Professional Profiles: Sarah, the International Grad Student

by Elizabeth on June 4, 2012 · 11 comments

It’s been exactly nine months, two weeks, and three days since I saw my best friend, Sarah. Last fall, she packed her bags and headed overseas after being granted admission to graduate school in the United Kingdom. More specifically, she’d chosen Oxford – yes, as in the Oxford – over Duke and Notre Dame to earn her MBA.

Turns out, Sarah’s not alone. A 2007 article in USA Today found an increasing number of American graduate students are going abroad for business school – and, if Sarah’s decision is any indication, the trend isn’t abating. I got a chance to speak with her via the wonders of Skype recently, and asked her why getting her MBA internationally was the right choice for her and so many like her.

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Me: So, how many of the students in your program are American?

Her: Well, there are 30 of us in all, and 12 of us are from the States. The crazy thing is that we all got in to business school there, too; it wasn’t like we got turned down and this was our only option. A few of them even had scholarship offers. I don’t know if I told you that Notre Dame offered me a partial scholarship? I felt stupid turning it down, but I felt like going to Britain was the better choice for me.

Me: Why is that? You know you would have made my life so much easier if you’d just gone to Duke for your MBA!

Her: Well, for one thing, it’s a matter of time. Most American business schools – like Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania – take two years to earn an MBA. Kellogg [the business school at Northwestern] is one of the only schools that offers a comprehensive one-year program. By comparison, it’ll only take me 10 months to earn my MBA here at Oxford.

Me: And explain to me why that’s so important.

Her: A couple of reasons. First, business school is one of those things you usually don’t get into until you’re a little older. Out of my class of 30, 27 of us have professional experience; only three came straight from university. [I have to interject at this point - can you tell Sarah is starting to sound slightly British? I know you can't hear her voice, but even the words she's using are so different from her usual Texas twang. Moving on...] Business schools actually look for that in their applicants – they want someone who has lived and worked in the real world. But aside from the time factor, it’s also a cost factor as well. I’ve been on my own financially for six years. Taking two years off to go back to school and be a graduate student would have been cost prohibitive for me. It would have meant taking out loans, on top of the undergraduate loans I’m still paying. The shorter program is making my MBA way easier for me financially.

Me: I know your intended major has a lot to do with your decision too.

Her: Without a doubt! Look, I want to work in international business after graduation. What better place to learn about how the global marketplace functions than outside my home country? Even if I get hired by an American company, chances are still high that I’ll be based somewhere outside of the United States. Learning about the culture, the markets, the political systems of these European countries – which are so densely packed in, I don’t think people realize that traveling from France to Poland is like driving from Chicago to New York – it’s invaluable. When I apply for jobs after graduation, I’m going to be able to say to my employer, “Not only do I have the degree, but I’ve lived there. I KNOW how this place works.” You can’t downplay that experience factor.

Me: Now please, tell me they’ve taught you some sense over there and that you’ll be coming back home when you’re done being a grad student?

Her: (she’s laughing at my ethnocentric attitude at this point) Sorry hun, no can do. That’s another great thing about getting my MBA overseas. Since I’m already here, the process of getting a visa is far less complicated than it would have been if, say, I had graduated from business school in the States and then decided to move here to search for a job. I get a grace period to find a job over here after graduation, and as long as I find work before it expires, I’ll automatically have my student visa transferred over to a work visa. Doing it the other way would have made it nearly impossible for me to ultimately live in London without a firm job offer.

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Reader, would you consider going overseas to earn your degree? Why or why not? Do you think the same philosophy Sarah’s embracing would work in your career field?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog June 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm

that is so cool that your friend went to study abroad. I had a lot of friends do that in undergrad and there were quite a few international students in my grad program, but I’d never considered going abroad myself. So awesome that it’s such a compressed program!

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2 William @ Drop Dead Money June 6, 2012 at 1:58 am

I did go overseas to get my post grad education. I chose… the USA!

I’m originally from South Africa. That was almost 30 years ago. I never made it back.

For every American going overseas, I’m guessing there are 10 coming here. :) Either way, though, I think it’s good to get at least part of one’s education abroad…

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3 Roshawn @ Watson Inc June 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I think it is really cool that she chose to do that. I know that I would have trouble pursuing any degree overseas, as I have seen the difficulty many of the international students had with traveling to see family (particularly prolong periods where they couldn’t). That said, if I was a lot younger, it might not have been as big of an issue. Oh well, congrats to her for taking the plunge and getting a world-class education at Oxford.

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4 Kerry June 20, 2012 at 4:44 am

This is almost exactly what I did! I did a study abroad term in England my junior year of university, and when I came back I knew I had to find a way to move here permanently. Luckily I was able to transfer to a London university for my final year, and as Sarah says, the process of getting a visa is so much easier when you have a diploma from a UK university. After working here for a few years, I met my now-husband, which was a very unexpected way to make the move permanent but has been wonderful so far. ;)

Good luck with your degree, Sarah!

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5 Dave, Financial Conflict Coach June 22, 2012 at 8:07 am

I’ve considered doing the same for my PhD. Financial and other Conflict is not limited to the U.S. It would be nice to have a more international view on Dispute Resolution and Personal Finance.

My issue is finding the right program.

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