Nicole Bake (Class of 2022) is a current MBA student with familial ties to Venezuela, Germany, Spain, Italy and the United States. She has lived in 5 countries, speaks 3 languages and is an EU citizen. Nicole shared more about her experiences at the University of Virginia Darden School with the Center for Global Initiatives. In her own words:

Tell us about yourself!

I was born in Venezuela.  My mother was born in Italy and grew up in Venezuela. My father was born in Venezuela to a German father and a Spanish mother. My father moved around to various countries growing up, having lived in Venezuela, Germany, the States, and Brazil. When I was about three, we moved to the States for my father to get his MBA. We then moved around to various states and also to Germany and to Belgium. Later, I went to the University of Florida for my undergraduate degree. I majored in Finance, minored in German, and studied abroad in England. After university, I went to Chicago to work for United Airlines. I lived there for four years and worked in a corporate finance role in which I helped raise debt, among other tasks. This meant that I got to experience being on more of the client side of investment banking activities. So, as I was thinking about next steps and what I want for my future, I thought that going into investment banking would be really interesting. I visited a lot of schools and ultimately decided to come to Darden. Over the summer before matriculation, I focused on transitioning out of my role at work and recruited for investment banking. I was extended an offer to join Credit Suisse for my internship in their Global Industrials Group.

Other fun facts about myself. Neither of my parents are fully Latin-identifying, but I still felt the Latin culture in our household. Spanish was my first language and is still the primary language at home. Some of my most comforting foods are from Venezuela, and I listen to a lot of reggaetón and love to dance. On the European side, Italy really influenced our family dinners because of my mother. I get almost pretentious about some staple Italian foods, like tiramisu, because my mother’s is the most authentic and delicious. While my mother’s food is the best, my grandmother’s is also phenomenal. My grandparents have always made sure we got the opportunity to know Spain through various trips and road trips. So, even though I’ve never lived there, I really identify with Spain for many reasons. I did, however, live in Germany, and I also have always loved that I come from Germany. I learned the language as I entered middle school, and I have many fond memories from my three years there. Even though I’m not Belgian, this rings a little true for my time there as well. My time in both Germany and Belgium were during my more formative years. This has likely influenced my fondness for these countries and cultures. To some extent, both of these places also gave me an affinity to feel more at home in global contexts because I attended international schools at which there were people from all over the world. This was a really unique experience. My favorite part is how welcoming and friendly everyone was to new classmates.

With regards to hobbies, I really enjoy being active. In my life, this has meant and continues to mean playing a lot of sports. My primary sport in school was volleyball and at home was tennis. In Chicago, I also started running a lot more, and I fundraised for Team World Vision in a few marathons. World Vision is a clean water charity focused on helping children. I have found that I have a big passion for helping children, so all of my volunteer experiences have been geared toward children. These include watching toddlers at Sunday school, helping during the annual Fantasy Flights at United, and most recently being a coach for Girls on the Run.

You’ve lived in 5 countries and speak 3 languages. How have your experiences living around the world helped you prepare for the global business market?

Growing up, I never lived in a house for more than two and a half years. It wasn’t until after university that I stayed in my Chicago apartment for four years. What useful impact has this had on me? I am extremely adaptable. I have never been afraid of change, and I have learned my way of dealing with change. Additionally, when I lived in Germany and Belgium, I went to international schools, where my classmates came from all around the world. I grew up thinking that diverse environments like this were normal. So, not only do I thrive in diverse environments, but I seek them out and I do what I can to make sure that the environments I am in are diverse. To me, it is incredibly important and valuable to every organization.

How has Darden expanded your international perspective?

What I really love about Darden (from the lens of expanding the students’ international perspective) is encompassed in two things:

  1. The first is that in every learning team, there is at least one or two international students. I felt that this was critical in my learning, both due to the different perspectives they brought to various cases and also because they were able to weigh in on cases that were set in their countries. In the scenario that a case was to be set in India, for example, having someone from India provide insight into the cultural implications of certain solutions to the problem was crucial. Cultural implications help us learn how to better react or how to communicate certain situations in various cultures. We recently talked about this in our Defining Moments class when discussing how to react to conflict in the workplace.
  2. The second is that there are so many amazing affinity groups at Darden, and they are all inclusive. I am on the board of both the Latin American Student Associate (LASA) and the Hispanic American Network at Darden (HAND), and we love to share our cultures, foods, holidays, traditions, etc. with our peers. Similarly, I love to learn about the cultures of others, such as those in the Darden South Asian Society (DSAS) or the Asian Business Club at Darden (ABCD). These clubs put on amazing events where students can taste cultural food, learn certain dances or celebrate certain holidays. These events are so impactful for me because they help me learn and create friendships with people from around the world. Many of these events present perfect opportunities to learn new tastes, new traditions, and new core values.

How have you incorporated your cultural background here at Darden?

As I mentioned, my cultural background is a bit of an unidentifiable mixture. I believe that’s actually where I bring the most benefit; it’s where I get that open-mindedness and that inability to be put in a box. That mixture has also fostered a curiosity in me to learn about other cultures. I’m generally excited to learn more about others, and in turn, they are more excited to learn about me. On that same note, I love to encourage my friends across various cultures to come with me to the different affinity group events if they aren’t already going, and this hopefully helps them grow too.

From my European side, I have brought my food to the Global Food Festival. There, I made Spanish food, including gazpacho, tortilla, and natillas. From my Latina side, I have brought my passion for dance, having performed in the talent show at the Global Food Festival. I have also brought my passion for Latin culture, encouraging friends to join various events put on by LASA and HAND.

What was the most unexpected thing you’ve learned studying at Darden?

It’s cliché, but I guess it’s just how strong, close-knit, and genuine the community is. I had a sense of this as I reached out to students and alumni in my MBA search, but maybe the reason why I’m surprised is just how it happens (even despite a pandemic). It happens through going through core together. It happens through getting involved together in various initiatives that matter to you. It happens by opening yourself up to being vulnerable and sharing or listening at events like Darden Stories or the Global Food Festival. It happens while you are staying up late, mock interviewing each other. It happens when the professors offer their time to get to know you by going on hikes or inviting you and your section-mates into their homes. It happens because you put in your effort, your time, and your everything while you are here.

Darden is for people who want to dedicate two years to the MBA program and everything involved in that. Darden is not for people who just want to check off getting an MBA. People here care, from the friendly staff, to the professors, to the students, to the partners… everyone. And that makes a difference. You can’t build a community like this if people aren’t involved and people don’t want to put their heart into their time here. That heart makes a long-lasting impact and is why Darden students have a reputation of being people you want to work with.

Any advice for incoming Darden students?

My advice is to be confident. You didn’t get to Darden by mistake. It is so easy to compare to others and feel like you are an imposter. However, not only are you here on purpose (the people in admissions read every word of your application and were excited to admit you), but you are capable of going after what you want. Once at Darden, you have a whole network of alumni that really have your back. They want to help you succeed, and you have all the resources you need at Darden to succeed. Focus on what you want to get out of the MBA, and you can achieve your goals!