Big Rewards for Those Who Take on the Tiger

February 2012

By Roger L. Jenkins, Dean and Mitchell P. Rales Chair in Business Leadership, Farmer School of Business, Miami University, February 2012

I recently returned from another trip to Asia - I am there at least once a year - and I continue to be astounded by the rapid pace of change and growth, especially in "new low labor" countries like Cambodia and Laos. Korea has quickly closed the gap with Japan and now competes not only with manufacturing and high technology growth, but also in cultural sophistication and education. Korea may well become the new Japan. The Tiger nations are on the move!

My suitcases still weren't unpacked when I had an opportunity to meet with a small group of Farmer School students who studied in Asia for a full semester in fall 2011. I was just blown away by the richness and depth of their experiences and also by the personal growth and maturity I saw in every single student. Truly, their minds and worlds were expanded by living and learning in Asia. I could see it in their stories, on their faces and in the way they held themselves - they are now citizens of the world. They had story after story about funny experiences, poignant interactions with instructors and fellow students and a few "seemed scary at the time but boy did I learn a lot" stories.

One of the most remarkable things was the vast network of friends and business contacts that every student developed. From the outside, Asian countries may seem homogeneous but they're not: students and business leaders from around the world are flocking there to learn, start businesses and be where the action is. Farmer students talked about making friends from Asia, Eastern Europe, South America and Australia. And the most amazing thing? Thanks to social networking, they're still in touch. Simply by putting themselves into the exciting, dynamic mix that is Asia, these students brought back an incredible career asset.

So I couldn't help but wonder, "Why don't more students study in Asia?"

Close to 60% of Farmer School students study abroad at some point in their academic career, and we're really proud of that number. It makes us a leader among undergraduate business schools. But the vast majority of our students choose European countries; we have many good programs there, but I'm beginning to believe that's an easy, comfortable choice that allows students to fool themselves into thinking that they're expanding their horizons when in fact they're just experiencing anything the average American can have on a nice vacation.

I meet and speak regularly with CEOs and a common topic of conversation is recruiting talent and hiring recent graduates. Here's what corporate executives they tell me they're looking for in prospective hires:

  • Someone who understands how large the world is yet how interconnected people are.
  • Someone who has taken risks and learned - good or bad - from those risks.
  • Someone who is curious and has a sincere desire to learn.
  • Someone who is mature and poised.

The Farmer School students just back from Asia were all that, and more.

Employers aren't na´ve about the difference between studying in Paris versus studying at Peking University. They know that many students choose Europe because it's comfortable and safe with very few language or cultural barriers. But I have seen proof that employers will seek out and hire students who have been truly challenged by immersing themselves in the culture and education of Asian and Pacific Rim countries.

I understand that Asia can sound scary: China is a communist country and we hear unsettling media accounts of oppression and suppression by the central government. Westerners stick out. There are large language and cultural barriers. They eat funny foods.

But students who have the courage to take on the Tiger nations put themselves at the front of the pack. They will return with benefits that will serve them through the remainder of their education, into their first career and beyond. During your lifetime, an understanding, appreciation, and comfort with Asian culture (particularly Chinese) will certainly one of your greatest assets as a future business leader. The time to expose yourself to the country which is currently undergoing the world's fastest economic transformations is now!