(Guest blog by Jennifer Dillenger, Director of The Space to: Prepare in The Space at Wofford College. You can reach Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I’ll never forget my semester abroad in 2006. Overlooking the ruins of the Roman Coliseum, the terrible history of the place pulsed through me. At this moment, I naively believed I had reached the pinnacle of culture and understanding. Studying abroad, alone with no familiar faces, proved to be the most difficult undertaking of my life, but I assumed my experiences prepared me for the international world of work.
Fast forward seven years, and I’m once again in a foreign country alone. This time I look across Huangpu River to the modern marvel of the Shanghai Financial District, the now defunct European banking buildings of the Bund at my back.
I now understand what my younger self did not: studying abroad is not enough. Simply living in another country does not automatically develop the necessary skills, experience and knowledge students need to prepare for the increasingly global marketplace.
Employers want young, enthusiastic candidates with global experience, perspective, and understanding. These new professionals will add value by bringing not only cultural, but political and economic knowledge to their organizations. So, how do students gain experiences that translate into this knowledge?
Fortunately, students can build these experiences into existing study abroad programs. Here’s what they need to do:
- Complete a relevant internship
- Take classes from a variety of disciplines
- Conduct informational interviews
- Shadow professionals
- Immerse yourself in the culture
All these activities lead to a deeper understanding that results in a more attractive resume and broader opportunities after graduation. However, these practices require a massive amount of self-motivation and commitment.
At Wofford, we’ve created a new program to provide students with access to these experiences and knowledge over the course of one semester, without a semester abroad.
The BRICS Initiative offers students a space where the co-curricular and the curricular meet. Why study Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa? These developing countries represent 42% of world population, 20% of its output, and much of the current global economic growth. As these countries solidify their positions as players on the world stage, they will fundamentally change the way business is done.
In January, we’ll study the economy, supply chain, infrastructure, religion, politics, and language of the BRICS nations. The classroom portion utilizes self-teaching, project work, and expert lectures, providing students an in-depth look at these nations.
Then in May of each year, the students and their instructors travel to one of the nations. Over the course of four years, participants have the opportunity to experience each of the countries.
(You can learn more about the BRICS Initiative on our website: www.wofford.edu/thespace/explore/BRICS)
Our future rests on our graduate’s ability to navigate the global community with understanding. What skills and experiences do you think students need? How should colleges structure these programs?