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An innovative foreign study program: international business studies in the USA.

The first quarter century after the end of World War II saw tremendous American business expansion into world markets. Nearing the end of the second quarter century after World War II, American business finds itself less effective in world markets. Says Gary Ferraro in his 1990 book The Cultural Dimension of International Business, "at the same time that we are faced with an over-increasing need for international competency, the resources our nation is devoting to its development are declining.'" And unfortunately, says Ferraro, this society, through its educational institutions, has failed to place central importance on international competence.(2)

Nancy Adler argues "that the academic community has reinforced management's tendency toward American parochialism .... Out of over 11,000 articles published in 24 management journals between 1971 and 1980, approximately 80 percent were found to be studies of the U.S. conducted by Americans. Fewer than 5 percent of the articles describing the behavior of people in organizations included the concept of culture.''(3) The publishing of crosscultural management articles has increased only slightly during the 1980s.' The American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has since encouraged member universities and colleges to strengthen this dimension in their degree programs.5 Increasingly, articles appearing in business publications call for more attention to intemational education.

Given such emphasis, much is being done in American universities. The University of South Carolina has developed an internationally-acclaimed Master of International Business Program. Several universities have developed branch campuses in foreign countries. Many colleges and universities have added courses which have "international" as a key word in their titles.

While all of the things being done are extremely valuable, few would question Adler's and Ferraro's emphasis on the need to do more. One approach which can help diminish parochialism is to encourage and facilitate more on-site activities by American students (and faculty) in foreign countries. Traditionally, such programs have been organized around "a year abroad" or, perhaps, "a semester abroad." The relatively few students who have been able to participate have been those who could afford a substantial investment of both time and money.

Such time and money is beyond the budget of many contemporary American students. Aside from the expense of a year abroad, many who might wish to participate in such an experience have both personal and professional obligations that make an extended stay in a foreign country impossible. Spouses, mortgages, children and work are among the things that limit many students to a two or three week "vacation" period each year.

An Innovative Model

Recognizing that few students and faculty can afford to live abroad for an extended period of time, another approach is required. The following is a brief description of a model that has been used by one urban university for more than a dozen years. While the program is housed in a management department and has an organization theory/ human resources focus, the model could work equally well in other business fields. Indeed, it could also be used in law, political science, sociology, engineering and many other disciplines. All students in good standing are eligible to participate in the program.

The central ingredients of the model are a period of intensive pre-departure preparation and a highly-structured "on-site" study period in a foreign country. Both of these ingredients take place within the flamework of a single academic term. The pre-departure phase extends over a nine-week period and includes resident university faculty and guest lecturers, reading and research assignments on specific firms, industries or unions, orientation sessions and other activities. Most of the lectures focus on the target country's history, culture, and economic environment. Human relations issues, labor-management political system concerns, and strategic management decisions are particularly emphasized. The on-site phase spans approximately three weeks and includes 12 to 15 "official visits"to business firms, labor unions, government agencies, universities, etc. The program visits the same country annually, with some slight alterations in site visits based upon the quality of previous visits to particular organizations. One or more foreign faculty usually participate, but the emphasis of the program is on visits with high level business practitioners. Top level managers provide lectures, plant tours and opportunities for open discussion. The accompanying American professors supplement site-management's lectures, blending practitioner statements with theory previously studied.

These top managers provide critical insight into the functioning of organizations in a particular economic system (a point our U.S. managers might keep in mind when foreign visitors are calling on U.S. businesses). Numerous cultural and some "sight-seeing" activities are typically included, but the focus of the on-site portion is the practice of management and how it is different, or similar to, management in the United States. Since comparison is one of the best vehicles for understanding the discipline of management, students receive two benefits - they better understand the foreign country, and, they have a better understanding of the U.S. as well.

The central goal of the program is to provide participants with a firsthand opportunity to see and hear the experiences of foreign managers. Managerial and societal values, philosophies and practices are highlighted. Research on the impact of the program upon participants has revealed significant perceptual changes. Both knowledge and opinions have been found to be affected in "beforeafter" studies.(6)

A Longitudinal Evaluation

Given this model's success in sustaining itself for many years, it is appropriate to conduct a longitudinal study. Pre- and post-participation studies can reflect attitudinal changes which occur during the ten-week program. However, what about longer-term effects? The following is a description of the results of a longitudinal study that included all participants over the full 12-year period of the program.

In designing the questionnaire many factors were considered. First, to encourage response, the questionnaire was confined to a single page to minimize the time required to complete it. Second, to encourage respondents to provide negative as well as positive input, the survey was done in an anonymous manner. Third, recognizing that students do graduate and move to other addresses, there was a realization that the response rate was quite unpredictable.

The fourth, and final, key to the survey design was to prepare a questionnaire that included both closed-end and open-ended items. The former, which were items measured on a Likert scale, permitted respondents to express the intensity of their feelings on selected items; on the other hand, the latter permitted and encouraged narrative responses. A total of 204 questionnaires were mailed. This total included all program participants over the twelveyear period. The researchers were pleased that a total of 63 usable responses were returned. Two mailings were done and a number of the responses were obtained after one or more instances of "forwarding to a new address." No doubt, a number of questionnaires never reached the addresses. It is also likely that this problem was greater with program participants from the very earliest years of the program. The response rate was approximately 31 percent which, under the circumstances, seems good.

The Likert Scale items are presented in Table One.


