ONE of the most important trends in United States business schools in the 1980s was the effort to graduate students able to think beyond America's borders. Creation of separate programs in international business - complementary language programs, recruitment of foreign students, and study abroad comprising as much as 25 percent of a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program - became well established. The "internationalizing" of courses shows little sign of letup at either the graduate or undergraduate level. Little known outside specialized circles, though, is another route to senior management in the global economy for select US students - a European MBA. Earlier this month, the European MBA Consortium, representing eight schools based in Europe, made its case here on how each offers rigorous education for management leadership in distinct fields of study. The programs range from a 10-month course of study to one lasting 21 months. And although each is similar in many ways to MBA programs in American business schools, "there are key differences," says Mary Anne Waikart, associate dean at the London Business School. For the American student, the first and most profound difference will be that he or she is in the minority, she says. The diversity of students and faculty from around the world means a student "can't be processed into one kind of student," she says. "Being international also means our faculty [members] are international, their research interests are international," says Richard Lewis, marketing manager for MBA programs at Institut Europeen d'Administration des Affairs (INSEAD) in Fontainbleau, France. THE number of Americans currently enrolled in such programs is small. American students make up 8 percent of European MBA candidates. According to the consortium, 211 Americans are studying at these eight schools out of a total enrollment of 2,600 (about 70,000 MBAs are awarded every year in the US). American students at consortium schools have about five years of work experience before enrollment. Most are in their late 20s or early 30s. Thirty-six percent major in marketing management; 31 percent major in consulting, and 20 percent specialize in finance. The average cost for a year's tuition, including textbooks, is $20,000 to $25,000. Room and board can cost another $20,000 to $25,000, given the expensive locales of most European schools and fluctuating currency-exchange rates. Before applying to a European MBA program, American students must realize "you do not come to learn about Europe. You come to understand global markets," says Francis Bidault, director of MBA programs at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland. "An international MBA does not internationalize someone," Mr. Lewis says. "You come internationalized already." Students must show they have the ability to adapt. "We select people who have shown their ability in being flexible and adaptable," with different cultures and ways of doing business, Lewis says. The London Business School offers four languages. "They are not offered on the side but integral to the program," Ms. Waikart says. "Language is vital in understanding culture," says Lewis. INSEAD, typical of European MBA programs, requires fluency in three languages for graduation. At IMD, faculty members form student study groups to maximize diversity. "A German engineer would interact with a Japanese advertising executive working for a Brazilian agriculturalist," Mr. Bidault says.