Does Studying Abroad Really Boost Your Job Prospects?

Studying at home – in your own city, your own state, even your own country – is so yesterday. These days, if you want to make the most of your investment in further education, from first degree to top drawer MBA program, you need to study abroad.Everyone seems to agree.

Studying Abroad and Employment

Heads of HR at major corporations regularly complain about the lack of truly international talent, and urge universities and business schools to develop it. Education providers of all types have responded with a wide range of partner programs, study trips and internships.

Even Harvard Business School now sends its MBA class to far flung corners of the globe in its first year. And Michelle Obama has gone on public record stating that overseas study is not just great for the individual but “is a vital part of America’s foreign policy.” Which is quite some endorsement.

But when it comes to the crunch – that is getting you a better, more fulfilling and well-paid job – does international study really deliver?

According to new research carried out by Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) and posted on its research platform, RSM Discovery, the answer is yes. But it’s a qualified yes.

RSM’s Erik van ‘t Klooster interviewed over 1000 students, interns and alumni from around the world who generally felt that what the study calls ‘educational travel’ improved both their managerial and cross-cultural competencies and also made them more independent, flexible and self-aware.

So far so good. However the study also identified that those who studied or worked in emerging nations felt they benefited a lot less from the experience than those who went to more established economies. Why? For the perhaps predictable reason that they found it more difficult to appreciate the host culture and interact with locals, particularly in countries in Africa, Asia and parts of Latin America.

But isn’t this rather worrying? After all, any conversation with the hiring department of a multi-national will quickly tell you that what they are after in fast-track employees is not the sort of skills you can pick up on a vacation, but a genuine understanding of local cultures, specifically in the BRICS and N-11 countries that are offering so much commercial potential. However, what the RSM Discovery research suggests is that not enough is happening in the right places to effect this. But why?

The problem seems to be two-fold. First, too many students simply haven’t developed sufficient emotional maturity by the time they go abroad to fully benefit from the experience. And second, it’s still too easy at all levels and on all types of programs to exist in a Westernised ‘bubble’ surrounded by a peer group of broadly similar people and with little real incentive or necessity to fully immerse in the local environment.

Of course, there are many universities and business schools that are already doing some imaginative and innovative work in addressing this issue. The Moore School at the University of South Carolina, for example, has gone as far as hiring an anthropologist to make its MBA program more culturally open and immersive. But if the higher education community as a whole is to counter the charge of indulging in what some commentators have branded ‘education tourism’ then it must do more. Otherwise it will be in danger of letting down both its students and the organizations that will go on to employ them.

This post was originally published on Forbes.com

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