Study abroad: Options for expats

Study abroad: Options for expats

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Why study abroad? We take a look at the many schools, universities, educational programmes and courses suited to expats looking to study abroad.

Many of those who venture out of their home country outside of travel begin with study abroad programmes. But what are options for those already abroad or with an international lifestyle? For expats, an assignment spent away from the host country may be the perfect opportunity to build the international skills that are highly desired in today's globalised workplace.

Certainly, studying abroad can open the door to a wealth of opportunities. For the trailing spouse, those moments can be used to upgrade career skills or even prepare for a career change once a foreign assignment is over. For the expat executive, the foreign assignment may offer access to international programmes that will enhance his or her career opportunities in the future.

The possibilities to study abroad are endless when it comes to educational programmes offered around the world, and it’s important to select the right course before investing time and money. Here are some points to consider if you're looking to study abroad.

What do you want to study abroad?

To maximise the return on your investment of time and money, your selected study programme needs to achieve your goal, whether you define this as new skills, career advancement, or a change in career course.

Thus the first and most important question to answer is: do you want to improve your credentials in your current field, to attain the credentials to change careers, or to study something totally unrelated to your career, but in which you’ve always had an interest, such as creative writing, literature or art history?

Study opportunities: MBAs and other programmes

Survey the area where you are assigned to see what opportunities there are for advanced study. Whether you are looking for an MBA or another advanced degree, it is essential that you choose a programme that is accredited by a respected educational body, especially if you plan to use your credentials to gain employment abroad.

In Europe, there are many such programmes, as well as information for evaluating them.

The QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education World University Rankings both offer information on top universities throughout the world, as well as best ranked courses.

The Economist also has a tool for comparing universities and MBAs, while Bloomberg has a page dedicated to business schools and its comparison tool includes course fees and enrolment numbers.

For the top business schools and courses, as ranked by Financial Times, click here.

The New York Times runs a special news and information section on international education.

The AMBA (Association of MBAs) holds an annual MBA fair in London at which schools from all over the world participate, as wel as other networking and study-related events throughout the world. For more information, go to

StudyPortals, supported by the European Commission, offers a complete guide for students looking to study Bachelor, Master and Phd courses, or distance learning. Another comprehensive website is

A consortium of six European business schools from across the continent also offers the MBA – email

Expatica also provides country-specific guides for studying abroad, how to apply and lists of top universities:

Should you study a MBA abroad?

Keep in mind that the MBA market is becoming over-saturated and, in some countries at least, the MBA is losing favour to other graduate programmes that are more specialised. You can also consider a Master's in communications, tourism management, finance or some other particular field.

If you plan to remain with your current employer, ask your supervisor which credentials will best suit your future advancement. Then visit the campus, talk to the professors, and speak to a few graduates before enrolling.

Read if an international MBA is the right degree for you.

Study time

Define how much time you can realistically devote to advancing your skill levels. Do you need a part-time programme, a low residency programme, or a full-time curriculum?

If your travel schedule interferes with regular class attendance or you live in a remote area, you may want to try an online programme, or one that requires independent work and occasional long weekends on campus.

Course language

Check which language the course is conducted in. English-language courses and MBAs are increasingly being offered, although many courses abroad are taught in the native language of the country. This is a great way to boost language skills increasingly needed in a globalised world but you will need to be competent enough in that language to do the coursework required for a degree. Preparatory language classes are often available through universities.


Will your company pay for further education and, if so, what limitations do accepting that money place on your career? Find out if you must commit to staying with the company for a certain number of years after attaining the degree.

If you are a trailing spouse, what kind of financial commitment must you make to your course of study and how will you pay for it? The Financial Times discusses how to finance MBA programmes, but the information is valuable for anyone looking at paying for further education.

You can also look for scholarship programmes. StudyPortals provides information on scholarships, and the European Commission also offers information on scholarships and Erasmus programmes in Europe.

Study a language course

If language skills are what you are looking for, how do you select a programme that will enhance your CV? Be certain that you choose a course that offers an examination and a certificate noting the level of proficiency you have attained.

Cultural centres and organisations, such as Dante Alighieri (Italian), Alliance Francaise (French), Goethe Institute (German), Cervantes Institute (Spanish) and others, are recognised around the world, as are university programmes and commercial schools, such as Berlitz.

If you are going to be spending a long time in an expat assignment, choose that language to learn. However, if your time there is shorter, you may want to choose a language that will be of value to you in future assignments; Mandarin, Spanish, English are among the top languages spoken worldwide. You might also consider focusing on the language of business rather than general conversation.

Short-term educational opportunities

In the Netherlands, there are professional level courses in flower arranging, for example, which are suitable for students wishing to make a career change when they return home (for example, 

Simmons College (Boston, USA) offers a two-week course in Rome in communications management, for which students receive four graduate credits transferable to other accredited institutions. Go to for more information.

If you want serious French cooking credentials, you could take a look at Cordon Bleu:

StudyPortal provides information on short courses.

Studying non-MBA courses

What programmes are available for non-MBA courses of study? Many American universities offer undergraduate or graduate programmes around the world, including Boston University (, the University of Maryland (multiple locations)(, the University of California (in London, for example), and many others.

If you want to study in Paris, for example, check with the Centre for University Programmes Abroad (, for the United Kingdom, try If you’re dreaming of a master’s in creative writing, you might consider Dublin's Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing.

Education programmes in various countries

What are some of the more unusual programmes out there? Consider the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, where the three-year undergraduate degree or post-graudate courses should open doors to careers in the food industry, international agencies or food journalism. Students might go to Mexico to study the making of tequila, to Parma to learn about Parmesan cheese, or to the great food and wine centres of Italy and France.

At the Trento School of Management (TSM) in Italy, there is a Master’s of art and culture management available, while the MIB School of Management offers a master’s in tourism management.

In Germany, there is rising interest in short term programmes for young leaders from around the world, such as the Bucerius Summer School in Hamburg, which fills its limited slots with international and local students. There is also the new programme at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin (, which offers masters in public administration, public policy and international affairs.

If you want to study in France, there are numerous programmes in the arts, sciences and business. For undergraduate coursework, the Centre for University Programmes Abroad (CUPA) offers assistance from its offices in Paris or online at

Study abroad ( is a website that covers both undergraduate and graduate programmes in a variety of different countries, while covers MBA programmes abroad.

As writer Jo Parfitt maintains in her book, Career in Your Suitcase, an expat assignment needn't be non-productive. There might never be a better occasion than a foreign posting to gain not only cultural insights, but added career credentials, as well. After all, if you do manage to save time in an imaginary bottle, it must be used before it evaporates.

Sharri Whiting / Expatica

Sharri Whiting writes and speaks in the US and Europe about international business and cross cultural issues. She guest lectures at the American University of Rome and Simmons College in Boston.

Updated 2011; July 2015.

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