Designing Study Abroad Programs to Develop Global Competencies for the Twenty-First Century Organization

TenHaken, V. R.

Today’s students must be prepared to interact with people and cultural situations that may differ significantly from their life experiences to date. A majority of employers indicate they look for candidates who have had a study abroad experience during their college years. Responses given to the 2011 QS Global Employer Survey by over 10,000 corporate recruiters worldwide show that employers actively seek and give preference to college graduates who had studied abroad. Six out of ten employers said they give “extra credit” for a student’s international experience and more than 80 percent said they actively seek graduates who had studied abroad. The multi-cultural work environment within the United States reflects a microcosm of the global community, so intercultural competence not only prepares an individual for the global economy of the twenty-first century, it also provides skills for managing a more diverse workforce at home. Increasingly, students prefer short-term study abroad programs over semester or year-long programs. Since the value employers place on a student’s study abroad experience grows significantly as program length increases, participation in short-term programs may not achieve the development of intercultural skills and competencies employers want students to gain from international study. Therefore, faculty and international study administrators need to take care in designing short-term study abroad programs to ensure that the desired learning objectives are met. Students will need to make an extra effort to describe their experience in such a manner that convinces prospective employers their time abroad developed the intercultural competencies employers expect such experiences to provide. Particularly in the case of participation in short-term programs, the onus will be on the student to translate his or her study abroad experience into marketable competencies. Students must learn to express how the study abroad experience enhanced their knowledge and ability to work effectively in a global society. Intercultural sensitivity has long been recognized as a necessary skill for effective intercultural competence. To develop the intercultural sensitivity needed for global interactions, one must learn to understand, respect, and appreciate both surface-level and deep cultural differences and then also be able to adapt one’s behavior as appropriate. Short-term programs, even those with advance academic work to learn about the culture(s) being visited, seldom go beyond the first step of developing intercultural sensitivity, that of increasing knowledge of other cultures. Because of the “island” or “bubble” syndrome of many short-term study abroad programs, students are often not faced with challenging interpersonal situations or the need to adapt their behavior. It is especially important, therefore, that faculty members leading short-term study abroad programs design them to be more than travel and tour experiences and by include exercises that encourage students to articulate how their study abroad experience has affected the areas of personal growth that leads to intercultural competence.



APA citation

  • TenHaken, V. R. (2014). Designing Study Abroad Programs to Develop Global Competencies for the Twenty-First Century Organization. International Journal of Business and Management, II(2), 94–104.

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