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5 Trends Shaping Global MBA Programs

"Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers," scholar William Lytle Schurz once said to emphasize the important role of business in international relations. Today's MBA schools are taking Schurz's words to heart as more and more of them are crossing international borders in search of academic partnerships and emerging business opportunities.

Global MBA programs focus on teaching students not only how to do business abroad but also how to understand customs and cultural nuances when working in a different country.

"Selling toothpaste in Phoenix, Arizona, isn't the same as selling toothpaste in Vietnam," said Jay Bryant, director of admissions at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona. "As soon as you cross the border, you have new rules."

Learning these rules often requires living and working abroad, and a growing number of business schools are offering opportunities for students to do just that. A crop of new international MBA programs that have emerged in the past year confirms the trend--schools and students are taking MBA education global.

How do you learn in global MBA programs?

Students in international MBA programs are exposed to global ways of doing business, from instruction in foreign languages to internships abroad. Consider these five trends in global MBA programs.


1. Exchange programs

For years, business school students have participated in exchange programs in the United States and Europe. Lately they have also been going to Asia and Latin America in search of knowledge on how to operate in emerging economies.

The New York Times reported in March that Italian business schools are partnering with programs in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela. The students benefit from first-hand knowledge of developing economies and some are later finding jobs in booming Latin American job markets such as Brazil's.

American business schools are looking at Latin American markets as well. Loyola University New Orleans signed an agreement in May to offer its MBA programs to Catholic University of Honduras students, starting in January 2012, according to a press release.

2. Overseas locations

A recent report by QS Intelligence found rapidly growing demand for MBAs abroad based on a survey of over 5,000 employers worldwide. The No. 1 country looking to hire MBAs was Kazakhstan, with a 65 percent increase in demand from 2009 to 2010 thanks to its energy and finance sectors. Other hotspots included India (43 percent), Colombia (22 percent), Brazil (25 percent), the United Arab Emirates (22 percent), Russia (22 percent) and China (19 percent).

It's no suprise that American MBA programs are looking to these markets to develop partnerships. The Thunderbird School of Global Management, which already has an executive MBA program in Geneva, has established corporate learning offices in Moscow. Duke University's Fuqua School of Business has locations in China, India, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and South Africa, and students can participate in programs that allow them to spend time studying at these global campuses.

The Washington University in St. Louis-Fudan University executive MBA program, based in Shanghai, celebrated its 10th anniversary in May and also marked almost 550 students and alumni coming from top companies in China, according to a press release.

European business schools are also going global. The Spanish business school IESE has expanded its presence in Africa with a program in Ivory Coast in hopes of training executives to put the country back on track after a civil war and crisis, according to The Economist. IESE already has a partnership with Nigeria's Lagos Business School.

3. Language studies

Global MBA programs often provide the opportunity to learn languages. The Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania offers programs in an impressive list of languages and cultures, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and recent addition Hindi.

According to the Financial Times, French business school INSEAD, which also has a campus in Singapore, requires fluency in two languages as a condition for admission and enables students to graduate from MBA programs with proficiency in a third.

4. Worldwide internships

As part of a partnership with Sabanci School of Management in Turkey, The Wall Street Journal reports that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management recently announced plans to place students in internship programs in Turkey.

As part of the Thunderbird Emerging Markets Laboratory, students work in consulting projects to get businesses going or restructure operations in countries such as Rwanda, Vietnam, Peru, Guatemala and Albania. "It's really an opportunity to make a difference for these businesses," Bryant said.

5. Multicultural working groups

Besides having in place a global curriculum, faculty and student body, MBA programs such as The Thunderbird School of Global Management place students from different cultures in working groups. Bryant says it is not unusual to find a team composed of students from America, Brazil, China and India. "You have to deal with that on a regular basis," he said. "You're going to feel when you graduate that you also have a degree in global affairs."


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