By Stanton Reed, Professor of Business Accounting, Osceola Campus
The study abroad experience offers students a living lab to examine their theories and develop their global perspectives. During spring 2014, I led a group of 10 students (four from Valencia, six from other schools) through a partnership with Community Colleges for International Development in a class titled Immersion in Global Business (GEB 2955) in a study abroad experience to Beijing and Shanghai, China.
Participants in the study abroad trip gained great multidisciplinary exposure that ran the gamut from cuisine to religion and the arts. The premier learning outcome for the students was to experience the impact culture has on society. Other key lessons from the journey were to learn to negotiate with local business vendors, compare companies doing business in China with those in the U.S., participate in lectures on business development and the Chinese stock market and have an immersion in Chinese culture taught by Chinese professors. All outcomes were achieved.
Most were enlightened by the experience of seeing the Great Wall and its role of freeing people from oppression. Students showed great appreciation for the importance of effective communication and understanding and grasped that a “great wall” can be erected figuratively without an effort to genuinely make connections.
It is important that students have a grasp of what’s required to interact with different cultures, and while the theory of internationalizing the curriculum is an important part of the process, being able to experience the impact of an internationalized curriculum adds so much value to the learning process.
Students experienced what it feels like to struggle with communicating their thoughts when there were no common constructs. Witnessing them conquer their fears and putting on their global citizen lenses was nothing short of incredible. Developing curriculum that infuses international elements is a way to expand students’ thought processes to consider the world beyond their immediate reach. And my own thought processes were also expanded.
As faculty participants, we are able to stimulate and facilitate student learning through structured and unstructured activities. An activity as simple as “pair sharing” allowed students to discuss with a partner their experiences of eating different foods and negotiating with local vendors.
By having conversations with Chinese students and experiencing their world views and outlook, our students were able to listen and reevaluate their own thinking on various issues. For example, they were briefed on China’s struggle with their healthcare agenda, and from that, were able to compare the healthcare issues in the United States with those under China’s communist regime.
Seeing familiar brands like KFC, Starbucks and Burger King reflect the local culture was one way they witnessed the importance of adaptability, not just for individuals, but for brands, too. Accustomed to ordering “food by number” at typical American Chinese food establishments, students, instead, were required to order meals in Chinese.
In their discussion with the local Rotary Club, they heard the challenges that exist in establishing business relationships, both in the country and abroad, given the strong cultural aspects of business formation and how culture frames what is important in Chinese society. They discovered how Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism philosophies shaped Chinese culture and about Tai Chi as a martial arts form. These influences frame the way business transactions occur in China even today.
As students continue to seek an edge in the workforce, study abroad offers them the opportunity to differentiate themselves from other job candidates. A study abroad experience expands students’ ability to deal with ambiguity and expands their view of the existence of more than one way to engage a problem and arrive at a contextual solution.
My experiences on this trip inspired me to explore writing an international case to be used in my managerial accounting course. I saw firsthand the importance of learning objectives, assessments and outcomes in a study abroad context, and it enhanced my ability to lead students and faculty on an academic exploration of another culture, which will enrich my instruction in the classroom this fall.
And my journey with students and faculty through Beijing and Shanghai reinforced to me how overwhelmed students must feel when they are introduced to subject matter for the first time. In turn, I am ever more sensitive to the need to provide a safe learning environment for them.
I encourage my colleagues to lead and/or participate in a study abroad program. The growth experience will be gratifying and enriching and will provide the opportunity to engage in conversations with people from all over the world — bringing textbooks to life. Added to that, the insights gained from students will last a lifetime.
I invite faculty members and their students to consider traveling with Bonnie Oliver, professor of economics, who will lead a study abroad next summer term (A) May/June of 2015 for a course, Introduction to Sociology (SYG 2000).
The SAGE Office does an excellent job in providing all the resources needed, both financially and academically, to ensure the study abroad experience meets stated goals and objectives. SAGE also provides scholarships for students and introduces them to financial aid resources.