In her International Accounting Issues course, Joyce van der Laan Smith teaches her students that an international perspective is a necessity for graduates entering today’s global economy.

“Accounting is very much communicating financial information to the public,” she says. “There may be cultural influences on this communication. I want students to start gaining an appreciation for those differences, so that they learn how to work with companies in different settings.”

To give her students a firsthand look at those cultural differences and enhance their international perspective and understanding, van der Laan Smith has incorporated a trip to London into the course for the last three years.

The weeklong trip is targeted to accounting majors and includes tours of companies that show the impact of accounting information in a market situation. Destinations for the 2011 trip included Bloomberg; international accounting firm KPMG; the CME Group, which establishes prices for commodities; and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).

“Accounting, like a lot of subjects, is somewhat abstract,” van der Laan Smith says. “It’s beneficial to see how the information is used and get a feel for how the market reacts.

“At the CME Group, we looked at corn prices, which they deal in a lot. They showed how floods in New Zealand and fires in Russia eliminated corn, and how that was all reflected in the market.”

London was also a timely choice for students preparing to enter the accounting field. The IASB, which is headquartered in London, is currently negotiating a controversial convergence of the U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (U.S. GAAP) and the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), two systems of accounting standards.

“We read articles about these changes, but it was interesting to talk to people who were at the forefront of this process, creating these new rules and principles,” says Matt Baureis, ’12, an accounting major who went on this year’s trip. “I hope to be a CPA working for a big-four accounting firm, and I’m going to be in the middle of this process. We’ll have to be familiar with both systems going forward because this process is not just going to happen in a year — it’s going to happen over the next four to five years as these two standards converge.”

The trip wasn’t all business. Students had time to explore the city and culture of London. Van der Laan Smith also organized a tour of Westminster and an outing to see “Les Miserables.”

“We don’t have a bus pick us up at the hotel — I want them to get out on their own, so they’re immersed in the everyday experience of the people,” she says. “You think it’s exactly the same as the U.S. until you start walking the streets and listening to the people and smelling the smells and eating the food, and you realize it’s a different environment.”

A balance of business education and societal exploration is particularly important for van der Laan Smith, who has a personal interest in the impact of culture on the interpretation of financial data. It was a topic she investigated as a participant in the University of Richmond’s 2009 Faculty Seminar Abroad to Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

“One of the reasons I wanted to go to Russia was, prior to their transition to a market economy, they had no accounting — they didn’t even have a word for it,” she says. “Now they are trying to learn how to teach accounting, but they don’t have enough textbooks and they don’t have enough professors.”

The seminar was also a chance to learn more from faculty colleagues with expertise in a variety of fields.

“You can study different aspects of the environment that you wouldn’t normally,” she says. “I learned about the art and the religion — things that weren’t necessarily business related.”

Van der Laan Smith brought her enhanced perspective back to the classroom, where she has been able to better exemplify the concepts of globalization and its impact.

“I have a photo of a [Christian] Dior store and you can see the provocative advertisements and next to it, you see women in full burkas,” she says. “In Kyrgyzstan, there was a vendor on the street selling apples from Wisconsin. That is globalization.”