Business School, where I am president, our students represent some 150 nationalities.

Understanding cultural and workstyle differences is critical to professional success today. It builds empathy, leads to open-mindedness, and enables individuals to build strong problem-solving skills.

In an internationally diverse classroom, even a simple discussion becomes a unique cultural experience in its own right. You become privy to views and outlooks you would not encounter if you were merely studying alongside people with backgrounds similar to yours. This, in turn, spurs your own thinking in surprising and innovative ways.

In today’s workforce, you must be prepared to hit the ground running alongside a distributed cohort of colleagues, clients, and partners. If your business education has given you experience working with international classmates, you will be able to comprehend and thrive in many different environments. You’ll understand how to leverage diversity to get results, and you will know how to collaborate with people who are not like you.

Once you’re hired by an organization, you will be able to assimilate quickly into the professional culture in a way that benefits the company and the team. You will be a step ahead of other new hires—possibly even ahead of some members of the management teams who are still learning how to work with colleagues who come from different backgrounds.

3. You Prepare to Become a Leader

International experience is practically a requirement for today’s leaders, because our most urgent business and societal challenges are global.

In a recent video released by AACSB, three panelists discuss how worldwide issues such as climate change, sustainability, and biodiversity loss are impacting business. And according to a recent AACSB Insights article, global events such as armed conflicts, disruptions to the supply chain, and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic also are causing widespread economic upheaval.

Through international education, you will gain a better understanding of today’s interconnected and global business environment. Such understanding will help you become a better leader.

4. You Practice Real-World Business

The most important way a business school can prepare future executives is to simulate work scenarios in the classroom. In challenge-based and applied learning exercises, students unpack real-life cases that companies have struggled with—and that raise issues students might have to deal with once they’re on the job. During these exercises, students collaborate with peers and focus on achieving measurable results.

Through simulated work scenarios, students unpack real-life cases that companies have struggled with—and that raise issues students might have to deal with once they’re on the job.

When I recently visited with Hult alumni in San Francisco, they told me that these real-life cases were some of their most valuable classroom experiences. These alumni work at tech companies such as Google, PayPal, and Tesla, and they hold jobs in every type of department, from product management to coding to human resources to finance.

All of them believed that learning in immersive global settings prepared them for being in a workforce where adaptability, hustle, transferable skills, and cultural understanding are prioritized.

5. You Expand Your Network

Another important benefit to attending a school with a diverse and global student body is that you build a lifelong network via collaborations with classmates from around the world. These classmates might become business partners, colleagues, or even future investors.

Business schools that have strong international outlooks and approaches are likely to have alumni in every part of the world. These individuals come together on a regular basis to attend events, access mentor opportunities, and learn about exclusive job listings.

In-Person Immersion

You might wonder if you can realize the benefits of international education through virtual experiences and online education. These options certainly have their place among today’s educational offerings, and they can offer students accessible ways to quickly get up to speed on specific topics and industry knowledge.

But I believe that international experiences cannot be replicated with virtual replacements. Ask yourself, why do people go on holiday rather than just watch videos from their own homes? Because there’s no substitute for in-person immersion in a culture. No online experience can compare to sitting side-by-side with others as you break down problems, innovate solutions, and build indispensable skill sets.

In international classrooms, students benefit from shared experiences as they exchange ideas with faculty and with each other. Successful alumni—now industry experts—regularly join the classroom to share their insights. All participants learn from each other and enrich their individual perspectives. As a result, they develop more innovative, impactful ideas that make the world a better place.

International Options

You might be convinced that you want your business education to include international experiences, but be uncertain about the next step to take. You can consider several options.

Many schools provide students chances to study abroad through exchange programs or joint degrees offered with institutions in other parts of the world. When students take advantage of study abroad opportunities, “what they learn is definitely a different culture, definitely a different way to do business, a different way of thinking,” says Sherif Kamel of the School of Business at the American University in Cairo in a video produced by AACSB.

If you pursue a global education, you will broaden your horizons, discover new ways to solve problems, and become a more interesting person.

A growing number of schools belong to international educational alliances that make it easier for students to attend classes on multiple campuses. These alliances include CEMS (the Global Alliance in Management Education), the Global Network for Advanced Management, the EMBA Consortium for Global Business Innovation, the Future of Management Education (FOME) Alliance, and the Quantitative Techniques for Economics and Management network.

Other schools maintain multiple campuses around the world where students can gain a variety of diverse experiences. For instance, at Hult, we have locations in business hubs such as London, Boston, Dubai, and San Francisco. Students can choose to study at up to three different Hult campuses in a given year. We also recently introduced weeklong international learning experiences called City Seminars that enable postgraduate students to take elective courses in different cities. This summer, City Seminars will take place in Madrid, Stockholm, Seoul, Singapore, and New York City.

Broader Horizons

When I think back on my own education, I realize that the time I spent studying internationally changed my life. I grew up in the U.K. and attended Cambridge University, but I also spent time at the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S. as a Thouron Scholar and did postgraduate work at Heidelberg University in Germany. During those years, I learned perspectives that I would not have been open to before, and I still have close friends from my time abroad.

Others report similar reactions to their own international experiences. For instance, in a 2020 article on AACSB Insights, Anastasia Sinegaeva describes what happened when she left her native Russia to pursue graduate education at the University of South Florida. She writes that going overseas changed the way she perceives the world, helped her develop a global mindset, and heightened her sense of cultural awareness.

“In the end, graduate education abroad enabled me to understand the businesses, markets, strategies, and people across cultures and borders. It prepared me to be a business leader of tomorrow,” she notes.

If you decide to pursue a global education, you will broaden your horizons as you discover new ways to see—and solve—problems. Not only will you be in demand with employers all over the world, but you’ll also become a more interesting person.

You will build empathy, character, and confidence. By combining your natural curiosity with a global mindset, you will develop fearlessness in the face of challenges. As you become the best version of yourself, you obviously will improve your own life. But you also will have a positive impact on society and contribute to building a better world for all.

Matt Lilley
President, Hult International Business School
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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