Study abroad in rich countries pays higher dividends

Skills of business students on internships in low-income nations do not develop as much as those in other regions

January 15, 2015

Business and management students who go abroad for internships benefit less if they visit low-income countries than other parts of the world, a study suggests.

Research by Erik van ’t Klooster of Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management found that development of interpersonal skills, cross-cultural understanding and management competencies advanced less in poorer nations and in those with socialist backgrounds.

Dr van ’t Klooster attributes this to the difficulty that students face in acclimatising to the host culture and locals. As these societies are often more hierarchical, interns tend not to develop close relationships with colleagues.

Students faced particular difficulties in countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the report says.

Dr van ’t Klooster’s study, Travel to Learn: The Influence of Cultural Distance on Competence Development in Educational Travel, is based on a survey of more than 1,000 mainly business and management students undertaking internships via AIESEC (formerly the Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales).

“These findings imply a wake-up call for students and…educational institutions,” Dr van ’t Klooster says. “The inclusion of educational travel programs in business school curricula doesn’t automatically produce globally competent individuals.”

The report says that the ease of international travel has diluted some of its traditional benefits because many challenges of adapting to a different culture have been removed.

Potential employers are now more interested in the professional skills that students have developed while overseas, rather than the simple fact that they have studied abroad, Dr van ’t Klooster believes.

He says that students are sometimes too young or spend too much time with fellow expatriates to get the most out of their trip, and that language problems can mean that students are given simpler assignments.

Dr van ’t Klooster concludes that more support should be provided for students before they go abroad and once they get there, to reduce potential uncertainties around language and culture.

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

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