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Many of those who venture out of their home country outside of travel begin with study abroad programmes. But what are options for those already abroad or with an international lifestyle? For expats, an assignment spent away from the host country may be the perfect opportunity to fill up a figurative bottle with time.
Certainly, with our over-scheduled, fast-paced, highly-stressed lives, a little time to play with is welcome. For the trailing spouse, those moments can be used to upgrade career skills or even prepare for a career change once the foreign assignment is over. For the expat executive, the foreign assignment may offer access to programmes that will enhance his or her career opportunities in the future.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to educational programmes offered around the world; however, it’s important to select the right one before investing time and money. Here are some points to consider.
What are you looking for?
The first and most important question to answer is: do you want to improve your credentials in your current field, to attain the credentials to change careers, or to study something totally unrelated to your career, but in which you’ve always had an interest, such as creative writing, literature or art history?
Opportunities (MBA and other programmes)
Survey the area where you are assigned to see what opportunities there are for advanced study. Whether you are looking for an MBA or another advanced degree, it is essential that you choose a programme that is accredited by a respected educational body.
In Europe, there are many such programmes, as well as information for evaluating them.
In Asia, programmes can be checked at www.careerdynamo.com.
The International Herald Tribune newspaper regularly runs a special section on MBA programmes in Europe and elsewhere, providing detailed information for potential students.
There is an annual MBA Fair in London at which schools from all over the world participate. For more information, go to www.mbaworld.com.
Another comprehensive website www.gradschools.com or try www.b-school-net.
For the top 100 business schools, as ranked by Financial Times, click here.
A consortium of six European business schools from across the continent also offers the MBA– the email address is email@example.com.
Notes on the MBA: Keep in mind that the MBA market is becoming over-saturated and, in some countries, at least, the MBA is losing favour to other graduate programmes that are more specialised. Perhaps you will want a master's in communications, tourism management, finance or some other particular field.
If you plan to remain with your current employer, ask your supervisor which credentials will best suit your future advancement. Then, go to see the campus, talk to the professors, and speak to a few graduates before enrolling.
What kind of time can you devote to advancing your skill levels? Do you need a part-time programme, a low residency programme, or a full-time curriculum?
If your travel schedule interferes with regular class attendance or you live in a remote area, you may want to try an online programme, or one that requires independent work and occasional long weekends on campus.
Simmons College (Boston, USA) offers a two-week course in Rome in communications management, for which students receive four graduate credits transferable to other accredited institutions. Go to www.simmons.edu for more information.
If you want serious French cooking credentials then go to Cordon Bleu www.cordonbleu.com
Language skills Training
If language skills are what you are looking for, how do you select a programme that will enhance your CV? Be certain that you choose a course that offers an examination and a certificate noting the level of proficiency you have attained.
Cultural centres and organisations, such as Dante Alighieri, Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute and others, are recognised around the world, as are university programmes and commercial schools, such as Berlitz.
If you are going to be spending a long time in your current expat assignment, choose that language to learn. However, if your time there is shorter, you may want to choose a language that will be of value to you in future assignments. You might also consider focusing on the language of business rather than general conversation.
A great online learning source which covers just about everything is the New York Times' Learning Network, Check it out and have fun, there is something on everything for everyone.
Education programmes in various countries
What are some of the more unusual programmes out there? Consider the new University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, where the three-year degree course should open doors to careers in the food industry, international agencies or food journalism. Students go to Mexico to study the making of tequila, to Parma to learn about Parmesan cheese, to the great food and wine centres of Italy and France.
The accounting firm, Ernst & Young, sponsors its own business school in Italy and elsewhere, offering a master’s in human resources management, along with a degree in governance, control and finance. At the Trento School of Management in Italy, there is a master’s of art and culture management available. The MIB School of Management offers a master’s in tourism management, as does the Hogeschool Zuyd in Maastricht.
In Germany, there is rising interest in short term programmes for young leaders from around the world, such as the Buccerius Summer School in Hamburg (www.bucerius-summer-school.de/h/), which fills its fifty slots with students from more than two dozen countries. There is also the new programme at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin (www.hertie-school.org/), which will begin its first class for the master’s of public administration in the fall of 2005.
If you want to study in France, there are numerous programmes in the arts, sciences and business. For undergraduate coursework, the Centre for University Programmes Abroad (CUPA) offers assistance from its offices in Paris or online at www.cupa-paris.org. CUPA works with students who want to study at the University of Paris, the Institut Catholique, the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales; or the Ecole Normale Supérieure.
Study abroad (www.studyabroad.com) is a website that covers both undergraduate and graduate programmes in a variety of different countries. www.ceebd.co.uk covers MBA programmes in the countries of the EU and the United States. www.ceebd.co.uk not only includes MBA programmes in the Netherlands, but other master’s level programmes in the business arena.
As writer Jo Parfitt maintains in her book: "Career in Your Suitcase," an expat assignment needn't be non-productive. There might never be a better occasion than a foreign posting to gain not only cultural insights, but added career credentials, as well.
After all, if you do manage to save time in an imaginary bottle, it must be used before it evaporates.
Sharri Whiting writes and speaks in the US and Europe about international business and cross cultural issues. She guest lectures at the American University of Rome and Simmons College in Boston.
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