Gillian Ward always wanted to go to Israel, so when she read about a global marketing course being offered there on her school's Facebook page, she applied immediately.
The 20-year-old, who is in her third year of a bachelor of management degree at Dalhousie University's Rowe School of Business in Halifax, expected to learn about Israeli culture and business practices.
The four-week program, called Israel Exchange, delivered much more.
"My most memorable experience was in a Bedouin camp in the desert, with nothing but sand for miles around," Ms. Ward recalls. "We were sleeping on mats in tents, without access to cellphone service or WiFi. It gave me the chance to just think what an amazing place this was to be in right now. It was incredible."
Another highlight for Ms. Ward was making connections with business leaders. For example, after learning about local startups, the students were able to meet with them directly.
"It's quite rare in classroom learning to be able to immediately apply what you just learned, so it was really exciting," says Ms. Ward.
"These companies were very open and less formal than I expected. I thought it would be stricter with dress codes and mannerisms because Israel is so efficient at what they do in business, but people were very welcoming. It absolutely changed my outlook. I feel like I have a personal connection to Israel now."
International programs are becoming increasingly popular at business schools, preparing students, entrepreneurs and business professionals alike to take on the realities of today's multicultural world.
Sergio Carvalho, a professor of marketing at Rowe and director of the school's Centre for International Trade and Transportation, has been instrumental in creating hands-on opportunities for business students.
Originally from Brazil, Dr. Carvalho founded the Israel Exchange course as well as Doing Business in Emerging Markets, about international trade. Both programs were underwritten by donors to make them affordable to students, for whom the cost is just $500 (airfare, hotel, tour guides, food and other costs are included).
Through these programs, Dr. Carvalho hopes to plant a seed in hearts and minds so that students can see possibilities beyond their borders.
"After teaching global marketing for many years in Canada, I noticed we don't talk much about the emerging markets," says Dr. Carvalho. "There seems to be a little bit of fear because they're distant and there's not much knowledge of the business culture."
He wanted to broaden the minds of his students: "Why not look into markets such as Asia, Latin America and Africa?"
The Doing Business in Emerging Markets course addresses marketing and ends with a 12-day trip. The first was to China; next year students will visit Chile and Argentina. They work together in teams to help local companies looking to expand into international markets.
"Before the trip, the students do very deep work to understand the cultural, political, legal and economic aspects of the country, as well as the market environment for the product that they want to sell," says Dr. Carvalho.
At their destinations, they meet with related businesses, then present a written report that is shared with the business they partnered with in Canada. "Many students say the experience has been transformative. It's exciting to see the impact this has on their lives."
Focusing on how to win in a competitive global environment is a major and necessary shift for business schools, says Bruce Good, executive director of the Centre for Business Innovation at the Conference Board of Canada.
Canadian businesses have been unsuccessful at commercializing much of the innovation achieved here, and the Conference Board has witnessed more failures among startup companies because of that, Mr. Good says.
So the board and other groups have developed an advanced sales-skills program called Championship Selling, designed for university students, entrepreneurs and business professionals looking to break into global markets. The program, which is being hosted at universities, mostly in the executive education sector of business schools, focuses on honing sales skills and helping participants understand cultural differences.
The program is offered at the Asper Executive Education Centre, at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and will launch early next year at Saint Mary's University's Sobey School of Business in Halifax, and at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in Regina. Each postsecondary institute has added its own branding.
"The students aren't travelling to other countries, but the multicultural component is a very important part," Mr. Good says. "Participants actually get to pick the country they'd like to sell to and then, based on their own communication style, they're assessed on what their level of success will be and why."
The course is filling a gap, he says.
"Without this kind of knowledge and skill, we're not nearly as effective as we could be globally. My expectations are that once people see the impact of what this could mean for them professionally, and in their successes in a sales career in any company, this thing is going to take off."