Global Experience Isn't Just for Students: Why Professors Must Spend Time Overseas

Professors with strong global awareness are better equipped to help students apply lessons within an international context and to develop international content and perspective within their courses.
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The number of college students who participate in study abroad programs has nearly doubled in the past decade, according to Best Colleges Online. These students participate for a variety of personal and academic reasons, but nearly all (90 percent) credit their experience abroad for their subsequent academic choices and 70 percent of students surveyed by IES agree that experiences abroad helped shape their career path.

The rational response of our students -- to seek global options -- gives rise to an important issue that is infrequently discussed today: the need for professors to have professionally-oriented global experiences. Professors with strong global awareness are better equipped to help students apply lessons within an international context and to develop international content and perspective within their courses.

As a business dean, I focus on business students and faculty, though I believe that my arguments apply generally to most disciplines and students. At traditional universities, the faculty job includes research, teaching and service components, all of which can be enhanced by global experience. Research is strengthened if it can explain or address cultural differences that may influence outcomes such as productivity, brand loyalty, and ethics. Scholars engaged in theoretical work benefit from comments made by individuals with different cultural backgrounds. Professors doing empirical work benefit from data obtained from different nations, cultures and organizations. Team-based research projects involving authors from varied backgrounds and nationalities offer potential to generate stronger results. All of this is true because comparisons across nations or cultures allow researchers to place results in context. It is also possible to speculate more effectively. For example, a study of the nature of accountants' audit opinions in the U.K., where auditors must sign their name to the report, provides insight into what might happen if another nation were to adopt a similar legal requirement for the audits reported by companies.

Teaching benefits from global exposure as professors use examples from different cultures to illustrate concepts or demonstrate how specific approaches are similar or different across nations. It is especially valuable to place students in a situation in which their normal or expected response does not appear to succeed in a different environment. This requires thinking and learning as opposed to confirming what students assume is the case based on their background and experience. While some benefits can occur if a class has international students, the onus is on the professor to be mindful of unproductive behaviors that may occur in the classroom. For example, when U.S. students complain that the international students form cliques and don't interact with domestic students, experienced professors can offer the students the strategies that they used, perhaps based on their own experience in an exchange program, for breaking down the cultural walls.

A professor's service in professional settings is also enriched by global experience. Given that professional organizations include an increasing number of members outside of the U.S., it is important for faculty to meet and become familiar with foreign members of an organization. In turn, the exposure may enable them to identify best practice examples that have arisen in other places and could be applied in an American university setting. Global experiences allow faculty in policy-related areas to understand more robustly the way that certain approaches may aid or hinder business or government in the U.S.

Global faculty development programs, such as the Fulbright Scholars Program, give professors and scholars the opportunity to travel to other countries, visit international companies, meet local politicians and businesspeople, teach and conduct research in other settings, and engage with people holding different cultural norms. This is especially important for business schools, as corporations are increasingly global, shifting to new markets in Africa, Asia and South America, and employees need to understand these international audiences and the intricacies of doing business abroad. Faculty can better serve their profession, school, and community when they have broader experiences.

Colleges and administrators should take it upon themselves to promote faculty development programs abroad. In my role as Dean, I travel internationally to meet with alumni, executives and political leaders. I always seek to engage people and create opportunities for our faculty, alumni and students, and I encourage my faculty to be opportunistic themselves in their global travels by using the new connections they make while abroad for future projects and class experiences. This has led to trips including faculty development projects in Africa and Russia, as well as others combining student coursework with an international experience, including trips to Israel to study innovation in practice in the "startup nation."

While colleges are expected to emphasize international student opportunities today, little mention is made of the concurrent need to support and promote global faculty experiences. For a variety of reasons, many outstanding professors may have had little global exposure in recent years. Despite the availability of technologies that make the world smaller and closer, a lack of experience by faculty may cause students to get less from their global experiences than they might otherwise. Since we insist that students be prepared upon graduation to work with people from other cultures and understand international competition, we must ensure that professors have significant exposure to global business, too.

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