Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Pre-Departure Preparation and Onsite Advising for U.S. Business Students Participating on Exchange Programs

The following is a guest post by three of my colleagues working in the MBA international programs side of our field.  Prior to my current role at Columbia College Chicago I worked at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and ran the International Business Exchange Program and the International MBA degree program.  This guest post was written by:

Jessica Oldford, Director of Global Student Experience | Global Initiatives, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

Alex Markman, Director of International Programs, Universidad Torcuato di Tella

Debbie Carney, Sr. Program Coordinator, McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin

According to the 2018 Open Doors Report, Business and Management make up for 20.4% of the overall outgoing study abroad student numbers.  With one fifth of the study abroad student population consisting of business school students, it’s important that business programs thoroughly prepare their students for an immersive, global experience.

The typical portfolio of global experiences for business school students can include:

  • International Treks: short-term field experiences.
  • ‘Doing Business in….’: one or two-week specialized programs which highlight conducting business in a local context.
  • Fieldwork: Business school students get hands-on experience working with a firm on a particular issue or company challenge.
  • Exchange Programs: The length ranges from school to school and the general practice is for business students to ‘swap’ places within partner institutions and take classes alongside local and other exchange students. 

For the purpose of this post, the Exchange Program format will be highlighted and discussed in more detail.  One of the most common pieces of feedback from outgoing exchange students is that it is difficult to fully integrate into the host school and culture.  Below are three cases from leading business schools throughout the Americas.  Each case highlights an institution’s preparation for either outgoing, pre-departure orientations or incoming, in-country orientations.

United States: University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business (Ross)

Each year, Ross Global Initiatives supports approximately 1,000 undergraduate and MBA level students to go abroad.  The two main types of global programming are short-term and full semester exchange programs.

Global Initiatives has created programming specific for the semester exchange programs at Ross.  As students enroll directly into partner schools and given the high level of independence required for such an immersive experience, it’s essential that they are fully prepared so they have the right expectations for their experience abroad.  Ultimately, this has led to more successful immersive experiences for the outgoing students.

After the launch of the Undergraduate Semester Exchange Program in 2014, Global Initiatives quickly learned that students needed additional programming beyond the mandatory orientation.  Therefore, new initiatives in pre-departure preparation were created:

Host school/country-specific meetings: Students needed to have a more tailored approach based on their host school and country.  Therefore, the country-specific meetings were launched and became an integral part of the pre-departure preparation.  Students are required to attend a meeting that informs them of specific requirements for visas, academic, etc. as well as cultural nuances of their host school and country.  These meetings are more customizable and are updated each year based on the previous year’s outgoing cohort’s feedback.

Additionally, Global Initiatives invites host school administrators to virtually join the meeting.  This is important as they truly are the experts for their school and city/country and they add invaluable insight prior to students departing the U.S.  It also allows them to start establishing a rapport with the students prior to their exchange.

Additional pre-departure preparation includes conducting a “Living Abroad 101” workshop designed to better support those students with no previous study/travel/work abroad experiences. Additionally, Global Initiatives hosts an “International Student Mixer” to connect visiting exchange students with outgoing students - many of whom will be attending their schools.

United States: University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business

The opportunity to study abroad at one of the world’s top business schools is a highly coveted opportunity amongst students in year one of the 2-year fulltime Texas McCombs MBA program.  Pre-departure advising in a relatively small MBA program such as this has the benefit of being highly individualized.

A general pre-departure orientation for students going on exchange covers risk and safety, financial aid, and university administrative matters; however, during required individualized advising appointments, the Exchange Advisor can explore elements of career management, academic planning, and business leadership while abroad.

Pre-departure orientation begins with the start of study abroad recruiting in early spring semester.  Applicants are expected to schedule 30-minute meetings with the Exchange Advisor to discuss the professional, academic, and personal goals for the exchange. This interaction allows for clear expectation setting about the kind of international experience the students want to have.  For example, going abroad to a European business program might mean studying with Master’s level, pre-experience students, and therefore will not offer the same type of networking opportunities as a more traditional U.S.-style MBA in Asia.

The essential need for advising in small MBA exchange programs is particularly evident with students who have little to no experience living abroad.  While the typical Texas MBA student has a good deal of international travel experience, he or she may not have studied or lived abroad. Customized advising is an opportunity to communicate the return on investment and intangible opportunities the exchange offers: an enhanced global outlook and intercultural acumen, traits embodied by successful business leaders and coveted by recruiters.  Finally, clarification about the use of financial aid, grants, loans, scholarships, and fellowships is particularly helpful for many students, therefore the Exchange Advisor works closely with MBA Financial Aid to discuss the financial implications of going abroad.

Argentina: Universidad Torcuato Di Tella Business School (UTDT)

In Argentina, the vast majority of graduate programs are taught in a part-time format. Graduate students are working professionals with an average of at least 3 years of work experience and usually in their late 20s to early 30s. Due to the fact that many have to combine the demands of their graduate studies with those of their own families, careers and personal well-being, their time availability to participate in additional activities is limited. Therefore, integration activities for incoming international students must be planned around class times in order to include domestic students.

In programs such as the MBA and Executive MBA (EMBA), students are assigned a group to work with throughout their program.  Incoming exchange students are placed into one of these groups, giving them an immediate sense of belonging. Placement is done based on similar age groups and complementary professional and individual profiles. In all graduate programs, “Coffee break speed networking” activities are offered to encourage students to get out of their comfort zone and talk to people in their classes with whom they have never interacted before. These optional initiatives last 15 minutes and are usually the kickstarter for longer interactions between participants.

Integration activities are undoubtedly useful to help incoming students integrate with local students and, thus, mitigate the inevitable formation of silos of international students. However, pre-departure preparation and an on-site orientation are also key to help prepare students to breach expectation gaps and make the most out of their cultural immersion. At UTDT, the international programs office often collaborates virtually with partners for pre-departure orientations to help provide a broader preparation for the overseas experience.  Additionally, incoming students are offered the possibility of participating in pre-arrival individual or group Skype calls to address specific doubts and concerns.

Students tend to find it more challenging studying in a different school, sometimes in a foreign language, and trying to expand their network with local students.  For these students, preparation and goal and expectation setting is key.  With more preparation prior to departure and during in-country orientations, students tend to find the transition abroad easier than those who spend little time preparing.


Institute of International Education. (2018). Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. New York: Institute of International Education. Available at

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Institute of International Education was founded 100 years ago today! #iie100