Examining Global Interdependence through Study Abroad in China and Hong Kong

By Knight, Dee K. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Examining Global Interdependence through Study Abroad in China and Hong Kong


Knight, Dee K., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Given the international nature of the textile, apparel, and retail industries, success for some companies, at least in part, may depend upon hiring "people whose minds are open to the world" (Goodman, 2005). Study abroad is one way of developing students' world perspectives and cultural understanding. An interdisciplinary approach to study abroad engages students in cultural immersion and experiential learning as they expand their critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and diverse perspectives.

Increased technology and globalization have resulted in a greater need for Americans to become "globally intelligent" (Tucker, 2003). In fact, developing a world perspective is now considered a basic life-skill. Given the international nature of the textile, apparel, and retail industries, success for some companies, at least in part, may depend upon hiring "people whose minds are open to the world" (Goodman, 2005, p. 199). Arnold and Forney (1998) contended that in addition to analytical abilities, interpersonal skills, and merchandising expertise, students entering apparel-related industries need an understanding of cultures.

Study abroad is one way of developing students' world perspectives and cultural understanding. It is, therefore, surprising that only 17% of U.S. citizens have a passport, and of those, 50% are either over the age of 60 years or under the age of 5 years (Goodman, 2005). Unfortunately, less than 1 percent of all U.S. university students study abroad. As sourcing and marketing hubs, China and Hong Kong are destinations that are especially relevant to students pursuing careers in the textile, apparel, and retail industries. China and Hong Kong offer opportunities to visit production and quality testing facilities that are rarely available in the United States. Programs abound for students to study in Europe and Mexico for a semester or longer, however programs in Asia are relatively few. A 3 -week interdisciplinary approach to study abroad in China and Hong Kong is described in this article.

Review of Literature

Technology has accelerated the rate of globalization, while revolutionizing the U.S. apparel industry (Dickerson, 2003; Tyagi, 2003). For instance, apparel imports into the U. S. grew by 9.7% per year from 1979 through 2003 (Kilduff, 2005). To be competitive, increasing numbers of U.S. apparel companies are sourcing production offshore in low-wage countries to obtain the lowest consent of the instructor. Through pre-trip meetings, assigned readings, multi-media presentations, and the living and learning experience, students develop competencies in merchandising concepts, the product development process, global sourcing, domestic and international apparel markets, and international retailing.

This study abroad program occurs in the context of globalization; technology; the internationalization of the textile, apparel, and retail industries; and the resulting interdependence of China, Hong Kong, and the United States. The key pedagogies used within this context include experiential learning and cultural immersion to expand critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and diverse perspectives (see Figure 1).

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning involves students with the phenomena being studied. Students learn from business executives, industry leaders, and government officials. During executive briefings at a trading company, students learn about borderless manufacturing and they visit showrooms where U.S. companies determine what products will be offered to retail buyers and ultimately consumers. At offices in Hong Kong and a port in China, students discover the intricacies involved in the logistics of moving products from factories to U.S. distribution centers and finally to retailers. The reality of shortened product life cycles and speed-to-market strategies is clearly evident during eight to ten factory visits (e.g., textile mills, apparel, jewelry, home d-ecor, shoes, toys). …

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