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Political Economy and Commerce

International business: An interdisciplinary major

When Monmouth College alumnus Jerry Mitchell ’67 was back on campus last fall to discuss his 30-year career in foreign service, his message to students was, “There is no such thing as domestic or international anymore. It’s a worldwide competition. If you’re on the Internet, you’re global. They can find you. This is the world we live in – a global environment. It’s naïve not to think that way.”

About eight years earlier, that was the line of thinking that led MC faculty member Don Capener to propose that international business be added as a major. It made its debut as a field of study during the 2002-03 academic year.

Capener said the international business major “borrows some of the business administration requirements, and it also shares a lot with accounting and economics.” He also noted that international business majors at Monmouth are exposed to several beneficial experiences, from an interdisciplinary course list, to the chance to study abroad.

“One of the strengths of international business is that it’s probably more of a liberal arts field of study than other majors under the umbrella of political economy and commerce,” said Capener. “It’s more interdisciplinary, as students cover such areas as cultures, history, politics and language and how all that plays into doing business with other cultures. It works really, really well in a liberal arts setting.”

Students are required to take at least two classes from a 17-course list that includes offerings in such disciplines as history (The Contemporary World), political science (Modern Japan) and religious studies (Judaism and Islam).

The major also requires students to go abroad for a semester, or at least take part in a short trip. Capener said the college has connections with about 50 study-abroad programs. Short trips “run the gamut,” having included such destinations as Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany. Lately, the most popular off-campus destinations for semester-long study have been the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland, Akita International University in Japan and ESGCI, a business and management school in Paris.

Rebecca Houston Varnes ’06 studied abroad in Paris and said she enjoyed “immersing” herself in the French culture and meeting and becoming friends with many other international students studying in Paris.

“I decided to study international business because I have always been interested in different cultures and dealing with people from different cultural backgrounds,” added Varnes, who works in Boston as a marketing manager for CSL International, a marine transportation company that operates a fleet of self-unloading vessels.

Lauren Vana ’10 called her six-month experience in Thessaloniki, Greece, “the most eye-opening experience I have ever had. I had to change how I think and how I do things on a normal basis.”

She added, “During my time abroad, I was able to travel to seven other countries and saw numerous landmarks. One of my favorite places was Turkey. I never thought I would have the opportunity to visit there, but when I did I got to see amazing ancient wonders, such as Hagia Sophia, one of the biggest cathedrals in Constantinople. Studying abroad allows to you to look at the world in so many different ways that you can’t experience by studying in the classroom.”

It also exposes students to a heavy dose of a foreign language, which is another component of the major.

“It’s highly recommend that international business majors take a second year of language,” said Capener. “Those who participate in off-campus programs usually receive intensive instruction in the language of the country in which they’re studying.”

The capstone experience features several elements, including a computer simulation competition against other business students from around the globe, which is a “good benchmark” for how they’re doing.

Students also work as teams on case studies, which includes writing a strategic plan. An example from a year ago was a three-student team that worked with Business Advantage, a London-based research company. The students offered their input on how to improve the company’s website, and they were each offered internship opportunities with the company following their presentation, which they made in London.

Vana said she specifically remembers one part of her capstone course, and she has applied it to her current position in Korea, where she teaches English to K-12 students.

“My professor taught me about cultural intelligence and the ability to adapt,” she said. “He taught me that in order to embrace another culture, I have to use my head, body and heart. He also taught me that there are six different profiles in cultural intelligence that can be effective when you work in another country. I constantly find that I apply these profiles, some more than others. I am constantly growing and give myself goals to be more efficient in the workplace everyday.”

Vana said her time in Greece helped her bridge the cultural gap with Korea, which has “an entirely new culture that is more foreign to me than Greek and American cultures. … There is a strong sense of family unity that I envy here. Korean parents sacrifice everything for their children’s education.”

Capener noted that at least three other international business majors are currently living in Asia. Andy Klootwyk ’05 works in Japan for Shingakusha, an educational publishing company, as a language teacher and an editor for their English textbooks. His study-abroad experience was at Waseda University in Japan. After he graduated, he taught English as a second language in Japan for a year before joining Shingakusha. Christopher Bastean ’06 is a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy and is stationed in Japan at Sasebo Naval Base. Andrew Keubrich lives in Hong Kong, where he’s an instructor of business English. He’s studying Chinese in order to become fluent and pursue opportunities in mainland China.

“I decided to focus on international business my junior year, because I have always looked at the world a puzzle, and I wanted to be someone who aids in putting the pieces together to make an amazing picture,” said Bastean.

“I was a business major starting my second year, and though I always had an interest in other countries, I never really thought about studying outside the U.S. until I started having conversations with Professor Capener about Japan and Asia,” said Klootwyk. “Also, we had two Japanese students from Waseda in an advertising class that Professor Capener was teaching. It was always interesting to get their perspective on the different topics in class and it made me even more interested in learning about Japan. All the encouragement I received from Monmouth faculty while I was considering studying overseas set me at ease.”

In addition to the encouragement, Klootwyk said the instruction he received at Monmouth was vital in preparing him to study abroad.

“There were so many things that I never knew about regarding businesses and working in other countries that I never would have believed had I not received prior experiences from my classes at Monmouth.”    

While at Waseda for a full academic year, Klootwyk soaked up as much knowledge as he could about Japanese culture and business practices, and he also served as an unofficial adviser for Japanese students who were going to study at Monmouth the following year.

“It was really nice to get to know them and help them prepare for their time in the U.S.,” he said. “I am still in contact with a few of them.”

“International business is more applicable to our students than it ever was, even if they ultimately work for a not-for-profit or the government as opposed to a company,” said Capener. “It’s more and more important now that we’re so interdependent. By learning more about the world, they’re learning about things that can impact companies and their bottom line.”

“I believe that my study of international business has helped me in my career path by helping me understand that foreign cultures operate differently in many aspects of business,” said Varnes. “It has helped me to be more confident in traveling and how to handle myself in different cultural environments. Academically, I received a good base in understanding how businesses operate.”

“Attending Monmouth College and being in the international business program has helped me grow as a person and given me the confidence to live in a different country and embrace a new culture,” said Vana.

In short, the international business curriculum makes more students much more marketable, Capener explained.

“Next to accountants, global companies like Deere and Caterpillar tell us that international business majors are their most attractive prospects,” he said.