Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Traveling Interationally vs. Living Overseas

Many universities now urge or even require their students to travel internationally as part of their education.  In some instances, students go on very short trips abroad with faculty and other advisers.  For others, their global experience involves a semester or more of study abroad.   Some companies also require high potential employees to take an international assignment as part of their career plan.  Other firms don't require it, but managers travel extensively abroad as part of key assignments. 

I think it's important to consider the difference between traveling and living abroad.  As I write this blog, I'm in Tokyo teaching an executive education program.  It's my eighth year doing so.  Each summer, I spend a week or so here teaching senior managers from a variety of Japanese firms.  I began to contrast my experience here with the trips I've taken going all the way back to my childhood to visit family in Italy.  Here in Japan, I stay at a very nice hotel and eat at restaurants each day.  When I go to Italy, I stay with family members in their homes and on their farms.  I help out as much as they will let me around the house.  I go to the grocery store, gas station, and the park with them.   When I was a kid, I went for a whole month several times.  The experience differs dramatically.  Traveling overseas certainly exposes you to a culture, but it is not nearly as informative as living and breathing the culture day to day.  When you stay for longer, and live in a community, you experience the routines and the frustrations of daily life in a way that you do not when traveling for a short time in another nation.

Thus, I think students benefit greatly when they go abroad for a whole semester, and executives benefit when they take an overseas assignment.  Neither of these is always possible, and so, travel overseas certainly isn't a negative thing.  However, to gain a true understanding of what customers need and want in different regions and cultures, living in that environment can't be beat. 

1 comment:

kakinuma said...

Dear Roberto

Long time no see, but I read your blog every morning. Thank you for your teaching in NSAM 2011.
I appreciated for your teaching and your lecture contributes to my business especially decision making. I am looking forward to seeing you again in the near future.


Takeshi Kakinum NSAM2008