"Studying abroad impacts students in ways that they can never experience in a classroom." -Steve Spruth, Stragetic Management & Entrepreneurship Senior Lecturer

Research by the Carlson Global Institute provides evidence that studying abroad imparts invaluable benefits to future business leaders: international education strengthens their ability to navigate unfamiliar situations, work effectively on cross-cultural teams, and so much more.

To unlock these effects, two Carlson School faculty are creating innovative models that empower students to engage with the world around them in new ways.

Designing individualized reflection assignments

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard stated that “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Purposeful reflection is a critical element of learning. It helps students engage with the learning process in a way that deepens their understanding as they create relevance for themselves.

In lieu of assigning a typical essay to summarize their experience abroad, Senior Lecturer Seth Werner challenges students to reflect on and codify their key learnings into whatever format best expresses their interests, talents, and passions. The goal of the exercise is to help students evaluate themselves and take agency in the learning process. 

The assignment prompts students to ponder their own mindset, the structured and unstructured learning elements of the experience abroad, and the business course objectives. Throughout the years, students have performed comedy sketches and dances, created paintings and collages, written letters to past professors and loved ones, and cooked meals.

While unconventional, Werner says this model encourages students to be more purposeful about their learning throughout the course.

“If students know at the outset of the course that they want to do a scrapbook, suddenly it becomes a collective process throughout the experience, instead of a summary process at the end,” he says. “I think it deepens the experience because they’re being purposeful.”

He’s posed the assignment to classes held in a variety of countries including China, UAE, Chile, and Argentina. The projects may take nearly any form, so long as they convey how the student connected their international experience to their personal perspective, to their outside experiences, to the site visits the class embarked on, and to their other courses.

“My hope is that it gives students a way to articulate what they learned,” says Werner. “If these same students take an exam, they leave it all there on the paper, it’s very momentary. But if it’s a project that has meaning to them, it makes the entire experience more long term and they’ll carry it with them.” 

Approaching the city as a classroom

Senior Lecturer Steve Spruth uses the city as a classroom to encourage students to immerse themselves in a host country.

At the outset of his education abroad classes, he directs the students to visit local businesses and make observations about how the products, pricing, customers, and other factors differ from retailers in the United States. Then the class reconvenes to discuss their interpretations and surprises. 

“This exercise leads students to make sense out of a new environment and begin to develop empathy for the local culture,” he says. “It’s a way to help students become more confident and curious as they’re immersed in a foreign culture that gets beyond standard site visits.”

Carlson School Students in Thunderbird car

This “city as a classroom” model kindles the students’ curiosity about the new environment and provides a valuable context for the subsequent coursework.

“There are so many opportunities for surprises in these unscripted, deep dives into these unfamiliar neighborhoods,” says Spruth. “When we’re surprised by things, it shocks us into looking at things in new ways.”

And it doesn’t stop on day one: throughout his education abroad courses, Spruth advises students to integrate themselves into their surroundings. This spring, he led a class of 27 undergraduate students in Cuba as they explored how entrepreneurs are cultivating their own businesses. And by interacting with the local culture, the students gained a new view on the entrepreneurship lessons they had learned in the classroom.

“There is nothing more valuable when visiting a new country than talking to people that live and breathe the country; it enriches the experience by giving us real-life insights,” says Finance and Entrepreneurial Management major Shayla Thacker, ’16 BSB. “Exploring the city independently allowed each student the opportunity to interact with parts of the culture thatthey were specifically interested in. We all had the same core experience that was connected to the class, but also got to make the experience our own.”