It’s one thing to read about cultural differences and work through business case studies, says Nick Ferderer. But experiencing face-to-face interaction and language barriers is quite different.

“The study-abroad experience gives you real-world experience,” says the Seattle resident, who earned an MBA from University of Washington’s Foster School of Business in June. While in the program, he also completed the grad-level Global Business Certificate. The certificate requires international experience, either in the former of an MBA exchange or in two other experiences such as foreign language study, a globally-focused internship or a short-term international study tour.

For the project, Ferderer traveled to Ahmedabad, India, with 14 other full-time, evening and executive MBA students. There, they collaborated on a project for the Self-Employed Women’s Association, which represents 1.9 million Indian women. He worked with female construction workers to identify strategies for finding more and better-paying work to achieve self-reliance.

While in India, the group also visited New Delhi, Jaipur, and, of course, the Taj Mahal, he says, adding that they were lucky enough to celebrate Holi festivities while in Jaipur. “After the formal trip, I flew to Kerala state for an extra week of travel,” he says.

“I loved India and our reason for being there: helping women construction workers achieve self-reliance. My father was a construction worker, a floor coverer, so the experience had personal undertones,” Ferderer says. “Sharing the experience with some of my classmates was particularly special.”

A world of business

At the graduate level, business schools regularly send students overseas.

For Pacific Lutheran University’s MBA students, one international trip is a requirement. Two or three times per year, PLU offers a 10-day, faculty-led international experience, exposing students to a global business perspective.

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Students go on business tours and attend meetings, such as visiting the BMW plant in Germany, Samsung’s facilities in South Korea or vineyards and private hospitals in Chile.

Students also participate in a service-learning activity. In Chile, MBA students built a flower and vegetable garden, as requested by a community organization. Students were able to meet neighborhood children and elders, even as they moved soil and constructed beds. In the evenings, students met for dinner and reflected on the day’s events.

“Most students talk about how it was a transformative experience,” says Juanita Reed, MBA program director at PLU’s School of Business. “It’s so different than taking a vacation or being stationed in the military.”

You’re meeting business leaders, community members, factory managers and others who are inaccessible on a typical trip, Reed says.

Each year, she says she’s surprised at the number of students who don’t hold passports. International study expands knowledge and experience, particularly important in the business world, Reed says. “All business these days is global, because so much is done online. You have to understand how to interact with people from other cultures, and how other cultures handle business in a different manner.”

The exposure broadens the student’s understanding of the world, and benefits their current employer or future entrepreneurial efforts. “How things are done in another region, that may work for the student’s company or startup,” she says.

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Two-week study abroad programs set in Europe, China and Guatemala are available to Seattle University’s business school graduate students, including those pursuing an online MBA. Trips run in either June or September, and courses focus on the European business environment, global e-business in China, or cultural and emotional intelligence.

In Guatemala, a sample Seattle University itinerary takes students through Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Guatemala City. Students might meet microbusiness owners and artisan fashion producers, while staying with local families and even helping plant crops.

And it isn’t just the Global Business Certificate program students who have overseas opportunities; UW’s MBA student exchange programs offer slots at more than a dozen universities in such countries as Finland, Japan and South Africa.

Another short-term UW program is an 8- to 14-day study tour introducing students to local business leaders and executives, while visiting companies and participating in cultural excursions. Recent destinations included the United Arab Emirates,  Taiwan and Columbia; MBA Study Tours have visited over 40 countries in the last 23 years.

Annually over spring break, around 25 UW-Bothell MBA students enroll in the Global Study Tour. The elective tours explore a business-related topic in destinations such as Thailand, Cambodia, France and China, led by a current professor with country-specific expertise.

General overseas graduate programs

Not a business student? UW offers a wide array of international opportunities to graduate and undergrad students alike: 500 programs in 75 countries, including traditional student exchange, internships, fieldwork and more. Options range from 10 days to a full year.

Faculty-led learning trips provide up to 15 credits; sample courses include architecture in Rome, landscape architecture in Nepal and sustainability in China. In the past, graduate students have attended undergraduate faculty-led programs, but requested graduate credit in advance, according to the UW Study Abroad/Office of Global Affairs.

Departments may also facilitate exchanges, focused on a specific academic discipline. Whether studying dentistry, engineering, law or information science, there’s probably an opportunity to experience, learn about or practice your field in an international setting.

For example, UW’s Jackson School of International Studies invites students campuswide to apply for the U.S. Department of Education’s Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships. Fellowships provide tuition and living stipends for the study of less-commonly taught languages, from Arabic to Tagalog to Vietnamese.

Fellows can study abroad in the summer, at the intermediate- or advanced-level, which provides the immersion experience that accelerates language acquisition while building cultural competency.

Students might learn a year’s worth of Arabic, Hebrew, Persian or Turkish in one summer, says Felicia Hecker, associate director of the Middle East Center. Approximately 10 Middle East Center FLAS fellows study abroad annually — evenly split between undergrad and graduate level — in places such as Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Armenia.

Ambitious tech-focused students might take their study-abroad to the next level: a dual degree. With UW’s Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), students attend UW for five quarters to pick up a Master of Science in Technology Innovation. Then, at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, students finish additional coursework and a research thesis over the following six months, earning an Master of Science in Engineering in Data Science and Information Technology.

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Other schools offer grad-abroad options, too. UW-Bothell’s Master of Nursing students can embark on an intensive summer quarter in Guatemala. Core classes are integrated with a two-week clinical experience in partnership with Guatemala Village Health, a nongovernmental organization that has been working with remote villages in the Rio Dulce region for more than a decade.

PLU graduate students can spend the summer in Athens, studying philosophy, Greek art, illegal antiquities and even the confluence of Mediterranean and Nordic foods. The College Year in Athens-Summer Program is also open to undergraduates.

Funding the future

Were there any downsides to Federer’s overseas experience? “Cost can seem daunting, but the university has various programs to help,” he says. UW points out that 25% of UW Study Abroad applicants were offered a scholarship in 2017-2018.

For example, The Scan|Design Foundation offers a study abroad fellowship program designed to foster Danish-American relations. For a semester, a summer or a full academic year, graduate students can study abroad through UW’s Danish study-abroad exchange programs, using up to $9000 in stipend funding.

As for Federer, he just started as a business program manager on Microsoft’s Modern Workplace Worldwide Strategy and Planning team. “Within a few years at the company, I hope to find a role abroad,” he says.