Get a head start in the global business world

Doing an MBA overseas can give you a broader perspective, says Russ Thorne
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The Independent Online

The prospect of reduced tuition fees or simply the experience of living and studying overseas has tempted an increasing number of undergraduates to leave these shores to study. But the practice doesn't have to be restricted to first degrees: MBA candidates might also have a lot to gain by looking further afield for their business education. "Studying abroad gets you out of your comfort zone, as you have to adapt to a new culture in a short period of time," says Désirée van Gorp, programme director of the International MBA programme at Nyenrode Business School. "Global business is clearly a big issue nowadays and working in different environments and culturally diverse teams is something that most business people will have to face in their careers."

Working with students from all over the world alters their perspectives, she adds: "It adds to your experience. It will change the way you think about business and, especially, how you see yourself in a managerial role. It will give you great insight into different cultures and their way of doing business."

However, as most MBA cohorts in the UK are already truly multinational, students might need additional reasons to look overseas. Some benefits they might find attractive include the tuition fees, which – like those of their undergraduate counterparts – can be much reduced in European countries like Holland; and the prospect of adding another language to their existing skills.

And for those tempted to head across the pond, there's the chance to return to the source afterwards, says Patrick Clifton, a Briton currently at Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. "I would say European students study in America to get exposure to MBA pedagogy in the country of its inception," he explains, "as well as getting exposure to American businesses and business practices, and, in many cases, facilitating the opportunity to work in the US longer term."

The US approach to the MBA is another difference that might appeal to students, usually involving a two-year course instead of the 12-month programme offered in Europe. "The two-year programme gives you an opportunity to achieve depth, and the network you cultivate while pursuing an MBA is unparalleled," says Haley Whitlock Gyory, associate director of admissions at Darden. Clifton agrees, saying the US experience is more immersive, socially and professionally. "The MBA qualification is treated with more respect in the US," he adds, "so the recruitment pipeline is better defined."

The prospect of being immersed in another culture can be thrilling (the Nyenrode campus is based around a 13th-century castle, after all), but also daunting. Students looking to relocate abroad for their studies (and beyond) should give any prospective school a grilling on a professional and personal level, says van Gorp. "You need to ask if there is enough diversity, and enough exposure to industry in the respective school and country. A small, culturally diverse class, who have a strong focus on career and personal development, will add to your learning experience in a way no books can."

Asking about facilities, housing and community on campus is essential, she continues. "Ask to speak with current students and alumni of the programme you're interested in. You'll get the true story of how things are and you'll be better able to assess if the programme is right for you." Over in the US, Clifton agrees, suggesting students find out what facilities will be available to foreign students, such as support, career coaching, language training and networking events. In short, "how easy is it to excel as a foreigner?"

Prospective students have a world of opportunities and schools in which to pursue excellence. Some UK-based schools (such as the University of East London and Henley Business School) have overseas centres in Asia, for example, while some students prefer to study part-time and commute to mainland Europe, taking advantage of low-cost flights. There's also the option to study for a specialist MBA, and those who are already relocating might find a dedicated course in-country, such as the executive MBA offered in Dubai by Cass Business School, which will help them get up to speed with the business practices of their new base.

Whether they hop across the channel, head stateside or venture to Asia and beyond, studying abroad can help students develop their skills and business outlook. The costs may seem steep, but as a long-term investment it could well be worthwhile. "Our international students learn first-hand from their classmates about business cases from across the globe while developing into complete leaders who are ready for anything," says Whitlock Gyory.

Travelling to study has certainly been worth it for Clifton, and the MBA is preparing him well for his future career. Studying abroad "completely changes the way you think about business," he concludes. "It's like a new language."