All of the respondent means are in the upper half of the response scale and, with only one exception, they are in the upper quartile. This response pattern speaks strongly for the impact of the program.

In addition to the Likert-type scale, a total of eight open-ended questions were included in the questionnaire. Almost all of the comments, and there were many, were very favorable toward the program. This could be partly due to the fact that participants who felt most favorably toward the program were the ones who chose to respond. The following is a summary of the comments to the openended questions. A review of these will provide the reader with a good sense of the "flavor" of the comments. Little commentary is needed to interpret the messages being sent.

A. What was the "best aspect of the Foreign Study

Program for you?

All of the 63 respondents entered comments on this item. The following are representative of the responses to this question.
 * the structured yet flexible nature of the program
 * opportunity to meet and interact with foreign manag
- ers on their "turf'
 * learning something of the history and current situa
- tion of the country before departure
 * the mix of structured learning and free time
 * the small size of the study group (about 15 partici
- pants) and the opportunity to learn together and to
 make close friends
 * seeing, and learning about, foreign countries in ways
 that "tourists" are never able to do
 * ability to go into a foreign workplace and actually
 talk with managers and employees
 * the realization that the world does not revolve around
 the U.S.

B. What was the "worst" aspect of the experience?

A total of 59 respondents made some comment on this question. Representative of the comments are the following:

* having to leave (12 respondents)

* too little time and too little money

* nothing was bad enough to be labeled "worst"

* writing papers after the visits (Note: Part of the program requirement is that students do a written evaluation of each visit. These are critiqued, graded and returned by the faculty.)

* my own failure to make the most of my free time

* the long plane ride

* took too much luggage

* not being able to speak the local language

* studied big businesses and no smaller ones

* the feeling of competition with other students on the evaluation papers

* not enough free time

C. What suggestions do you have for improving the


A total of 48 respondents made comments, primarily the following:

* make it longer (13 respondents)

* fewer papers to write

* let past participants go again

* more emphasis on language training

* include smaller businesses

* slow down the pace or lengthen the program

D. Since your participation in the program, have you

done any additional travel or study?

Twenty-one of the respondents indicated "yes" and several expressed intentions to do such travel in the future. Some participants undoubtedly came to the program with strong international interests. Comments from a number of the respondents, however, indicated that the study program was the source of their inspiration for foreign travel and study.

E. Have you returned to country visited during the study


Eleven respondents provided "yes" answers and several more stated that they "plan to."

F. Do you think that participation in the program had an impact on your life?

Fifty-one of the 63 participants said such similar things as "absolutely," "yes," "definitely" or something similar. A total of four said "no" and the remaining eight made no comment on this question.

G. If you had a son/daughter, or close friend, at the University, would you want him/her to participate in the program?

Sixty-two of the 63 participants responded in the affirmative. One indicated that the program "...isn't a good program for everyone."

H. Please make any other comments that might help us to evaluate/improve the program.

A total of 40 respondents took the time to offer additional comments. Almost all of these remarks were consistent with, and expanded upon, things mentioned above. Respondent suggestions sometimes tended to conflict with one another.

* lessen the pressure by requiring fewer papers

* hated the papers, but, they greatly enriched the learn - ing

Some comments were made regarding things that are trip-to-trip variables which faculty directors cannot always control. Last minute schedule changes, substitute speakers, variations in housing arrangements, etc., have never caused major problems, but, occasional irritations are inevitable.


While no claim of "perfection" is made for this innovafive approach to internadonal study, the longitudinal evaluation revealed no basic flaws, and more importantly a set of tremendously positive responses about the value of the programs. Some ideas which might help "fine tune" were identified, though as noted above, most of these were variables of a flip-m-trip nature- often beyond control.

With respect to the required papers during the trip, the faculty would probably enjoy eliminating their requirement even more than would the students. As they must critique, grade and return as many as 150 papers during the "on-site" program, the faculty workload is quite intense. The program is, in fact, quite demanding on both faculty and students. The effort is far in excess of that required for a "normal course." This is true for both groups. The results of this research indicate that the rewards are also far greater than with the "normal course."

As to the frequent comment that the program be longer, extending the time in any significant way would defeat the design of the program. Also, it is far better to leave participants "wanting more"- with the result that they can immediately begin to plan their own future international travel and study. Student responses leave no doubt that this program was both personally and professionally enriching with long-lasting growth. A more difficult question to answer is "was there a specific professional pay-off?." Some students have later worked or gone to graduate school abroad. But the intent of the program was not necessarily to prepare students for work abroad, but instead to prepare students for a number of professional challenges in a complex, world business environment. Specific payoffs have probably been limited, but this study suggests that the main mission of the program, according to the student responses in this longitudinal study, has been successful.


1. Ferraro, Gary P. The Cultural Dimension of International Business. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1990, p. 13.

2. Ibid, p. 14.

3. Adler, Nancy J. International Dimensions of Organizational

4. Ibid.

5. American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business. Accreditation Council Policies, Procedures and Standards, 198889, p. 28.

6. Layne, Benjamin, Michael Jedel, Karla Stein and Charles Burden. "An International Business Study Program: Lessons for Managers ," SAM Advanced Management Journal, Vol. 51, No. 2, Spring 1986, p. 41.
COPYRIGHT 1992 St. John's University, College of Business Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:business education
Author:Jones, William A., Jr.; Burden, Charles A.; Layne, Benjamin H.; Stein, Karla W.
Publication:Review of Business
Date:Mar 22, 1992
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