Lerner Study Abroad Trip Offers More Focused, In-Depth Experience

The first study abroad experience for Suresh Sundaram was when he came to the United States to study in 1996, and it’s been his passion ever since.

“It definitely changed my life and my career trajectory,” the assistant professor of marketing said.

Now, Sundaram leads students from the United States on adventures of their own overseas. He is faculty director for study abroad semester and internship programs at the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, and has developed multiple new study abroad programs over the past decade.

Over time Sundaram has honed the programs to improve the experience for students. He’s excited about one in particular that began in 2018 with an unusual structure designed to help students immerse more effectively in the culture while also getting a stronger internship.

How it works

Sundaram built the program with Global Academic Ventures, a 20-year UD study abroad partner. Instead of students balancing an internship with a limited amount of class time, they take intensive, condensed classes over the first of eight weeks, followed by another eight weeks in which they can focus exclusively on their internship.

They do all this and still earn a full 15 credit hours that apply directly to business majors. UD fully runs the program, so students don’t need to transfer credits from a partner university afterward.

The model is especially helpful for students who need to fulfill core as well as upper level class requirements. Rather than carving time out of their studies for study abroad, they check off key academic boxes on the trip.

Navleen Kaur, a junior majoring in both international business studies and marketing, with minors in French and advertising, doesn’t have much time to spare if she’s going to finish all those fields of study. But she was still able to sign up for the trip this spring.

“Because I do have so many requirements I need to fulfill, this program was the only program that would allow me to take a good 15 to 18 credits so I could graduate on time,” she said.

Not to be outdone, senior Michael Eckerle, who went on the program in Spring 2023, is a triple major in finance, operations management and global enterprise management (but he only has one minor, in international business). He also said the trip meshed with his studies.

“I’m taking all capstone classes right now, mostly. So especially with the last semester in the spring, I could only take a certain three or four classes, and the program offered those certain classes. It’s because it’s a business-tailored program,” he said.

For him, being able to study and work in two different countries as part of the program was also a plus, as he loves seeing new places.

There are also important financial considerations for students.

One of the biggest advantages, Sundaram said, is that this counts as a UD program, which means if students have scholarships, they can use them to help cover expenses.

Students start in Sydney, Australia, but can then do their internship in other locales, like Singapore or New Zealand, offering a chance to broaden the experience even further.

Other universities working with Global Academic Ventures have taken to the idea, including Belmont University, Bucknell, Miami University of Ohio, Providence College, Villanova, Washington University-St. Louis, Washington and Lee, Virginia Tech, and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Sundaram noted.

How effective is it?

While the semester-long format is not unique to this study abroad program, it is an important facet that sets it apart from shorter trips.

Four weeks or fewer spent in group activities and touring can be helpful as an introduction to international life, Sundaram thinks, but don’t provide the same intensity.

“Spending an entire semester abroad, immersed in a culture, is what really widens students’ perspectives, not only on different kinds of (social) cultures, but also from a business culture perspective,” he said.

Kaur, who has been on two previous study abroad trips, said much the same thing.

“I think one month is not enough … if you really want to understand the culture, really immerse yourself in the experience, establish meaningful relationships.”

“If you do a shortened, three-week, four-week program, I still think they’re valuable, especially for people that can’t do a full semester abroad. But I personally would not choose to do that over the programs that I did,” said senior Nithya Borra, a finance and global enterprise management double major, who went to Singapore for her internship.

Students were also positive about the idea of splitting coursework and the internship.

“The classes were intense,” said Ethan Kimmel, a senior majoring in finance and minoring in international business, who stayed in Sydney throughout the trip. It was tough sitting indoors during nice summer weather in Australia, he noted, but “I definitely like it better than if the internship was integrated with the classes, because … I don’t think I would have been able to perform up to my abilities in the internship if I was juggling classes at the same time.”

Eckerle was also a fan. “I loved it, personally. I thought it was a great opportunity,” he said. The long class periods were intensive, but doing the internship separately allowed him to have free time afterward, he said. “I kind of like that, where I don’t have to get out of class and worry about going to work and [doing] my internship.”

If he got a long weekend off, he had time to do what he wanted, like extra traveling.

Riley Hazel, a junior with a dual major in international business and marketing, who is planning to intern in Singapore during this spring’s trip, had a similar take. He said the format will let him focus on the internship full time instead of trying to multitask with classes. Then, once he’s done with the workday, he’ll be able to relax without thinking about homework and explore the country more. “That’s a lot better,” he said.

Hospitality major Hannah Scheck, who is going to Sydney this spring, is also a fan of classes first, then the internship. “I think juggling the two can be difficult, especially in a foreign country … I think that would just be a little bit overwhelming.”

Trip reviews: What students got out of it

Australia was Kimmel’s first study abroad experience, which he found intimidating, but he gained confidence learning to travel alone and get out on his own. His internship was with a global software company headquartered in Sydney. One of his tasks was to develop a data dashboard in an entirely unfamiliar application that he had to learn in a couple weeks.

“It kind of opened my eyes to skills that I didn’t really know I had … I realized that I’m more technologically savvy than I thought.”

Kimmel is interested in working internationally someday, although he hasn’t refined his career goals yet. “Wherever I work, I want to be able to go places and travel freely.”

Eckerle described the benefits of international study: “You know how to encounter culture shock when you see it, and how to navigate a new city without any experience being there.”

He also pointed out that the international market has a lot of potential for companies looking to expand, so being able to navigate that landscape is a crucial business skill.

Eckerle hopes his experience will be a boost in landing a job in the region someday, but noted that even if people don’t want to work abroad, they’re still getting important skills from studying abroad. He cited being able to work well on teams with international co-workers.

Kamryn Cochran, a finance and political science major, valued the interpersonal skills she built working for a nonprofit in Singapore. She also felt it was helpful to learn about the different political and social structures. How businesses work in the U.S. doesn’t necessarily translate to abroad, she said. “Being in Singapore gave me a better understanding about the types of differences.”

The island city state is an international blend, so students who went there were able to interact with a broad range of nationalities.

“I was able to work alongside people that were from the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, so, many different countries in that Southeast Asia region,” said Borra, who spent her time with a multinational company that does work certifying green buildings. “And they all come from very diverse cultures.”

After graduation, she plans to take a job at a bank in New York City with a workforce from around the world, so “that skill that I was able to gain in Singapore is transferable to me being able to … work alongside people that are all different ages, all different backgrounds.”

Looking ahead: Students anticipate the upcoming trip

“I’m very excited about the internship because I think I’ll be able to apply everything I learned maybe about marketing or advertising towards my work,” Kaur said. “… If you don’t apply it, and you just learn theory, theory again and again, then it just falls through. You’re just learning it for the tests.”

Hazel, who is also studying Mandarin, is drawn to Singapore as an international business hub. “It’s just a central point for everything.” He enjoys history, and culture, and is still exploring career possibilities, so he sees this as a way to learn about job options in Asia and Australia.

“I’m excited to learn about the hospitality side from a different country,” Scheck said. “… It’s important to travel and work in other countries to see how different it might be, and apply their skills to what I’m going to be doing here.”

Australia has been on Scheck’s mind for a very long time. She recalled becoming enamored with the country in a third grade class project. “Sydney’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said.

Of the upcoming trip, she said, “I’m very nervous, because it’s a brand new experience … but I’ve done it before, and I know that I can do it again.” (She went to Greece freshman year.)

For Kaur, the discomfort and anxiety of a new setting is a bonus.

“I think that’s when you grow the most, when you’re really uncomfortable,” she said.

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