Due in part to advanced communication technologies (including the Internet), an increase in lower-cost overseas manufacturing, and free trade agreements, the United States is increasingly intertwined with – and affected by – the world’s various economies and political dynamics. For these and other reasons, today’s American undergraduate and graduate students must master the myriad realms of international affairs, ranging from foreign cultures and customs, to finance and global trade. Perhaps surprisingly, this holds true even if American students only seek domestic employment, since their chosen careers will typically require interactions with overseas counterparts, including suppliers and/or multi-national company employees.
New Jersey’s higher education institutions are uniquely equipped to prepare their students for the global economy not only via specific instruction and study abroad opportunities, but, equally as important, through their extraordinarily diverse student populations and professors. The Garden State’s diverse population has long been noted, and students’ valuable interactions here with persons hailing from most of the United Nation’s 193 member-designated countries are nearly incomparable.
That said, when broadly comparing Americans to Europeans, European youth are statistically more likely to speak numerous languages, and, moreover – given Europe’s geography – indigenous students there often travel extensively and are well versed in global affairs, when compared to American students. While the United States has historically been involved with foreign military operations, its general population has long been cloistered by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and – until recently – even its most educated workers have not necessarily needed to venture beyond this country’s borders when pursuing both personal and professional success.
Beth Castiglia, Ph.D., dean of the Larry L. Luing School of Business at Berkeley College, opines, “I wonder if the level of ‘inwardness’ that [many Americans] have is something [that relates to] the strength of the United States, and the global centrality it has always played economically and politically.”
Overall, preparing students for today’s less-US-centric world economy can principally be divided into two categories: cultural skill sets and quantitative skill sets.
Customs and Culture
Regarding customs and culture, graduates must be prepared to travel the world and be able to arrive in, say, Mumbai or Zhuhai and – even if they do not speak Marathi or Chinese, respectively – be capable of appropriately interacting with workers and these countries’ broader populations.
When traveling to China, for example, specific cultural protocols necessitate the formal presentation of one’s business card and abstaining from offering clocks or umbrellas as gifts (both gifts would be deemed inappropriate, with clocks essentially symbolizing that the gift-giver is “waiting for the recipient to die” and umbrellas denoting “separation”). While such details can be gleaned from informative websites, students should also understand cultures’ deeper psyches, and learn from where such customs originate. This may reduce “culture shock” and increase business success.
For example, when examining the United States’ culture, it is common for someone to conversationally ask, ‘What do you do for a living?’ The query is germane in the US because via hard work and dedication, an American can choose a career for which he or she has a personal passion, and success is often the result of his or her talents and skills. Countries elsewhere in the world may be less upwardly mobile or have weaker economies, and their inhabitants may therefore consider the question ‘What do you do for a living?’ to be odd, or even inappropriate. Social and business protocols have deeper roots in nearly all countries, and deserve exploration.
Louis Ruvolo, director of graduate business programs at Saint Peter’s University, explains, “There are so many countries, as developed as they are, where looking someone in the eye and shaking his or her hand is equally as strong as signing your name on a piece of paper. And those cultural subtleties are what make people more successful in international business. It’s really being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and, from an American perspective, we cannot think that the US is the center of the universe.”
Meanwhile, he underscores that comprehending cultures and customs is also critical for international marketing and business development. He explains, “Even a company like Disney, that is highly successful in multiple geographies, had to claim bankruptcy when it tried to open Euro Disney, outside of Paris. Disney ignored the cultural standards of the French and Europeans. It went in with the US mindset of ‘no alcohol,’ and tried telling Europeans that they couldn’t have a beer or a glass of wine on the [premises]. That goes against most of the norms in that part of the world. That lack of sensitivity and arrogance that ‘This has proven successful [in the US],’ should not be used as a prototype that one can simply overlay in a different [culture].”
Diversity and Language
A motif among New Jersey educators is, again, that New Jersey has thousands of immigrant families whose children are bilingual and who have had experiences with other countries and other perspectives.
Jason Scorza, Ph.D., vice provost for academic and international affairs and professor of political science and philosophy at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU), says, “For a university like FDU, we are especially fortunate to have that diversity reflected on campus, which then is conveyed to students who may not have had those opportunities or experiences. Between our very great number of ethnic heritage students and the very large number of international students who come to FDU, we have a wonderful, simmering stew pot that helps our students learn and become more adventurous.”
Regarding specific language proficiency, while it may be true that English is the lingua franca in much of the world, foreign language fluency is ideal. As Martin S. Markowitz, Ph.D., senior associate dean at the Rutgers Business School, who oversees the undergraduate program in New Brunswick, says, “It is my belief that people will respect you more if you know the language of whatever country you are working in.”
