7 Key success factors for an outstanding international MBA experience

In the age of a closer global community, business schools are assessed and rated on their international and multicultural elements included in their EMBA programmes. Many business schools offer the option of learning management skills in an international context through trips and tours to emerging destinations as an integral part of their course.

International immersions and study tours are a brilliant way for students to bond and forge close relationships, increase their cultural awareness and expand their business horizons. 

But what makes an international experience truly outstanding and memorable? We surveyed a handful of MBA programme directors and deans at the EMBA’s annual conference and compiled here the top seven success factors for a memorable global study tour.

1)   Selection of destination

The destination country chosen was the most important factor with emerging market and new frontier countries being the most popular choices.  Understanding business in a global environment requires that students are familiar with destinations such as China, Brazil, South Africa or Turkey.

2)   Customised compelling content

A careful crafted combination of academic lectures mixed with company visits was seen as the ideal experience. The goal is to take students out of the class and put them in front of local business leaders to interact and exchange first hand knowledge and views. Cultural activities, group dinners and networking events added an extra dimension and rounded up the learning experience.

3)   Excellent speakers with local knowledge

The quality of the speakers and business leaders chosen is also an outstanding factor. A diverse selection of industries and successful leaders is key. Specific knowledge of local trends and top-performing companies and speakers made a huge difference in the learning experience felt on the ground.

4)   Partners not suppliers

Most programme directors preferred working with one partner and building upon a relationship of trust and understanding to foster best learning experience.  Choosing to visit the same destination repeatedly also increased the economies of learning for programme managers and increased their experience facilitating a better tour overall.

5)   Expectations management

A lot of the programme directors expressed consensus that students expectations and it was important that students understood what to expect on the tour.  Preparing the students through either an online or in-class briefing before the trip and framing the learning experience contributed to a better result.

6)   Safety and security

As many of the destinations of choice are emerging markets, concerns over the safety and security of students were taken very seriously. Local security knowledge, risk management procedures and adequate insurance are essential and should be evident to ensure an incident-free experience.

7)   Value for money

It was accepted that it was a better business decision to outsource project management service of an international tour to an experienced company with local knowledge and core activities as long as the price offered provided clear value for money.

Legacy Ventures have been designing international tours for business schools students for the past 7 years. In addition to the above listed factors, we believe that international tours are enhanced when the following elements are incorporated:

Destination Focus – It is preferable that students are presented with a small selection of destinations they can choose from, rather than just one destination being imposed as part of their program. When students are allowed to select the destination of their choice, they tend to be more engaged and focussed which makes for a better group experience. The vice versa applies and students who are obliged to take part on a tour to a destination they are not interested in or were just too familiar with find the overall experience less beneficial.

Framing the learning experience – It is important that the academics frame the learning experience and are involved throughout the duration of the programme leveling off expectations and framing each step of the learning.  Program directors who are providing opportunities for students to engage and impart the knowledge accumulated through specially formulated sessions managed to boost the satisfaction level of students.

MBAs as active participants – It is important that students retain some ownership during the trip rather than feel like voyeuristic passengers. This is best achieved by encouraging groups of MBAs to take leadership on some of the cultural, social networking activities or business interactions.