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Aleasha Forbes, a master of global business student at the University of Victoria’s the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, practices her Mandarin. (CHAD HIPOLITO for The Globe and Mail)
Aleasha Forbes, a master of global business student at the University of Victoria’s the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, practices her Mandarin. (CHAD HIPOLITO for The Globe and Mail)

Business Education

Global business programs have students living out of suitcases Add to ...

Emerging from a two-hour Mandarin class at the University of Victoria, master of global business student Aleasha Forbes marvels at the intensity of the globe-trotting course of study she has embarked on with peers from Taiwan and Austria.

“We finish classes in Victoria on Nov. 9 and then we have to be in Taiwan to start orientation by the 16th, so it’s like go, go, go right away,” Ms. Forbes says.

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The Kelowna, B.C., native, who went to the University of Texas for undergraduate studies in business on a softball scholarship (she’s a pitcher), is unfazed by the prospect of living out of a suitcase for the next nine months.

“I guess the most intriguing thing about it is that you do get to travel and study at the same time. Also the language was a huge aspect for me, because one of the things that I really want to do, one of my life’s goals, is to be bilingual. … This is the perfect program, this is exactly what I want to do,” says Ms. Forbes, who aspires to a career in marketing.

The year-long immersion program, designed by the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, kicked off at Victoria in late August with an introduction to global business fundamentals. This will be followed by three months of study at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, three months at Johannes Kepler University in Austria and a three-month work internship.

Students can also opt for study terms at Rouen Business School in France and Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea prior to the requisite work term.

Launched in the 2010-11 academic year, Victoria’s master of global business has just won an award of excellence from the Canadian Bureau for International Education, which credits the university with developing a postgraduate program that “sees students work, live and play on three continents, where they learn a new language, develop leadership skills and study, in-depth, international business practices.” They will earn degrees from their home universities.

It’s not just different from a traditional master of business administration (MBA) degree, “It’s quite a different degree,” says John Oldale, associate director of the program.

Victoria-born Tegan Woo, a graduate of the University of Victoria’s global program, did her study terms in Taiwan and Austria, and her work term with 8th Estate Winery in Hong Kong. Her undergraduate degree was in commerce at Victoria.

“I had never thought about living in Hong Kong, even though my dad is from the area and I am half Chinese … and then this opportunity came up and it was amazing. I was working for this unique company. It was a great experience. I helped them research a new product launch and move into China.

“It was definitely an amazing experience and turned into a job for me,” adds Ms. Woo, who returned to Vancouver this year to start her own tea business, Amoda Tea, with two former master of global business classmates.

York University’s Schulich School of Business, the Toronto institution which pioneered the international MBA in Canada 20 years ago, is constantly evolving to keep pace with the growing demand for business school graduates who can operate in a global context, IMBA director Atipol Bhanich Supapol says.

Schulich requires IMBA applicants to demonstrate strong functional proficiency in a second language – testing at the intermediate level as a minimum – with the condition that those who are not up to snuff will bolster those skills during their studies.

The school offers non-credit courses in French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish and English as a second language to expose students not only to the languages, but to the business and cultural idiosyncrasies of the countries in which the languages are spoken. Several other languages are recognized as well, although the students have to make their own arrangements for tutoring. (About half of the IMBA students are born in Canada or landed immigrants, and the other half are visa students – a diverse mix which enriches the classroom experience and acclimatizes students to cultural differences, well before they embark on their international work terms, Prof. Supapol says.)

The MBA fundamentals of finance, marketing, accounting, economics and operations management are all taught in a global context. “The cases we use will be international cases, the examples will be international examples,” Prof. Supapol says. With this program, “You are really not just studying about international issues, but are doing international things.”

The Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, meanwhile, has introduced mandatory global immersion into its regular full-time MBA program. “This is a very exciting component – and one that is much needed in the footprint of where business education is going,” says Murali Chandrashekaran, associate dean of professional graduate programs.

Students will travel to one of three partner universities – the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, Copenhagen Business School or Shanghai Jiao Tong University – where they will form teams with their MBA counterparts at those schools, working on projects for such multinationals as International Business Machines and Microsoft. The collaboration and teamwork will continue via the Internet once they return to Vancouver.

It was the global immersion aspect – and the opportunity to team with students from different countries – that drew Erin Robinson to UBC’s MBA program. After earning an undergraduate degree in marine biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Ms. Robinson, originally from London, Ont., worked in the yachting industry before deciding to pursue a business education. “I am hoping to work in finance … so a global perspective will be really beneficial.”

To date, roughly 500 organizations in more than 50 countries have played host to Schulich IMBA students for short-term work internships, Prof. Supapol says. Graduates are engaged in careers around the globe.

“You will be having dinner in Shanghai or sitting in the subway in Bangkok and you run into our graduates. … It’s fantastic. They are all over the world.”

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