Look around you: Chances are good you’ll see examples of international business. The computer you’re looking at right now was probably manufactured in China; your clothes were likely made in the Philippines, Mexico, or Indonesia; the coffee in your mug was probably grown in South America or Africa; in fact, you may be one of the few things in the room that was made in the U.S.A., a scenario that is ever more common as the United States becomes increasingly focused on service industry.

It’s an undisputed fact that “the nature of our economy is that almost anyone in a business career is going to be involved in global business,” says Kerry Cooper, executive director of the Center for International Business Studies (CIBS) at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School. “Internationalism is important to all of [our students]. Whatever your major, you’re going to be interacting with people from other countries. You may not live abroad as part of your job, but you’re certainly going to be traveling abroad. That’s part of almost all business careers.”

So, to help prepare A&M students and faculty–as well as educators and business people across the nation–for careers in the global marketplace, CIBS stands ready with information and programs designed to enhance understanding of business in the 21st century.

A CIBS success story

Take Brittany Caudle for example. Raised on a ranch in west Texas, her international exposure was minimal until she went to college. After her junior year as an accounting major at Mays, Caudle participated in a study abroad trip to Strasbourg, France. “It was an eye opener,” she said. “I got to experience several different countries…I now have a much better idea of what is going on in Europe.”

Once this small-town girl’s horizons had been broadened, there was no going back. Soon after her return to the states, she jumped at the opportunity to intern with Deloitte’s New York office. The city made a big impression on Caudle and she made a big impression on Deloitte: she graduates this August and will return to NYC where she has accepted a full-time position with Deloitte as an international tax accountant. She is already looking to the future with that company. “Deloitte has a program that after you’ve been there two years you can do an exchange for two years in another country, which I definitely want to do,” she said.

Students on study abroad trip
“Significant overseas experience” is an integral component of the curriculum for CIBS’ certificates in global business.

Caudle’s story is the perfect example of what CIBS is striving for, says Cooper. “The most important part for our students is that when they graduate they’ve been exposed to global business and they’ve learned the importance of being able to build relationships with people from different countries and different cultures.” However, knowing how to get along with diverse people isn’t enough; Cooper also stressed the need for students to learn about the environment of international business and understand the international dimension of their “functional” area of business, such as accounting or finance.

CIBS offers certificates (similar to a minor) in global business, Latin American business, and European business. About 200 Mays students graduate with one of these certificates each year. Each certificate program has specific coursework inside and outside the business school (such as language classes) and also requires a “significant overseas experience,” such as internships, study abroad trips, or total immersion through a reciprocal exchange program.

International travel: big adventure, big benefits

Cooper says reciprocal exchange is the best way for students to experience another culture. It’s a simple arrangement: The student at A&M pays tuition just as she normally would, then trades places for a semester with another student at a partner school. They each are responsible for travel and living expenses, but there is no additional cost for tuition or fees. Participating students typically live with a host family or in a residence hall, surrounded by people from that culture. “All the students that have done a reciprocal exchange have had a phenomenal experience. We have never had one that wasn’t satisfied,” said Cooper. Students can choose from a menu of 31 partner schools, from cities in Ecuador to Singapore, all offering business courses in English. Courses taken at the partner school count toward an A&M degree.

Each summer, Mays sends about 200 students to Strasbourg and Barcelona (pictured above).

An added benefit for this program is the scholarship money available. “I’m willing to say that for any Mays student that wants to be a reciprocal exchange student, we will find the financial means for him or her to do it,” said Cooper, crediting the availability of such support to financial gifts from former students.

Another option for Mays students is the faculty-led experience, which takes a group of Mays students to a foreign locale for a summer business and culture course. There is time for travel as well as class work and visits to local business firms. To enhance the cultural immersion, the classes are taught in conjunction with a professor from that city and local students take the course as well. Each summer, Mays sends about 200 students to campuses in Strasbourg and Barcelona, on a multi-country marketing tour of Europe, and to other locations as there is interest from faculty and students. Next year CIBS plans to add a location in China.

When it comes to internships, CIBS does not secure positions for students, but does facilitate the internship search process by providing information. While paid international internships are very hard to come by, unpaid internships can be highly valuable for students, and CIBS can help defray the cost.

“We don’t arrange their internships, but we do provide scholarship support for internships as well as for study abroad,” said Karen Burke, assistant director of CIBS, who estimated they award $25,000 per year for international study.

Outreach going far beyond Texas

When CIBS was founded in 1985 it was one of the few centers of its kind in the nation. In 1990 it received the added distinction of being selected through a national competition conducted by the U.S. Department of Education to become a federally funded Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). This designation grants the program $1.3 million every four years to create programs that benefit not just Texas A&M, but the entire nation. Mays is one of 31 business schools to have CIBER status.

Part of the CIBER funding is used to support international business research conducted by Mays faculty. “International business research is often more expensive in regard to gathering data and other costs, so being able to provide support is important,” said Cooper. Mays students benefit from faculty doing this type of research, as having internationally savvy professors who give a global perspective to course material is invaluable.

There are also resources for elementary and secondary school educators as CIBS helps to maintain the nationwide SAGE program (Scholastic Assistance for Global Education). Originally funded with a grant from Bank of America, SAGE provides web resources for teachers in K-12 classrooms that want to include international perspectives in their curricula.

CIBER isn’t just about the academics, though. Kelly Murphrey, director of outreach for CIBS, works with small business owners in the U.S. that want to globalize their businesses . Murphrey has worked in conjunction with the small business advocacy group NASBITE International and other CIBER schools to develop a national credential, the NASBITE Certified Global Business Professional, to recognize the unique knowledge and skills required by global business professionals.

Hosting conferences for discussion of ideas regarding international trade is also a part of the CIBER mandate. Most recently, CIBS organized a border trade summit held in Windsor, Ontario, which brought together politicians, academics, and business people to discuss the economic impact of the hardening of the U.S./Canada border since September 11, 2001. Cooper says the next such conference will likely be about NAFTA, and will examine 15 years of research about the effectiveness of that program.

The biggest challenge

“Our biggest challenge really is getting the word out to people,” said Cooper. “A lot of our students arrive on campus knowing little about international business, not realizing how important it is and believing things that aren’t true. They often think that international business means you must master multiple foreign languages and live abroad for long periods of time. So we have to disabuse them of the things they believe that aren’t true and then teach them what is true.” Cooper and Burke agree that the best marketing tool for CIBS is word-of mouth from students that have participated in the programs and return to Mays excited about their experience.

Burke says that at freshman conferences in the past few years, students are showing much more interest in what CIBS does. “And the parents are very interested in them gaining experience in international business, and that’s a change,” she says.

“I think our job will get easier as more and more of the students that arrive here will be excited about what we have to offer,” Cooper added. “Our role is to make them aware of what is available at Mays, and the importance of taking advantage of these opportunities.”