With many colleges and universities offering hundreds of study-abroad programs, students can visit beautiful places, meet new friends and get a taste of local culture. Yet, accounting students can cast a much wider net and reap huge educational benefits when they spend a semester in a foreign country – and bring this knowledge back home with them.
With more than 80,000 Americans studying abroad at the college or university level, these programs are becoming even more popular. The University of Kansas' (KU) program, for example, is just one university that offers this kind of opportunity for students; most state colleges and universities have similar programs and private colleges offer them as well.
“Studying abroad for accounting students helps us to understand why there are different accounting standards in the world,” said KU student Kaitlyn Coen, who had the opportunity to travel to, and study in, Costa Rica. “It also gave me a better perspective on how companies actually work.”
Learning how business works is one of the most important aspects of the accounting profession, yet many students do not get to experience the “real world” within the confines of a classroom. Carol Rose, director of KU's Institute for International Business, feels going abroad to learn about the business side is invaluable for students.
“Accounting students bring back the understanding that business environments are different in other countries, reflected in a country’s respective accounting system,” she said.
Accounting is the language of business, and is not only useful for businesses, but for nonprofit and governmental entities as well. This was especially true for Coen, who noticed a distinct difference between the way business and commerce function in Costa Rica.
“I learned a lot about the tax system in Costa Rica, which I found very interesting and very different from the United States,” she said. “I specialize in tax and am curious to see how our country will face some future problems using the current tax code.”
Coen thrived off learning about international business, something she feels will help in her work going forward.
“I will be working in public accounting and only had a 3-month internship in a private company, so going to Costa Rica to learn how companies decided to build in another country or just discussing various concerns in international relations opened my eyes to more than just basic accounting concerns like financial statements,” she said.
While learning about business and greater education is important, there are many other skills and opportunities that studying abroad can provide students. They can see the world, learn a foreign language, build responsibility and independence, open their eyes to a different culture, and improve their resume with all the skills gained internationally.
What personal qualties do students gain while studying abroad? Study Abroad reports that these include self-confidence, a respect for diversity, the ability to manage obscure information, greater comfort when dealing with difficult situations, and the ability to be more tolerant of people and situations.
Understandably, since most accounting students have to meet the 150-hour requirement, they want credit for the time spent studying abroad. Even though Rose feels the advantages of a semester away are important in a student’s experience, she acknowledged there may be a possible problem in the future when trying to obtain credit.
“Because accountants who practice here must be certified to work following U.S. accounting standards, it is difficult for accounting students to earn accounting credits abroad,” she said. “However, they still benefit from learning about foreign business environments, especially since they most likely will be exposed to international business at some part of their careers.”
Even though securing course credit may be an issue, some students may want to look beyond the need for credit in order to have better job opportunities. One of the speed bumps in the way could be cost, but there are scholarships, financial aid, and grants detailed on university websites.
While going to a different country and being in a new environment may seem “foreign,” students who study abroad will have lifelong experiences and position themselves for a brighter future. The skills and knowledge students acquire while studying abroad can’t be learned in a classroom.