Ilja Orre is a current second year student at Darden. Originally from Finland, Ilja came to the U.S. to attend the College of William & Mary on a tennis scholarship, where he earned his BBA in 2012. Before attending Darden, Ilja worked in B2B marketing at Ferguson Enterprises. At Darden he is involved in the Darden Student Association, serving as the VP for International.

Please tell me more about your role as VP for International in the Darden Student Association (DSA). What made you want to run for this position?

I came to the U.S. ten years ago with a suitcase and my tennis rackets, and I am thankful for the many wonderful opportunities and experiences I have had in those ten years. Because I know what it feels like to come to the U.S. and have to navigate living in a new country, I am passionate about helping international students get on the right path in America. I believe there is still something to that “American Dream” that you can really make something of yourself and of your community when you work hard and have some luck along the way. In this way, I felt that I would be a good fit for this role; I know the great things that this country offers and I want to help other international students find their paths.

What are your goals while you serve in this role? How do you see this role growing/changing in the future?

As the VP for International I see myself as a connector between international students, DSA and Darden overall. This role is meant to be a way for internationals to voice their concerns and their feedback of their Darden experience. International students are a large and vital portion of the Darden population, so it is critical to have someone who can relate to the pressures that international students face as an ambassador to the rest of the Darden community. The importance of this role will only increase in the future as Darden strives to become increasingly global. Darden should be about building the world’s best MBA experience for international students, and to do that it needs input from its international students. I see this role as the bridge between these students and Darden leadership to enable and facilitate that communication.

Lowering the barriers to communication is my main task in this role. To do this, we are hosting town halls to bring people together and discuss issues facing the international community; meeting with first year international students to gather initial feedback; and we continue to work closely with affinity club presidents to keep these communications flowing freely. We are fortunate to have the administrative leadership we do at Darden who care so much about the international student experience.

What impact does the international community have on Darden?

Anyone who has been in a Darden classroom understands the distinctive impact that international students make on our community. Having numerous different viewpoints, backgrounds and cultural contexts from all around the world in one place is just fantastic. When else will we be surrounded and challenged by people with such diverse mindsets, opinions and experiences? That is where the real learning happens. The classroom experience is just one example of the impact our international students have on the Darden community as a whole.

Please tell me more about your summer internship in Finland. How would you compare learning in a global setting to learning in the classroom?

While I was in Finland before attending Darden last fall, I had lunch with a consultant from Bain’s Helsinki office and was impressed by what she had to say about that office. That lunch meeting put me in a good position to continue future networking with Bain, and after I started at Darden I flew up to Boston that fall to meet with other consultants at Bain. I decided to take the internship offer at Bain’s Helsinki office because it seemed like the best fit for me—I knew it was a place where I would learn a lot and have a good time in the process. I loved the work I did at my internship and the people I worked with, and after graduating from Darden I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to return to work for Bain in Helsinki. Although I am looking forward to returning to Finland, it will be sad to leave the U.S. after graduation. Having two places to call home  is tough; I feel like I am closing a door here for a little while, although I hope to do a rotation back in the U.S. at some point. I certainly want to build a global career and I am glad I will have the chance to continue to do that as a Bain consultant.

I believe the greatest lesson you can learn from going and working abroad is how to operate outside of your comfort zone. When you are in a country different from your own you have to relearn everything—it is difficult, challenging, and can be painful at times, but you leave that experience knowing that you are better for it. In a classroom, you are confined to a very structured and safe setting, but abroad you just don’t know how it is going to work. You have to take the initiative and figure it out, and you return with a deeper appreciation for the different backgrounds from which we all come.