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Gustavson student Mouhoubo Olhaye (CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail)
Gustavson student Mouhoubo Olhaye (CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail)

International

Beyond borders: Schools add global flavour to learning Add to ...

Born and educated in Canada, 21-year-old Mouhoubo Olhaye is fluent in English and Arabic, speaks a little French and has lived and studied in Egypt.

In choosing a graduate business degree, the self-described “global citizen” with ambitions to work abroad says she wanted “something challenging that would enable me to leave my comfort zone.”

This fall, she enrolled in a master of global business at the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business, a 12-month program that combines one semester each at Victoria and universities in two other countries, a team-based consulting project for an industry client, and a mandatory three- to six-month internship with an employer.

The Gustavson program, unusual for its intense international focus, is in the vanguard of a movement by business schools to infuse learning and work opportunities abroad into the curriculum.

“The world is a big and ambiguous place and we need people who can navigate the ambiguity,” says John Oldale, associate director of Gustavson’s master of global business program.

His assessment is shared by Brazilian-born Maria Teresa Lopez, vice-president of finance and business for Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd.’s Canadian operations, who previously worked for the company in Brazil, Switzerland and the United States.

“We are living in a global economy and a global environment [and] you need people who understand and are able to work and interact globally,” says Ms. Lopez. When interviewing potential employees, she says she looks for those with wide-ranging academic and work experience. “It provides the clues and indication that this is an individual who understands diversity and adapts well.”

Like Gustavson, other schools are adding international content.

For the first time, Sobey School of Business at St. Mary’s University in Halifax has introduced a mandatory seven- to nine-day overseas trip as a requirement of its MBA program, with this year’s class heading to Budapest next summer to learn about international business, a school spokesperson says.

Last year, the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., reintroduced exchanges as an option in its one-year MBA, says program director David Wood, with an option for two-week study trips overseas.

He says employers increasingly look for MBA graduates with an ability to be globally aware and respond to the unexpected. “It is an evolution of leadership,” he says. “How do graduates lead cross-cultural organizations, how do they lead when there are different norms and expectations and how do we help prepare them for that?”

At Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business in suburban Vancouver, dean Ali Dastmalchian plans to expand existing international learning opportunities, including class projects that allow students to work on real problems identified by Canadian companies.

“Internationalization has to be increasingly on our agenda as business schools across the board,” he says.

For Gustavson’s master of global business, Ms. Olhaye says she was attracted by its blend of academic learning, travel and internships.“It’s different from the typical academic program where most of the learning takes place within the boundaries of the classroom,” she says.

In December, she and 25 classmates head to the Montpellier Business School in France for three months before moving to Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul for the final term next spring. Their classmates will go to Taiwan and Austria or the Netherlands and Peru.

Since the program was first offered in 2010, it has tripled in size to about 100 students this year, representing diverse countries and languages.

“In our program, we look for people who want to do something quite risky and different, be adventurous and live out of a suitcase for a year,” says Mr. Oldale. “Not everyone would be interested.”

Those who choose to study abroad are keeners.

In 2014, with ambitions to work at L’Oréal SA’s Paris headquarters, Toronto-born Tiffany James opted for a double degree from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University (master of international business) in Kingston and Italy’s Bocconi School of Management (master of science in marketing management). An education agreement between the two schools permits her to earn two degrees in the same time as the two-year program in Milan.

Ms. James, set to graduate next spring, knew a degree from a business school in Europe matters to European employers.

While at Bocconi in 2015, she and other classmates won first prize in a L’Oréal-sponsored brand innovation competition that led to an internship at the company in Paris. After completing her international business studies at Smith, including a consulting project for a company, she left for Paris for a full-time job at L’Oréal.

Ms. James, a project manager in the company’s technology incubator, says the networking and business etiquette skills she honed at both business schools helped her land the Paris job.

At Smith, she says, “networking is one of the biggest words used. They really teach you not only the value of it but how to do it, how to navigate and do it expertly.”

Like Ms. James, Daniel McCombe looked to a business school to propel him into an international business career.

In 2010, he joined the inaugural class of Gustavson’s master of global business and, as part of the program, landed an internship with a technology startup in Germany. After that, an internship with Mazda was cut short by company layoffs. Still, he decided to stay in Europe and, in 2012, joined Airbus through a trainee program in Germany. He later transferred to the India offices of the aerospace company and, earlier this year, moved to its Washington, D.C., office.

He says his Gustavson degree helped him develop flexibility in an international setting.

“My first boss was a Russian economist; then I worked for British bankers in Germany; in India, I worked for a German boss; then I went to Germany and worked for a French boss; now I am in the U.S. working for a Spanish boss,” he says.

Back at Gustavson, Ms. Olhaye works on projects with classmates from Nigeria, China and the Philippines, which demands they adapt each other’s cultural differences, including attitudes to time. She hopes the skills she learns in class will help her stand out to an employer.

“The world is becoming increasingly globalized and interconnected so students who have some international exposure will definitely have an advantage in terms of their careers,” she says. “They will have dealt with culture shock.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story indicated  Ms. James's  degree at Bocconi is a one-year MBA but it's a two-year master of science in marketing management.

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