Natalie Barbaresi (Class of ’23) is a second-year Darden MBA student focused on international business and general management. During her time at Darden, Natalie was a board member of both the Graduate Women in Business (GWIB) and the Darden Soccer Club, participated in Community Consultants of Darden and the SY Admissions Committee, and completed two Darden Worldwide Courses in Iceland and Bahrain. Barbaresi recently completed an exchange at HEC Paris and offered some reflections on her experience.

1) Tell us about yourself! Where did you go and why?

Hi there! My name is Natalie, and I’m a member of the UVA Darden Class of 2023. When I was considering which full-time MBA programs to apply to, I knew that spending some of my time in Paris was a top priority for me. This desire was rooted in my background: I studied French throughout my schooling, majored in French at Pomona College, completed the Middlebury Paris Study Abroad Program, and even had an internship at the US Embassy-Paris. As a result, France has had a significant impact on my life, and I felt that an immersive global experience would be the perfect complement to my MBA degree at Darden.

I was particularly interested in learning about how French business schools approach business education, conduct classes, build community, and prepare students for their careers. I found the idea of attending classes with students from a variety of backgrounds and learning from professors with different teaching approaches to be extremely engaging and invigorating, particularly in contrast to my Darden MBA experience. This made it an easy decision for me to apply to HEC Paris for Q3 of my second year… or, as they say in French, a “décision facile.”


Barbaresi stands in front of “The Thinker” at the Rodin Museum in Paris

2) How did the experiences you had at HEC expand your global perspective?

HEC Paris MBA has a student population composed mostly of non-French students, similar to other European business schools. In fact, more than 95% of the MBA cohort of 160 students came from over 50 different countries worldwide. Contrary to what one might expect, many students don’t necessarily choose HEC Paris to start their careers in Paris after graduation. Rather, they value the school’s international environment and connections, seeking to gain a diverse experience that they can leverage in their future careers. This focus on diversity is also reflected in the school’s inclusive community, which fosters interactions between students from different cultures and backgrounds. As a result, I had the opportunity to expand my understanding of global cultures, customs, and perspectives, while also building long-lasting connections with my peers.

3) Did this exchange program have particularly appealing characteristics or resources?

This study abroad program boasted several notable features and resources that enriched my experience in Paris. Firstly, the curriculum was thought-provoking and well-structured, enabling me to balance my academic pursuits with the opportunity to immerse myself in the vibrant city of Paris. Additionally, the dining hall offered an array of delicious and affordable meals, enhancing my overall quality of life. Moreover, HEC Paris provided a complimentary shuttle service that facilitated travel between the campus in Jouy-en-Josas and various locations in downtown Paris. The campus itself was also impressive, featuring breathtaking nature trails, serene lakes, and a grand chateau. Another key aspect of this exchange program was the inclusion of 45 international exchange students, who added to the diverse student body and provided an additional avenue for cultural exchange. Altogether, these characteristics and resources offered by HEC Paris made my exchange program experience truly exceptional.

4) What did you find the most valuable from your exchange?

One of the most valuable classes I took during my time at HEC Paris was “Ethics and Performance” at the Institut Sens et Croissance. This institute, located on the same property as the Monastère Notre-Dame de Sereys, serves as a consulting, coaching, and training platform for shareholders, top managers, and teams, as well as a research hub for leaders. As part of the course, a group of 15 students, including myself, traveled to rural France to participate in a three-day seminar at the monastery, where we discussed business ethics.


Barbaresi stands with fellow students at the Institut Sens et Croissance.

Led by Père Hugues, a former lawyer turned “managemonk,” the seminar was fully interactive and tailored to the personal questions and past and current professional experiences of the attendees. We were joined by two highly accomplished French business executives who shared insights into their careers and decision-making processes.

The remote setting of the monastery provided a unique opportunity for us to step back, reflect, and openly exchange management practices and their consequences. During our walks around the property, and over many delicious meals prepared by the nuns, I was able to get to know my HEC peers, Père Hugues, and the business leaders on a more personal level. The experience of eating together at the same table fostered a sense of intimacy and facilitated delightful and interesting conversations among all attendees. Overall, the “Ethics and Performance” course at the Institut Sens et Croissance was a standout experience that greatly enriched my education at HEC Paris.


”The Institut Sens et Croissance was a standout experience that greatly enriched my education at HEC Paris.”

5) What were the most influential or interesting aspects of living in a foreign country?

One of the most captivating aspects of living in a foreign country for me was the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the local culture and language. Having previously resided in France, I was able to reconnect with many French acquaintances and deepen those relationships during my stay. Exploring different parts of the country by visiting their homes and places they had relocated to was an enriching experience. Living with a French host also enabled me to meet new people and expand my circle of acquaintances. Engaging in conversation in French with them resulted in significant improvement in my language proficiency. I have always been fond of speaking and comprehending French as it allows for a more profound and authentic cultural experience.

However, I must emphasize that the most significant and impactful aspect of my stay in Paris this time around was getting engaged in the city of love. My long-time boyfriend flew over to Paris for a week and ask me to marry him at Place Dauphine. It was a momentous and romantic occasion that truly transformed our perception of Paris (and of each other) to one of boundless joy and optimism.


Barbaresi and her Fiancé in the City of Love.

6) Do you have any advice for students who may be considering an exchange to HEC Paris?

“Faites-le!” or “Do it!” in English. It is a truly amazing and life-changing experience.

Be sure that your graduation class requirements, extra-curricular commitments, and finances are in order before applying, but once they are, be prepared to experience the “joie de vivre” (or joy of living).