The people in the Comunitat Valenciana (the Valencia region) have a strong record in successfully seeking out international markets. Valencia’s oranges have long had an international reputation, as did its silk, which even reached China, and Benidorm has been a magnet for European tourists since the 1960s. In recent years, one of the top exports from the region has been footwear, which has even triumphed in a market as competitive as the USA.

It may seem easy: all you need is a good product and the courage to get out and sell it. In fact, internationalization is a very demanding process for any company. The challenges of internationalization include having to deal with different types of consumer, different buying habits, different laws, different competitors, and possible political instability, and that is before we get to the difficulty in overcoming the most basic cultural differences.

Yet the biggest difficulty for any internationalization strategy does not lie with the culture of the new market, but the organization’s own culture. Internationalization as a strategy for growth can only succeed if there is a prior culture change within the organization itself. Who will speak to the new customers in their language, if the current staff cannot do so? Will the design team have the cultural awareness to adapt the colour scheme if necessary to the new country? Will the communication department ensure that all the product instructions are properly translated? Will any message on the customer service line concerning working hours take into account which time zone customers may be calling from?

These may seem like minor issues, and they are when one compares them with the investment and hard work that will have gone into product or technological development to make a success of internationalization. But a lack of attention to detail in any of these areas can ruin all the other work.

So, it’s important to understand that internationalization means new scenarios, new journeys, and new settings. And it can be hard going when the new scenario concerns customers who live far away, when the journey is through unknown territory, or when the setting is not as familiar as our traditional market.

As Peter Drucker famously once said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  The organization has to ask it itself whether it is stuck in its comfort zone, while it sips its morning coffee.

A change in culture is not just desirable for internationalization – it is inherent to it. Changing a culture can be a slow process, but it is something that successful leaders know is worth persevering with. It can be fraught with tension, as everyone within the organization has to overcome the natural resistance to change.

The CEU Cardenal Herrera University has been undergoing this change for more than a decade. There have been obstacles, hesitations, and mistakes on the way, but we have been dogged in our determination to reach the finish line. The European Consortium for Accreditation in higher education (ECA) has approved and accredited the University for its internationalization. That is, the whole University’s internationalization – not just that of one programme. We are the first Spanish university to achieve this.

The accreditation process focused on five standards. For three of these – action plans, implementation and governance – we received the highest possible grade of excellent. This means that the University “systematically and substantially surpasses the current generic quality”, becoming “an international example for this standard”. For the other standards – intended internationalisation and enhancement – the University was rated as good, meaning that it “clearly goes beyond the acceptable level of attainment across the standard’s entire spectrum.”

The lion’s share of praise for this achievement does not go to the University’s staff, but to our international students, whose easy integration into our campus has shown us the way forward.

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