Maria Jose Rodriguez Cabrera, a student at IPADE Business School in Mexico, is currently participating in the Fall 2022 Darden Exchange Program. She grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and then attended Universidad Panamericana, where she earned a degree in Law. Before coming to Darden, Rodriguez spent 4 years at Creel, Garcia-Cuellar, Aiza y Enriquez where she worked as a Tax Associate. Rodriguez offered some reflections on why she chose Darden and what her first impressions have been.

1) How did you hear of Darden and what made you decide to study abroad here on exchange?

Darden is ranked as a top 10 business school in the U.S., with its name highly valued in the corporate business world. This outstanding reputation, combined with its academic excellence, was one of the main reasons I considered this school as an option. I’ve always been curious about the MBA experience in the U.S., and an exchange felt the perfect way to give it a try myself. An exchange would also allow me the opportunity to travel to nearby cities and meet different people with different backgrounds.

2) What was your first impression of Darden like? 

At first, I was nervous about finding activities and friends to spend time with. However, when I first arrived, I was immediately impressed by how friendly the students and staff were. Both eagerly approached me and made me feel safe, and part of the Darden community. I never felt alone. Even before I arrived at Darden, I had someone from the community reach out to answer my questions and share their experience.

I was also nervous about the academic requirements since Darden has a reputation for being quite demanding.  The academic requirements at Darden are, in fact, challenging. The staff, however, are always looking out for students to make sure they are achieving their maximum potential and thriving in their academic experience.

While I was originally a little concerned about living in Charlottesville since it is rather small, I’ve been also surprised by the number of after-school events organized by both the university and the students around the city. Through these events and the people I have met, I have learned that Charlottesville has a wide variety of delicious restaurants, and it is a very fun and entertaining city to live in.

3) What are you most looking forward to this upcoming fall? Any plans for activities outside of Darden?

I am very excited to travel around the U.S. I already have plans to visit many cities along the east coast with my boyfriend. I’m also planning to visit my friends from IPADE who are also doing their exchange programs here in the United States. I am particularly excited about visiting New York City and doing a trip to Disneyland in Orlando.

4) How does the academic experience at Darden compare to IPADE?

IPADE and Darden both utilize the case method approach so the class structure is actually very similar. In fact, at IPADE we have analyzed several cases that are written by Darden professors. On the other side, IPADE is a much smaller school, and there I find diversity very scarce.  This is a shame as I have found that Darden’s cultural diversity helps enrich class discussions and provide very different perspectives. Also, the sense of community and ownership of the Darden name is stronger here. Though students at IPADE wear the name with pride, I find it very interesting that here at Darden, it’s not just students who feel part of the community. Partners, kids, and even dogs, seem to be highly involved in all the after-school activities and feel like part of the Darden community.

5) How have you/or how do you plan to incorporate your cultural background here at Darden?

Mexico is an important business ally for the U.S., and therefore relationships with Mexican companies and government are very important while doing business in the USA. When Darden alumni land a managerial position in a large company, it is highly likely that it will involve business with Mexico. I intend to provide my classmates with a better understanding of Mexican culture from a business and regulatory perspective. Before my MBA, I was fortunate to work at one of the largest transactional law firms in Mexico City which allowed me to gain insights into major M&A transactions and learn the relevant aspects of these deals. While here at Darden, I intend to share those insights with my classmates and serve as a point of contact for them in Mexico when they need recommendations or insights regarding the Mexican business, cultural aspects, or regulatory context.