China tops list for MBA candidates' international trips

David Gannaway, a KPMG forensic accounting director, did not choose Fordham University for his executive MBA program until he found out the school offered a trip to China.

Gannaway is like many EMBA candidates - a manager in his 40s with several years of experience who is increasingly interested in China, experts told The Wall Street Journal. These professionals envision themselves doing business there and believe understanding China's business climate is critical to advancing their careers. In fact, Arizona's Eller College of Management changed its trip from South Africa to China after students complained.

When Fordham students visited China, they toured a BMW vehicle-financing arm located in Beijing. They quickly saw a big difference in how similar businesses operate: In the U.S., it is easy to determine a potential buyer's creditworthiness, but in China, there are no credit bureaus and no repossessions.

Executive MBA programs have long featured trips as a way to widen understanding of global business. The Executive MBA Council says 49 percent of EMBA trips were to China in 2007. India was in second place with 11 percent of study trips heading there.

The Executive MBA program at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville took students to Bangalore, India, a couple of years ago. "One student's employer had that individual go back to India three times as the leader of a team to expand that company's business in the country," program director Amy Cathey told Business Tennessee magazine.

At the very least, they bring back a better understanding of how to compete and cooperate internationally, she said. "We ask our students to look at cultural elements of the country, including government, law, global resources, supplier proximity, and governmental policy related to business investment."

A recent survey indicates that undergraduates are also seeing the value in an international education. The number of American students studying abroad is at a record level, up 8.5 percent to a total of 223,534 for the academic year 2005-2006, over the previous year, according to the Open Doors 2007 survey, funded by the U.S. Department of State. Destinations are: Asia (up 26 percent), Latin America (up 14 percent), Africa (up 19 percent), and the Middle East (up 31 percent).

European business schools are also sending students to Asia, and many of them return with not only educational experiences, but job offers. Ankur Mehrotra, who is studying for a master's degree in finance, told The Wall Street Journal that he was offered a banking sales job in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, after a trip organized by the London Business School.

Students "are looking at Asia and thinking, 'Wow, that's growing, that's emerging, that's where I want to be, that's where the action is,'" Mehrotra said. "You could feel that [Asia] was a lot more dynamic. The buzz was there, which we hadn't felt in London."

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