By Kimberly Ellenson (MBA ’15)
I spent about a year traveling before I matriculated at Darden. The person I was when I landed back in the U.S. was someone completely changed by her time spent away. There is no better teacher than immersion, and the lessons one learns through those experiences become one’s values. When I arrived at Darden, I wanted to understand how such immersion could translate to a business setting. I wanted to take classes in another language. I had become comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I wanted to push myself again. I also wanted to escape to the southern hemisphere during winter, so IAE Business School in Argentina quickly became my first choice when I realized that as Darden students, we could study abroad pretty much anywhere in the world. And frankly, Darden made the process so easy that it felt like a no-brainer.
My time at IAE and in Buenos Aires was defined and re-defined daily. Isn’t that always how it is when you spend time away from home? Your senses are on fire. The complacency that sets in in routine life is somehow banished and you chase after newness, new experiences. Experiences like trading dollars for pesos on the black market to reap the 40% unofficial spread. Weekly dinners with the other 11 exchange students and our Argentine cohort. Spending a weekend at my classmate Enrique’s finca (beautiful ranch home, complete with a polo pitch). A school-wide food festival, where I introduced the dean of students to falafel. Landing a sold-out ticket to the championship game of the Argentine premier fútbol league – in a region where, you likely know, futbollers are gods and the tone of the year is set by how well your team fares that season. Malbec, malbec, and more malbec. Getting used to the cross-classroom yelling, in which professors were frequently involved. Sipping mate on the rambla (coastline) in Montevideo during a weekend Uruguayan escape with my exchange friends, arguing whether the steak was better on that side of the Río de La Plata. A trip with my Darden girlfriends to hike Chilean Patagonia during winter break.
What I experienced during my time in Argentina, though, isn’t really something I can sum up in a few ill-formed sentences. I’ve come back changed, sure, but it feels different this time. I have a year of business school and a summer working behind me. My MBA is teaching me how the world works, how all these different industries and sectors work together to advance society. But by studying on exchange in Argentina, I’ll humbly say that I think I better understand how my little place in the world works. I do think that my vision for my own professional future has become much clearer.
As an aside, I spent the summer interning at Amgen, where I will return when I graduate. I remember reading through various VP’s bios and noticing that every single one of them had some sort of international experience. It wasn’t a coincidence. Maybe I’m biased, but I believe it’s nearly impossible to be a successful businessperson in today’s global economy without first-hand experience in another culture. Darden recognizes it too – the Class of 2015 will be the first cohort eligible for the Global Business concentration.
You don’t have to live abroad for a long time. But you need to be there long enough for the vacation feeling to wear off. You have to spend some time knowing how it feels to be confused about why they’re eating that weird thing (and being the only one who thinks it’s weird), being frustrated because public transportation is probably on strike again today, and needing forever to finish a DCF because you keep forgetting their computers use commas for periods and vice versa — because when you come out the other side you’re smarter, more at ease with yourself. You’re better at navigating ambiguity. Better at adapting in rapidly changing environments. Better at leading cross-functional, cross-cultural teams. Better at all those buzzwords employers are looking for.
If there’s one take-away, it’s this: Go. Go anywhere. And for longer than just a week or two.
Live abroad anywhere that feels weird or different or scary. Because in the end it’s all going to be okay (isn’t it always?) and the weirdness and differences and scariness will make you more adaptable, more strategic. It will also make you cooler because you will have awesome stories to tell at parties while networking. Personally and professionally, it will make you better.