Integrating International Aspects In Business Courses

Antoinette S. Phillips

Educators in Colleges of Business face continual pressure to include international aspects of their disciplines when teaching their courses. This paper suggests several easy, practical, and interesting ways to supplement text material on international topics. These suggestions apply particularly to courses which benefit from anecdotes and examples, such as Management and Marketing, but may also be useful in other areas.

Educators in Colleges of Business are under continual pressure to include international aspects of their disciplines when teaching their courses. This pressure comes from three dominant sources. First, both institutions and the general public are increasingly aware of international business’ growing influence and importance (“A Way to Measure,” 1999; Krugman, 1993). This is evident in the immense pressure on many businesses to compete globally (Cavusgil, 1991; Ohmae, 1905; Parkhurst, 1998). Keeping a business curriculum current is critical to graduates’ job placement and a program’s reputation and continued ability to attract students (Celis, 1993). Exposure to different situations likely to be encountered in international business and behavioral suggestions to use in various scenarios thus become necessary and desirable elements to be included along with more traditional course material. Second, explosive growth in internet commerce has opened global business opportunities to a vast number of smaller companies and individuals who would not otherwise have been so involved. Finally, realizing the extent of this international influence in business, accrediting bodies exhort colleges and universities to include coverage of international business aspects in their guidelines for both graduate and undergraduate coursework (e.g., American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, 1999). These pressures are not accompanied by comprehensive suggestions on how best to accomplish the objective of covering international material. A quick glance through almost any current business text reveals a significant emphasis on international aspects across disciplines – accounting, economics, finance, management, and marketing. Nonetheless, the relative unfamiliarity of international aspects compared with more traditional topics, and the lag between events and their reflection in textbooks result in this material being somewhat incomplete. This same situation exists in other areas of change in undergraduate business education. Thus, new information lends to be “imperfectly reflected” (Stiglitz, 1993, p. 27). Additionally, professors searching for something novel to enliven text material may be quite frustrated. Our objective is to provide a few suggestions on relatively easy ways to integrate international coverage in business courses. These suggestions apply particularly to classes in which course material can be qualitatively augmented by examples and anecdotes, such as certain management and marketing courses, but may be relative in other academic areas as well.

Practical Suggestions for Integrating International Aspects

Many professors find an excellent resource for help on international topics facing them each day in class. Students – international and otherwise – can contribute substantially to classroom discussions. International students constitute a sizeable contingent at many universities, at both undergraduate and graduate levels. These students obviously possess a wealth of information on business in their home country, particularly if they have worked for companies there. Even if not, they have had experience dealing with business organizations, thereby vicariously learning some of their practices. Such students’ information grows in its potential contribution as they increase their knowledge of domestic business practices. That is, the longer they live and study in the U.S., especially if they are working, the more bases for comparison, anecdotes, etc., they will be able to provide. This is also true if they have traveled or lived in countries other than their home country or the U.S.

Native students are also often quite well-traveled as a group. Whether through personal or family excursions, living in another country with a parent on international assignment, or personal military or job-related expatriate assignments, a surprising number of students have international exposure.

Possessing information and being willing to share it are often different issues. It can be quite challenging to persuade students (again, international or otherwise) to talk of their experiences. It may be possible to use a course’s grading system as an incentive to share this information. Students may be more willing to speak out in courses which include class participation as a grade component. Having an opportunity to talk about a familiar topic may encourage some ordinarily reluctant students to participate. One approach to initiate discussion is to ask a class, “How many of you have visited or lived in another country?” Then list the countries mentioned on the chalkboard, and ask students to share experiences exemplary of how business is conducted in that country. In larger classes, students may provide more material in small group discussions than in a general class discussion. If this option is used, one person from each group can then serve as a spokesperson to report to the rest of the class. This relieves more shy students from having to speak to a large group, yet still exposes everyone to all available information. Another possibility is to encourage students to structure a major or special topics presentation around their international experiences. Such observations and anecdotes can serve to flesh out a textbook chapter of international material. This can be used in partial fulfillment of requirements for a specific course. Alternately, several such presentations can be grouped together and presented as an informal seminar for interested individuals, classes, or other campus or community groups. A variation of this format with which our college has experienced quite a bit of success is to have several students from one country or geographic region conduct a presentation on business and economic activity in that region. A congenial atmosphere with time for questions, followed by a social time (with refreshments!) generally provides a positive experience for audience members. It also serves to help acquaint international visitors and increases their comfort level. If desired, several of these can be grouped throughout a semester or quarter and handled as a series.

A further way to gather novel international material is to assign students to bring copies of articles dealing with international business topics to class. These can be discussed in small groups or as a class. Another interesting option is to let students compile them into a scrapbook by topic (e.g., human resource management, pricing, ethics, etc.). Then a class discussion can focus on differences brought about by international aspects. Over the course of several semesters, a professor can amass quite a collection of examples (from students and articles) to share with subsequent classes.

Another possible source of information is a university’s international student organization. There are often students quite willing to visit classes and share observations and experiences. Contacting the organization’s faculty advisor or staff liaison may be a good way to arrange a meeting with a willing potential speaker.


The above suggestions represent relatively easy, yet quite valuable ways to include interesting international material in business courses, particularly those which benefit from anecdotes and examples. They are intended to supplement and enhance textbook material, not to substitute for it. Additionally, most of these suggestions require student participation and involvement, which tends to heighten students’ interest. Incorporating the preceding ideas may thus help business professors meet goals of increased international coverage, while simultaneously stimulating student interest. Finally, if a broader range of individuals and groups are included, global topics can be further disseminated


American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business. (1999). Achieving quality and continuous improvement through self-evaluation and peer review. St. Louis, MO: American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business.

Cavusgil, S. T. (1991). Internationalization of business and economics programs: Issues and perspectives. Business Horizons, 34(6), 92-100.

Celis, W. III (1993, May 12). Business schools hit hard times amid doubt over value of M.B.A. The New York Times, p. B6.

Krugman, P. R. (1993). What do undergrads need to know about trade? American Economic Review, 83(2), 23-26.

Ohmae, K. (1995, January-February). Putting global logic first. Harvard Business Review, 73(1), 119-125.

Parkhurst, D. (1998, May 25). To succeed in the global arena, leadership is a must. Nation’s Cities Weekly, 2(21), 6-7.

Stiglitz, J. E. (1993). International perspectives in undergraduate education. American Economic Review, 83(2), 27-33.

A way to measure global success. (1999, March 15). Fortune, 139(5), 196-197.

ANTOINETTE S. PHILLIPS Southeastern Louisiana University

COPYRIGHT 2001 Project Innovation (Alabama)

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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