International Departures

There’s been a trend or perhaps simply a recurring theme in one aspect of global news in the past year to year and a half: many things international are leaving the U.S.

For instance, in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 4, B-schools Redouble Efforts Overseas notes the decrease in international student applications over the past two years from 26.5% to 24.8%. This poses a problem not only for university finances – international students pay higher tuition than in-state residents at most schools – but academically: international students help advance the global mix of a campus. Sometimes American students have their first cross-cultural encounters with a student from Korea, India or France. The international students add needed cache in the hotly competitive courting of future students.

But it’s more than cost. Increasing competition from truly international schools rising in China, Singapore and Hong Kong are competting for top students – students who understand they must graduate with a global MBA. Increasingly, schools outside the US offer more global programs.

And of course, the lackluster economic climate in the U.S. offers little hope to newly-minted grads who not only have to contend with the more complicated visa restrictions but face a tough job market of 10% unemployment in the U.S.  Some MBA students are simply going elsewhere.

Like scientists. China has begun implementing its Medium- and Long-Term Talent Development Plan (2010-2020), which involves offering resources to established scientists from the United States or Europe who return to China under a scheme known as the Qianren plan, or Thousand Talent Plan. These are well-regarded, established thinkers in a broad range of scientific fields.  And even more recently, it announced it was planning to attract scientists under 35 , a switch from years past. Experienced scientists could command high salaries and excellent working conditions, but the same was not true for more junior professionals But now, the tides are turning because China can offer programs, grants and opportunities in labs to these younger scientists.

India offers a similar program yet focuses on attracting talented younger scientists back from abroad to foster a new scientific culture as written up in Science.  Instead of offering lavish resources to established U.S. or European scientists, as in China or Singapore, India is coaxing young foreign-trained Indian scientists to return by establishing grant programs to support post-doctoral work and new independent laboratories.  Social networking has enabled a faster and more fluid exchange of information on grants, jobs and issues such as combining teaching with research.

It strikes me that as globalization continues, and other countries pull themselves out of the global economic crisis faster than we do, the U.S. will suffer even more — some say never to recover the glory days.  While some will argue that the openings at U.S. MBA schools allows more American students to get those spots, OK, but what about the real need for American students to earn a global MBA? What are schools doing about it?

Some may argue the openings left by Chinese and Indian scientists provide opportunity for others to take their place. Maybe so, but in reality they will probably be replaced by fellow Chinese Americans or Indian Americans who are trained and then pick up and leave 3-, 5- or 10-years from now.

We’ve got to do something about this trend. The U.S. needs more students studying math and science, scientists, with an enhanced global perspective, and with a strong desire to succeed.  I once heard someone give a speech in which she compared China today to the U.S. 100-120 years ago, and today’s U.S. position to Britian’s then. Britain seemed to think the U.S was an upstart, rogue, uncivilized nation of people who could never achieve the geatness of the United Kingdom.  It sounds very familiar: I receive many emails and comments to my various blogs by people who think I am being alarmist and “no one can touch American greatness.”  These comments worry me somewhat but, when coupled with my own realization that the Chinese culture operates on a long view, 20-, 50- and 100-years down the road, and I have witnessed drastic changes and immense progress since I first traveled to China in 1994, I encourage my daughters to do well in math and science, and keep practicing their Mandarin.

Just something to think about.

American Students Studying Abroad Has Declined for First Time in 25 Years

The Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange released on Nov. 15 reported a decrease in the number of American students studying abroad. Published annually by the Institute of International Education — with funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs — the report shows that 260,327 students studied abroad for credit during the academic year 2008-09, compared to 262,416 the previous year, a modest decline of 0.8%.

For the first time in the 25 years that the data has been tracked, the total number of U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit did not increase. Cost seems to be the number one obstacle with the poor economy cited as the main reason students didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to gain valuable international experience.

The report found, however, that there were notable increases in the number of U.S. students going to study in less traditional destinations and a decrease in the number of students going to four of the top five study abroad destinations — the UK, Italy, Spain and France. China, the fifth leading destination, saw an increase of 19%. Fifteen of the top 25 destinations were outside of Western Europe — Argentina, South Africa, Chile — and nineteen were countries where English is not a primary language. The report also showed an increase of 37% in the number of students participating in practical work experiences as part of their study abroad, with 18,715 students now receiving academic credit at U.S. colleges and universities for internships or work abroad.

This last bit of information is good news. Evidence continues to mount that working and living abroad is a key differentiator in global competition, and students will benefit from this experiential education after graduation. Multinational companies benefit from a global work force. Consequently, their demand for graduates with international experience continually increases, but employers also want students who can usefully bring their international experience to work. An internship or part-time job can make a big difference.

So can a more integrated curricula with foreign language and cultural immersion. American universities have begun and must continue to adapt so more students can afford to study abroad and, increasingly, in the countries that are showing strong economic growth. But they also need to adapt their programs; taking classes in English at an American university taught by teach-abroad professors is no longer enough. Schools must integrate the global experience into the curriculum by incorporating language learning and a part-time job or internship find students better able to navigate the cultural terrain and understand how to apply this learning to a job.

