While many universities and education companies are seeking to capitalize on the education boom taking place in China, significant opportunities have also arisen over the past decade from Western students coming to Asia. Beginning with the 2003-2004 school year, when, according to the Institute for International Education’s (IIE) Open Doors data, the number of U.S. students studying in China grew by 90% from the previous year, study abroad in China saw nearly a decade of high growth.
China has long been the top destination in Asia, with more than twice as many U.S. students as other popular spots such as Japan and India, and since 2006 has been the fifth most popular destination globally. But since 2012 this industry has regularly seen negative growth, retracting slightly from its peak of nearly 15,000 students per year to less than 14,000 in the most recent data available from IIE. This change has been accompanied by a shift away from traditional semester or year-long programs toward short-term ones. As demand for such programs has risen, the industry has evolved and developed new approaches. The Asia Institute, which has seen an average annual growth rate of over 35% for the last five years, has emerged as an innovative leader in this field with its creation of new types of short-term study abroad programs.
The Asia Institute, celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year, focuses on a wide variety of activities ranging from middle school to executive training, and a key focus is on short-term study abroad programs for U.S. students coming to Asia. The Asia Institute has worked with over 1500 students and faculty, and has hosted programs in 48 cities across 10 countries. In 2014 it launched its Follow the Smart Phone Trail program, which has gained much attention for its creative approach to short-term study abroad.
The Smart Phone program takes students on a multi-city journey to follow the end-to-end supply chain of a smart phone. The trip includes visits to component manufacturers (such as factories making the microphones, USB connectors, power plugs, etc.) as well as the factories assembling these parts into a final product. But it is much more than just a series of factory visits. Students also tour a shipping port, where they learn about importing, exporting and other trade issues surrounding electronics and smart phones. Additionally, the program includes site visits to phone carriers in China to discuss digital platforms and phone plans, as well as mobile telecom stores to learn about customer engagement and marketing. “I think it’s a really valuable out of the class learning experience,” says Brad Feuling, chairman and co-founder of the Asia Institute, “where you’re touching and feeling and seeing a product that you use every day, but you didn’t really think about how it came together.” Following the program’s success, the Asia Institute has since expanded this concept, and now features ‘follow the supply chain’ programs focused on a variety of sectors including medical, food and retail fashion.
Initiatives such as this are providing exciting new ways to learn and offering students new methods to gain insight into globalization through experiencing it firsthand. Just as the globalization of education has given rise to new industries and reshaped others, it is also redefining what is possible in the realm of study abroad.