By Abigail Quinn

Mikheil Abashidze, a member of Darden’s class of 2021, is a citizen of Georgia, nestled in the Caucuses region of Eurasia. He came to Darden because of a fellow coworker he met while working in Tbilisi, Georgia: Mikheil heard his colleague’s reviews of Darden’s faculty, small class sizes, case method and career placement successes, inspiring him to move to Charlottesville with his wife to pursue his MBA at the Darden School.

Mikheil earned his Bachelors of Finance while he lived in Georgia, where his family owns a vineyard. Though he has family roots in the country, he was eager to gain experience in other parts of the world. “I wanted to move to a larger country and gain exposure to global business transactions…. I always wanted to have an American experience before getting my MBA in the U.S.,” he said. Thus, he moved to New York with his wife and went to work for Bank of America in a client-facing role. The move to the U.S., he said, was challenging as he “felt like [he] was learning and starting from the beginning.” “I always like challenges, though,” he said, and learning about American culture and corporate attitudes was a major obstacle that he eventually overcame as he worked in sales, built a new and helpful social circle, and even became a father. After two years in that role with Bank of America, still driven by his goal to work in finance, he decided it was time to get his MBA.

Mikheil prepared the grilled Georgian food at the 2019 Global Food Festival

Recruiting and challenging coursework filled his first year at Darden, but a light during this busy period came in the form of the Global Food Festival, hosted every year by the Global Business and Culture Club (GBCC). “When I heard about the festival, I knew I wanted to show my country,” he said. Along with his wife and another Georgian classmate at Darden, he created assorted dishes for students and faculty to try at the festival, including khinkali, which are meat-filled dumplings, and khachapuri, a cheese bread. The group from Georgia won the Best Food Award at the festival, and the incredible event solidified Mikheil’s interest in becoming more involved in GBCC. As his first year at Darden came to a close, Mikheil considered which organizations he wanted to seek leadership positions, and his positive experience with GBCC’s programming immediately came to mind. “I knew that I wanted to continue my contribution to this club,” he said. “I also wanted to continue learning about different cultures, and I love meeting people from different backgrounds,” he said. Mikheil now contributes his passion for global learning and cultural inclusion by serving as GBCC’s executive vice president in his second year at Darden.

This year brought challenges for student club leaders, not least GBCC; having a large, in-person Global Food Festival, GBCC’s hallmark event, was simply not possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. The GBCC board decided to put the event entirely online; “we knew we couldn’t just cancel such a popular event,” Mikheil said. Transitioning the Global Food Festival to the virtual environment was a huge success, and positive feedback from their online events encouraged them to continue providing online events. This year, GBCC began to create city guides for international Darden students “to help them see what different U.S. cities have to offer, especially as they recruit for jobs all over the country,” he said.

Mikheil is also thinking about in which city he may be next. “My idea is to go into the finance field, gain experience, and then start my own business,” he said. He likes the idea of combining finance and consulting to help clients navigate complex financial decisions and he attributes this dream to his Darden classes, especially those in entrepreneurship, that gave him the tools he needs to make his entrepreneurial venture a reality. No matter where Mikheil goes next, he will take his love of learning – and, of course, his cooking and culture – with him.