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Study-abroad programs pay off for students in job market

Recently a student asked me about the value of an overseas experience as part of her major. My response is the subject of this article. At SUNY College at Brockport, we have long urged our students–regardless of their major–to participate in either a summer or full semester study-abroad program. Our campus is fortunate in that Dr. John Perry, director of international education-overseas academic programs, has done an outstanding job of developing a wide variety of programs in a number of overseas sites.
Every year nearly 400 students participate in Brockport internships, academic study in the student’s major and language emersion programs. We know from experience that this greatly enhances the student’s resume and job prospects.
However, questions arise: Is Brockport’s experience unique? Is there evidence to indicate that one’s chance of finding a job, whether in the international field or not, is helped by undertaking overseas study?
A recent article in the winter 1995 issue of International Educator discusses research undertaken by the College Placement Council Foundation and the social policy department of RAND Corp. Sixteen corporations and 16 academic institutions became part of a case study. When the corporate participants looked at their global business strategies and the kind of employees they hoped to hire, four categories became evident. They were:
–the need for knowledge in specific subject matter;
–the need for problem-solving ability, decision making and knowing how to learn (some firms expressed their concern over the decline in math, science, reading comprehension and writing skills), including the ability to work in groups and to be flexible, adaptable and open to new ideas from a diverse population;
–the need for work experience (including internships and co-op opportunities); and
–the need to understand and be able to work with persons from different cultural backgrounds. “Cross-cultural competence (is) the new human-resource requirement for internationally competitive firms.”
Much of this can be accomplished in study-abroad programs if students are not isolated from the host country (by avoiding “mini-Americas” or American enclaves in host countries).
Is it necessary to know a foreign language? It is a real plus, corporate employers said, but more important is a willingness to learn to understand things from another’s perspective and culture. Some corporations thought students needed a broader background that could be fulfilled through the general education requirements early in the student’s career. Courses such as world history, geography and comparative politics help accomplish this.
Study participants were unanimous in concluding that universities need to think more globally; their philosophy and curriculum must be directed toward the creation of a global worker.
One curriculum that attempts to respond to most of the concerns of the corporations involved in this study is overseen by Dr. Ann Rancourt, director of SUNY Brockport’s Delta College. In the global studies curriculum, internships are required and every student must undertake a study-abroad program, while learning a second language.
I believe the key to the success of this program–and others like it–is the semester in which the student lives and studies in a foreign culture. Only by doing so can one have the experience of thinking globally.
(Walter Boston Jr. is director of the International Institute at SUNY College at Brockport.)

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