For example, the entire study abroad course — be it three weeks or a full year — should begin at the home campus with intense cultural and intellectual preparation. Some schools offer courses in history, politics, economics and geography. Others require students to research an aspect of country and culture, make a presentation to the department before they leave, and then again upon their return home with updated findings and experience. Others teach from the perspective of a particular group, such as government regulators, consumers or manufacturers, and then incorporate the real deal in the classroom in country. Local language learning, a mixture of international student classrooms, relevant classes and excursions with a purpose make a world of difference in bringing enhanced academic rigor to the study abroad program. It’s also a deep cultural dive that students can use in their careers — at the very least to develop their international resumes to launch a global career.

Studies have shown that in addition to increased self-awareness, confidence, and professional direction, these budding internationalists have improved academic performance, higher graduation rates, and improved knowledge of cultural practices and context compared to students in control groups.

Although the numbers are down for 2008-09, Open Doors conducted a snapshot survey last month of 238 colleges; 55% reported an increase in the numbers of students going abroad last fall, a sign that the 2008-09 decline could be a short-term blip. This is good news; we’ve got to make it more affordable and more professionally rewarding for students to study abroad because international experience is moving from “nice to have” to “must have.”

As originally published on Huffington Post on Nov. 16, 2010.

nov 12

huffington post blogs

Living Abroad Has Its Challenges

Living in a foreign country excites the imagination, ignites the adventurous spirit, and inspires you to explore. It can also scare the pants off you. Learning to live in another country is more than simply learning to get to the office, making yourself understood in a local language, and eating different food. You have to learn how to do many new things while unlearning old that have become second nature.  You must accept your new home on its terms – not yours.  Living abroad successfully also involves a subtle but important change in your expectations of yourself and others. More importantly, you have to cope with the loss of identity and familiarity and get along without some of the personal perks in your life that provide encouragement, meaning and FUN!

And so every now and then when I read a piece about an expat sent abroad who discovers that “it’s not what I expected” or the spouse gives an ultimatum “me or the job” as noted in this article on “What To Do When Relocating Abroad” in Forbes, I’m baffled. Was it the allure of Paris? Didn’t anyone tell the spouse that there may be opportunities to ride in Paris – similar to those in New York City – but that it’s not the wide open grasslands of Texas?

With the sheer cost involved, both financial and human capital, why aren’t companies more selective in choosing the right employees and working with both the employee and spouse/partner to make sure it’s not a career buster?  Most of the large corporations I consult with on global relocation and cross-cultural management issues have wised up to the importance of preparing professionals.  So, too, are employees.  Although a stint abroad can do wonders for fast-tracking your career as I wrote in my book Get Ahead By Going Abroad, it can also be a career buster if you turn down an assignment, leave early, or don’t adapt or adjust to deliver for the company.

According to HR professionals I’ve worked with, a spouse’s reaction to the relocation is the number one reason such international transfers are successful or not; a spouse’s happiness is critical to your ability to do your job.  I know. My husband was a “trailing spouse” – a terrible term – when we moved to Hong Kong years ago. He left a job as a researcher/writer at Washington, D.C.-based environmental think tank to follow me and my career. He had rough ride at first, trying to find a job working on environmental issues (no green movement in sight at the time) and so he reinvented himself as a travel writer. It was a great gig that took him all over Asia spending time in the Kingdom of Brunei, watching the orangutans in the forests of Borneo, and biking through most major cities in China.  But he had to make it work. He did it for me and, when my three years was up, he asked that I not extend or move on to Tokyo or Kuala Lumpur.  I agreed despite my desire to continue globetrotting.

I grew to appreciate that because we had left our network of family and friends behind, the two of us became everything to each other, which was a bit overwhelming.  Moreover, it’s usually even harder on the spouse because the employee has work, colleagues, activities – an instant culture into which to assimilate.  A partner has to begin everything from scratch – that’s tough enough with an in-country relocation and even harder in another culture, possibly even a second language.

But we can learn from others.  In Get Ahead By Going Abroad, I interviewed more than 200 professionals who moved abroad, soliciting common advice on issues critical to a successful stint working abroad.  One of these is to make sure that you and your spouse take a look-see trip if at all possible. Imagine yourself living there, how would your life fit into your new home city. What would be different, perhaps the same.  And then, once you move, another critical piece of advice involves how to handle your first week on the ground because many times this first week sets the tone for the overall experience, kind of like first impressions; they’re hard to get over.  To enhance a great first impression, make sure you do the following six important things the first week on the ground without going into the office, if at all possible:

 

  • Nail down your personal must haves, be it a gym, a massage therapist or a particular brand of coffee, appreciate the importance of those “little things.”
  • Make contact with at least one other international contact, who can be an on-the-ground source of information and assistance.
  • Make sure you have at least one local contact, because sometimes only local help will do.
  • Familiarize yourself with the transportation system be it your own car, the subway or a system of commuter trains.
  • Set up house with the clothes you have, photos and stock the fridge to begin to make it like home.
  • Explore your new home, get a feel for the place, stroll the streets, be a tourist.

But it doesn’t stop here. There’s practical advice on the first month, the first year and so on – even practical and tried-and-true tips on ensuring a successful return.  Others have done it and successfully. Why not profit from their experiences to ensure the best outcome for your international assignment. It could be the difference between fast-tracking your career and fast-talking to save it.

Original Appeared on Huffington Post on Nov. 16, 2010.