Carlson School of Management News

The Impact of Education Abroad on Undergraduate Students

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Impact of Education Abroad on Undergraduate Students

Students often describe their education abroad experience as having "changed their lives." In many cases, these changes are noticeable by others as well: "We find that often students who spend time abroad are more mature and confident in their ability to thrive in new situations, in part because their immersion in another culture helps them be open to different people and ideas when they return to Minnesota," says Morgan Kinross-Wright, director of the Carlson School Undergraduate Business Career Center. "Students also tend to gain experience in measured risk-taking, adapting to new situations, dealing with ambiguity, and solving problems creatively through these education abroad experiences. All of this growth and development is a very positive outcome for our recruiting partners, many of which are global organizations."

However, anecdotal evidence aside, the Carson School has not determined the specific impacts of such experiences on students--until now.

The Carlson Global Institute (CGI) recently completed research to further understand these effects. "When the Carlson School established the international experience requirement, we needed to be able to speak to the value and impact of such an experience," says CGI Associate Dean Michael Houston, one of the research authors. "We also needed feedback to guide program development and management."

The research was conducted in late spring of 2009 and consisted of surveying Carlson School undergraduates who were in their second year or beyond. The purpose of the survey was to learn more about this population's interest in education abroad, motivation for further education and professional development, and interest in globally oriented careers. Data from 466 students were collected. The findings suggest that, compared to non-participating students, Carlson School students who take part in a global experience overseas of any length are:
• More interested in and willing to take jobs with global components
• More motivated to interact with other cultures, work in multicultural teams, and to learn a foreign language
• More likely to see graduate school in their future

These effects are even more pronounced for students participating in more immersive programs, such as semester exchanges. Additionally, female students are more likely to study abroad and for a longer duration (such as a full semester versus two weeks in country). These results reinforce the repeated statements of students and previous research in this area. "Many of the findings supported earlier findings--in particular, the greater participation levels and intercultural development of women," adds CGI Assistant Dean and co-researcher Anne D'Angelo.

Students were also asked to complete an Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a tool that yields measures of how well individuals think they operate in intercultural situations versus how well they actually operate. Females generally are further along in their intercultural development than males, as are students with semester-long international experiences. Females also have a smaller gap in their perceived versus actual development scores, suggesting they have a more accurate self-understanding of their intercultural development. However, the male-female IDI differences are erased for those who have studied abroad for a semester.

These findings allow educators to leverage the experiences of global programs to best advantage. "We will look at the effects of different types of programs. If we see one type of program having a more meaningful effect, we might expand the presence of such programs in our portfolio," Houston says. The research itself is ongoing as well, as CGI is now studying education abroad effects at the MBA level.

Recruiters See Value of Global Education

For recruiters looking for the best, sometimes a global experience makes all the difference. Tanis Altizer, recruiter specialist, campus program, at Allianz, handles actuarial hiring at all levels of her company and is in charge of the Allianz Life Collegiate Partners Intern Program. In short, she sees a lot of individuals vying for coveted positions and knows what makes the best candidate. "We look for students who have demonstrated academic and leadership achievements, a passion for the chosen career field, strong communication skills, ability to work independently or as part of a team, technical skills, and demonstrated commitment to community service," she says. "In addition to these competencies, we desire students who have an understanding of the overall business."

In many cases, business understanding comes directly from global enrichment. "We find the students with international experiences have a better understanding of our business after seeing our offices and hearing about Allianz in the countries they were visiting," Altizer says. Altizer says a key importance of an international experience is that it gets students out of their comfort zone. "They are put in a situation where they may be unfamiliar with the people, customs, or land," she says. "Being put in such a situation brings the students a higher level of maturity, a greater comfort facing the unknown, confidence after being successful in such a situation, and a greater initiative to solve problems on their own, because it's more difficult to ask others for help when they speak another language."

One Student's Perspective

As a supply chain and operations management undergraduate, Jennie Ehrlich, '11 BSB, says she was "lucky" to have two international experiences, one in Shanghai, China, and the other in Bangalore and Hyderabad, India. "I studied Mandarin and Chinese management and took a Chinese economy class that focused on the Chinese impact on the global economy," she says. "I also held a sourcing internship at the Ingersoll Rand Chinese headquarters in Shanghai." In India, Ehrlich learned about the capabilities and interactions of information decision science and business in different settings from global companies like Google and TATA to local schools and government projects. In total, Ehrlich spent five months and three weeks abroad.

"Internships, activities, and travel experiences offered a unique perspective on business management concepts learned at the Carlson School," she says. "Much of this learning can be attributed to the importance of recognizing and crediting cultural differences, an invaluable skill for sustaining international business. Through my international experience, I was able to extend my business network globally, which provided me with personal insights that may not be discoverable in a textbook."

Ehrlich now works for Ingersoll Rand as a global sourcing specialist thanks, in large part, to her international experience at the Carlson School. "I learned the ability to communicate cross-culturally regardless of language," she says. "This is a critical skill when working in an ever-changing global environment."

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