When people ask me today, “What was your greatest learning from your MBA at Yale?”, they inherently expect me to talk about the intellectual stimulation or the challenging coursework or about my learnings from the eminent personalities I met. But my answer is different. My biggest takeaway was the entire ‘study-abroad’ experience – the challenging, overwhelming, nerve-racking – but life changing experience.
Imagine this. You are in a foreign country, out of your comfort zone. You have to settle in, adapt to the new culture, make new friends, find an apartment and a room-mate. Then, you have to set up bank accounts, figure out your classes, your individual assignments and group projects -- all this in the very first week. Then, there is the cooking, cleaning and laundry that has piled up. And then, within one month, you will already have companies coming to campus, making presentations and holding networking events. So, you will zip in and out of resume and career development workshops and if that is not enough, you will have to also squeeze in time for a thorough internship search.
It’s not easy and might not be fun. But it teaches you invaluable lessons - lessons that no textbook can ever teach you. It trains you to become independent, to make your own decisions and correct your own mistakes. It teaches you how to budget your time and money wisely. It prepares you to become a super confident and mature individual. But most importantly, an international MBA teaches you how to survive and thrive no matter which part of the world you are in.
This experience and exposure, according to me, is the biggest advantage of an international MBA program. But apart from this, an MBA abroad can add value to you in several other ways.
Access to world-class professors: Studying marketing or finance in a good business school in India is not very different from studying marketing or finance in a good business school abroad – as far as classroom resources are concerned. Today, many schools in India also boast about wireless networks and are equipped with study rooms for group projects. The fundamental textbooks referred to in Indian business schools are not very different from their foreign counterparts either. Then what makes the difference? The professors. While several professors in India are no doubt intelligent and terrific teachers, often they are not the ones who have written the vital textbooks or cases themselves. Contrast this with learning the material directly from one of the co-authors of the textbook – a big possibility if you are studying at a good business school abroad. Now, when the professor teaches you the material, drawing from his personal experiences – the challenges that he faced, the decisions he had to make – it takes your learning to a completely different dimension.
Diversity of the student body: Business schools abroad use this factor as a major selling point for their program, and there’s a good reason why. Let me give you an example. In my MBA class, we had engineers, investment bankers and management consultants. But we also had doctors, lawyers, people who had been working in the non-profit sector, a teacher, a priest, a guitarist, a pilot, a producer and a professional hockey player. As you can imagine, the learning was tremendous – especially since we were strongly encouraged to share our views and debate in class. It was fascinating to learn about how a hockey player applies the same strategy concept taught in class to his game, as an investment banker applies to his mergers and acquisitions. ‘Diversity’ does not only include professional diversity, but also encompasses geographical diversity. Business schools abroad attract students from all over the world and it is common for a class to represent 25 – 30 countries. When you interact with and work with students from so many different nationalities, it really opens your eyes and changes your outlook of the world. You learn about their cultures and values, their experiences and perspectives and how things work in their countries. Diversity broadens your horizons and adds tremendous value. The more diverse the student body, the steeper will be your learning curve. Business schools in India recognize the value of diversity and are trying to encourage people from different backgrounds and countries to apply, but they cannot yet compare to the level of diversity achieved by business schools abroad.
International work experience: Many people consider an MBA today because their objective is to work in an international environment and gain international exposure. If this is important to you, then you should strongly consider pursuing your MBA abroad, since this would increase your chance of finding placements abroad. There are, no doubt, an increasing number of international companies looking to recruit some talent from Indian B-Schools, but these companies are still relatively few in number and they employ only a handful of students. The general rule of thumb is that you should pursue your MBA in a country where you would like to see yourself working, at least for the first few years.
Global alumni network: Many universities abroad have a long tradition of excellence and are hundreds of years old. They therefore have a stellar alumni network spread out all over the world, with some business schools proudly showcasing a strength of 70,000 and 80,000 alumni. That means that no matter where you travel to or where you work, you will always have a lifelong support system and global resource that you can tap into.
Wide range of specializations to choose from: Another advantage of pursuing an MBA abroad is that you have a broader range of specializations to choose from. In Indian business schools, you can choose from specializations such as Marketing, Finance, Information Systems, Entrepreneurship, Human Resources, Operations, Strategy etc. But if you want to do something radically different such as an MBA in Sports Management, Health Care Management, Change Management, Tax Management, Tourism and Hospitality Management or Real Estate Management, then an MBA abroad might be your best bet.
Access to global leaders, foreign bureaucrats, distinguished guest speakers and lecturers: Whether it is Hu Jintao, Bill Clinton, Michael Dell, or Jack Welch - it is easier to gain access to them and learn about their experiences while sitting in the audience, if you are abroad as compared to if you were studying in India. And it is not only the top business schools abroad that attract their attention. Even the smaller business schools often have world-class leaders who make appearances and address the students. There is a lot to learn from their experiences and definitely another value add of pursuing an international MBA.
Ability to expand your learning and take class across multiple schools: Most universities abroad run many different schools – one of which is the business school. An increasing number of business schools allow you to take classes for credit across the university. That means that while most of your classes will be at the business school, you can also take classes at the Law School, the School of Architecture, the School of Environmental Studies etc. You can even choose to study a foreign language for credit. This is great opportunity to expand your learning, and develop specific skills to target niche recruiters.
An international MBA definitely has its advantages, but it comes with its share of hiccups as well – primarily the added expenses and the extended application process (including the essays, recommendation letters and resume). But it is definitely well worth it and I would do it all over again if I had to. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, which will enrich the rest of your life and by the time you graduate, you will emerge a transformed person – confident, resilient and ready to take on the world.