Learning Through Immersion: The New Undergraduate Degree in International Business

With the growth of globalization, international business is an increasingly important facet of the business world. For students interested in the concept, the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, now offers an immersive experience in language learning, cross-cultural communications and business: the new undergraduate degree in international business.

Students in the Haslam international business program are required to double major in international business and another of the college’s eight majors. They must also complete an advanced foreign language collateral — at least nine hours of language instruction at the 300 level and above. Finally, international business students study abroad for a full semester, preferably in an exchange program with a local university where they can be fully engaged in the culture and language of their chosen destination. Sara Easler, assistant dean for international programs and partnerships, says, “This is a business degree with a strong language and cross-cultural component. It really emphasizes the importance of language proficiency and the ability to adapt to another culture for a longer period of time.”

Easler and her colleagues saw a market for the new degree within Haslam’s existing undergraduate population where there are typically 80 or more language minors at any time. “Those students are really interested in being able to live and work abroad,” Easler says. “While English is the language of business, adapting to a culture and building relationships will always require knowing the local language.”

The international business program will put graduates in a strong position to pursue an international business career, Easler says. “When we were asking companies whether they would be interested in hiring graduates with this type of degree, many said yes. [They also said] the program’s rigorous requirements demonstrate what kind of workers they will be. These graduates will be prepared for success, and companies will not have to train them in language and cultural sensitivity.”

Emma Bexon (HCB, ’17), a senior operations manager at Procter & Gamble (P&G) who recruits Haslam graduates for the company, notes the new degree’s attractions for employers. “Not only is the foreign language requirement with extended study abroad experience beneficial in the current business world, but it shows great dedication. P&G is looking for candidates who are diligent and goal-oriented, which this requirement demonstrates.”

Ten students comprise the degree’s first cohort, representing six different business majors and four language concentrations: Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese. “Out of the gate, we managed to get a lot of diversity, both in languages and majors,” says Easler. “And while most of the students were already language minors, we’re drawing others who are willing to fulfill that component to pursue the degree.”

One student in the new program is Brayden Conn, a junior majoring in economics and international business with a collateral in French and a minor in political science. Conn started his freshman year with a study abroad in Costa Rica, where he fell in love with international travel and learning how business is conducted in other cultures. He did another study abroad in Italy in 2023 and looks forward to spending a semester in France as part of the international business degree program next year. “I think the language and immersive study abroad experience will add so many layers to what I’m able to do,” says Conn. “While much of today’s business world is global, not everyone is able to communicate and understand on a linguistic and cultural level.”

Junior Jada Tun is another member of the first international business cohort. Her second major is in marketing and her language of study is Japanese. Some of Tun’s extended family members are Japanese, so she views learning the language as part of reconnecting with her heritage.

Tun looks forward to studying abroad in Japan and putting her skills into practice. “Sitting in a classroom and learning a language is nothing compared to being in the country and actively using it,” she says. “I think it’s important that the Haslam program requires an entire semester in a university — not just an international center where everyone else speaks English. This way, you’re learning alongside local students and actually immersed in the culture.”

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