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The World is Their Workplace

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Thu Jan 31 2013

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(From The New York Times) -- It’s the kind of job a business major might dream about: marketing executive for a Fortune 500 medical supplies company.

After a year of stateside training, Andrew Gamertsfelder, 23, will head for São Paulo, Brazil, in June to cover South America for Stryker Orthopaedics — a position, he says, that perfectly fits his academic training and the international work experience that came with it.

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Mr. Gamertsfelder, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh last spring, was one of the first students to take part in Pittsburgh’s International Internship Program. He took four weeks of prep, including a course in Portuguese, followed by a 10-week full-time internship in the marketing department of Dow Chemical in São Paulo. That internship led to another at the United States Embassy in Brazil that he arranged independently. And that led to the job at Stryker.

Mr. Gamertsfelder’s success is exactly what J. P. Matychak, director of career services for the business school, was hoping for when he began the program three years ago. He saw that employers placed a premium on international experience, but the study-abroad students he counseled were unable to articulate how their programs prepared them for global work.

And so he upended the traditional study-abroad experience, as many colleges have done. He made work the focus of the summer program, which this year is open to the School of Arts and Sciences. “We put internships at the foundation and academics on the perimeter,” he says.

Such a focus might make a liberal arts dean shudder, but these are different times. International internships are growing. In 2000-1, 7,000 students traveled abroad for work and college credit. In 2010-11, the number was 16,400, with another 8,700 working without credit, according to the Institute of International Education.

Students want to study abroad (a record 274,000 did so for credit last year), but they also know that in a soft job market and increasingly global economy, they need an international work record and the connections that can bring. Study abroad may no longer be enough to make them stand out, nor does it shed light on a country’s business culture. Work-study abroad does double duty.

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It would be hard to find a college today that does not have some version of a for-credit international internship, or the means to find one. Boston University has been at it since 1984, its offerings booming in the past decade. Of the 2,550 B.U. students who studied abroad last year, 66 percent took part in an internship in one of 27 countries. Syracuse University’s destinations include Dubai, Beijing and Hong Kong. The University of Pennsylvania has a partnership in Botswana and India among other countries. Workplaces range from multinational corporations (Pricewaterhouse Coopers) to government (British Parliament) to scientific laboratories (European Organization for Nuclear Research) to not-for-profit groups (International Organization for Migration).

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