Jeffrey Toney, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs at Kean University, says, “I am confident that [US graduates] are competing well overall, because our big [US] advantage remains that we have always had a knowledge-based economy, meaning that we tend to be the best when it comes to innovation and creativity, and [generating] the intellectual property that grows corporations. That’s where we have the edge, and, also, most business [around the world] is conducted in English. At the same time, we definitely have a long way to go to catch up with [foreign] multi-lingual students. It is highly unusual for [US] graduates to have fluency in two or three languages, which is very common in places like Europe. “
Study Abroad Opportunities
It is easy enough to visit a foreign country, stay in a hotel, enjoy tourist attractions, post photographs to Instagram and Facebook – and return to the United States essentially an unchanged person. More immersive experiences can be achieved via study abroad opportunities in which students eat, learn academically, recreate and become true friends with local residents of a particular nation.
New Jersey higher education institutions vary in their approach to study abroad, with some institutions reporting that students who hold jobs domestically to pay for their college educations cannot afford to abandon them for an overseas semester. At the other end of the spectrum, certain Garden State colleges and universities have explored making study-abroad opportunities a graduation requirement.
At FDU, Scorza says, “We actually have two international campuses. One is Wroxton College in the United Kingdom, and that is a classic American study abroad program (the other campus is in Vancouver, Canada). Students in attendance [at Wroxton] are almost entirely from American universities. The faculty is entirely British, and the academic program is taught in the British tutorial style. Therefore, students have the comfort of staying with a US institution, but receive the academic challenge of a different educational system.
“Before students depart, we like to say that the US and the UK are divided by a common language. What we mean by that is: Quite literally, there are many words used in the UK that do not mean what they mean here in the US, which can lead to comical misunderstandings. Also, it is a very different culture, normatively speaking. Spending time getting to know the people in the town where the college is located, and traveling and engaging those cultural differences becomes apparent to our students.”
Students also spend time in France and Scotland as part of the established program, in addition to having a nine-day “travel week,” when they explore the continent, visiting two or three additional countries.
At FDU and other universities, China is also a study-abroad destination, since that nation of approximately 1.4 billion people continues to rise in international economic and political prowess.
Joyce Strawser, Ph.D., dean of the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University, says, “We host a number of short, international trips that connect to a larger learning experience. We have courses titled, ‘Doing Business in … [a particular country].” We annually offer at least three opportunities. This year, for example, we are exploring Peru, India and Paris.”
The courses commence with relevant studies in the US, and, then, when students travel, they not only attain cultural exposure, but also visit businesses in the various regions and hear from business leaders. Students typically have assignments related to preparing a business plan, or dealing with a particular issue in the realms of marketing or strategic management.
Key Nations and ‘Hard Skills’
Countries of international economic significance include, in part: Panama, Germany, China, India and Brazil. Of note, over approximately the past two decades, multinational companies have invested billions of dollars in Russia, yet geopolitical events have begun shifting that equation – at least for certain companies.
Regarding international business education, Rutgers’ Markowitz says, “Essentially, we view business as kind of universal, because the principals of finance are basically the same.” Yet, in the accounting field for example, Markowitz highlights that the US implements Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), while much of the world adheres to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).
In the sphere of international business, supply chain management, risk management, accounting, business analytics/information technology and hospitality/tourism are typically in-demand fields in parts of the world and students must master associated quantitative skills.
That said, Kean University’s Toney, stresses, “The person on the American side doesn’t need to be an expert on local policy and procedure. But, the other person [in a foreign country] has to trust you enough to say, ‘OK. Yes, we want to work together; yes, we want to make it work. I will take care of it for you [in the foreign country].’”
Although the paradigms that comprise cultural norms often vary greatly, all humans share the same DNA, and students or business professionals can navigate cultural differences by first comprehending and respecting them. Relationships – both personal and professional – turn the wheels of global commerce, and New Jersey colleges and universities are fostering them through their immersive educational experiences.
New Jersey City University (NJCU) recently opened the doors to a Confucius Institute designed to provide education on Chinese language and culture. The Confucius Institute will enable NJCU to emphasize international opportunities for students and faculty with a partner university in China, Jilin Huaqiao University of Foreign Languages in Jilin Province, one of the largest private universities in China.
NJCU is one of just two universities in New Jersey selected to host a Confucius Institute; Rutgers is the other. Approximately 100 universities across the country, which include schools such as Columbia University, New York University, University of Michigan, University of Buffalo–SUNY and Stony Brook University–SUNY, host Confucius Institutes. Approximately 400 Confucius Institutes exist at universities throughout the world.
An educational partnership agreement, finalized in 2015, was signed by NJCU, Jilin Huaqiao University of Foreign Languages, and the Hanban, an agency within the Ministry of Higher Education of the People’s Republic of China. The process to apply for and be selected for a Confucius Institute takes several years, and began with a visit by NJCU President Sue Henderson to China.
In announcing the opening of the Confucius Institute at NJCU, Dr. Henderson said, “The opportunities that will result from this international partnership are valuable for our students, faculty and the university community. The Confucius Institute will enable the NJCU community to learn more about Chinese language and culture. This relationship will bolster NJCU’s standing as a center for academic excellence and will facilitate economic and cultural exchange in the region and beyond.”
Dr. Henderson added, “NJCU’s collaborative partnership through the Confucius Institute will expand the internationalization of the university by providing a broad selection of new teaching and research opportunities for our faculty, and by preparing our students to study and work in a fast-paced global environment.”