Global Learning Hits Grad School

Posted September 17, 2008 at 10:11am

Globalization is the buzzword of the 21st century. The natural boundaries of oceans, deserts and mountain ranges that once separated countries and continents have been erased in this Internet age of instant information.

When it comes to energy sources, manufactured goods, international businesses and interconnected financial institutions, not to mention political partnerships, nations are increasingly interdependent. As the world struggles to come to grips with matters that can only be solved by global cooperation, the old adage that “no man is an island” has never been more understandable.

Undergraduate study abroad programs have long offered students the opportunity to gain insight into the cultural, economic, and political makeup of another country, and these programs have expanded in recent years to encompass every corner of the globe. Now there is an increasing realization in higher education that a study abroad component at the graduate level should not be viewed as a nice “add-on,” but an invaluable experience for those working in a global marketplace. American universities are responding to the need for graduate study abroad options that fit into the lives of busy professionals.

While there are few studies to validate this trend, anecdotal reports from universities in the Washington, D.C., region confirm that international graduate study is taking hold at the grass-roots level. The model that has evolved at many schools reflects the lifestyle needs of most graduate students who are working and going to school part time.

Condensed courses are offered in weeklong or other short-term formats, and summer is a prime time for graduate study abroad. In many cases, students meet in stateside classes to prepare for the international experience, which typically offers lectures by international faculty, site visits, and even interaction with graduate students pursuing a similar degree in the destination country. The short time frame makes study abroad viable for working adults and keeps the additional expense within reason.

Business and law schools are increasingly offering graduate study abroad options. For example, Marymount University’s School of Business Administration offered a summer global marketing course in London. Dr. Nancy Furlow, an assistant professor of management and marketing at MU, taught the group of 24 MBA students.

“Besides the obvious experience of being immersed in a foreign culture, students were able to get out of the classroom and hear from professionals in a global setting,” Furlow said.

Furlow outlined the benefits, saying, “Our students had a number of guest lecturers who gave them a view of doing business in London.” She stressed, “Even more important were the personal interactions that students had talking to Londoners in pubs and restaurants about life in London and doing business in the UK.” Similar courses are planned for next summer, including one in international human resource management.

Jonathan Post, international programs manager for American University’s Kogod School of Business, added an example of AU’s offerings: “Each spring, American offers a three-credit course, International Dimensions in Management: Study Abroad Project, which includes a travel component to visit companies and meet with senior executives in various industries. Recent destinations have included Poland, Russia, China and Brazil.”

While short-term international graduate study is the norm, longer programs are also offered at many universities. American University’s School of International Service offers graduate study abroad as dual-degree and semester programs. The George Washington University Law School offers semester-abroad options in Canada or Mexico with partner universities. It also provides three summer study abroad options: an international human rights law program in Oxford, an intellectual property law program in Munich, and an exchange program at the University of Augsburg.

George Mason University offers a variety of international study formats, including a unique opportunity to do volunteer work and earn a graduate degree through the Master’s International Program, a GMU partnership with the Peace Corps. Both GMU’s Master of Arts in Political Science and the Master of Public Administration are designed to allow students to incorporate two years of Peace Corps service as a part of their degree.

While business courses and programs are prominent in graduate study abroad offerings, programs are offered in all fields of study. Marymount’s Center for Global Education organized a London field experience for graduate forensic psychology students to provide an understanding of the United Kingdom’s criminal justice system. In addition, interior design students traveled with two faculty members through Italy, studying classic architecture and design. At American University, graduate students (as well as qualified undergrads) from any U.S. university are invited to apply to its new summer abroad offering, “India as an Emerging Great Power.”

The real validation of graduate study comes from the student participants. Many see it as something that will stand out on a résumé and help them in their chosen profession. Beyond professional advantages, the experience contributes to a global perspective so necessary in today’s business and political arenas. Sarah Abdow, a Marymount MBA candidate and a portfolio analyst for ProFund Advisors, affirms, “This is something that I did for myself. … Still, my boss thought it was helpful to have an international exposure to London’s financial services sector, which relates to my current position.”

International study experiences are becoming an increasingly important component of graduate education in the 21st century. They offer an invaluable window on the world in all fields of study. Students in the Washington, D.C., region are fortunate to be able to choose from myriad programs, offered in a variety of formats all around the globe.

Victor Betancourt is the director of Marymount University’s Center for Global Education.