From the French Quarter to Quartier Latin: My Semester Abroad as a Tulane MBA

Why do we choose to leave established careers and steady paychecks and go back to business school? We all know the “right” answers: to gain knowledge, develop our business network, and hopefully boost the above-mentioned paycheck after graduation. However, in addition to all that, we want to gain a different perspective on the world around us. We want to experience freedom, meet fun new people, and have adventures—which are not always a part of life when you have a full time job and a plethora of responsibilities.
My goals were not very different when I started business school. After graduation I want to work for an international NGO, and I was convinced that getting international exposure was as important for my career goals as taking the right courses.  But I have to admit, I a lso wanted to experience living in a foreign country as a student, whose main job was to explore new places and absorb a new culture.
The Freeman MBA program offers plenty of opportunities to travel and experience new cultures.  The curriculum incorporates three amazing trips to Europe, Latin America, and Asia. While I loved going to Greece with my classmates and I am currently look forward to visiting China, for me truly experiencing a culture means spending a few months there and immersing myself into all the pleasures and challenges of living in a new place. I knew I wanted more – I wanted to see Europe, study there, hang out with some cool Europeans and eat their amazing food.
I decided to go on a semester-long exchange program, available through the Goldring Institute of International Business. The Freeman school has a long list of partners in a variety of geographic locations like Germany, Spain, Brazil, Colombia, Hong Kong and others. I wanted to go to France. I had studied French as an undergrad and really, you can’t go wrong with choosing Paris as your temporary stomping ground.
Once I narrowed down the country where I wanted to go, I consulted Janice Hughes in the Goldring Institute to figure out which school would suit my needs best. ESSEC is a Top 10 business school in Europe and is located just outside of the city of Paris. It has an excellent reputation among European employers (such as L’Oreal, LVMH, Societe General, and several major consulting companies) who often come to recruit there. The school has several campuses, including one in Singapore. ESSEC is known for its marketing department and especially for its luxury retail program, which exists under the umbrella of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy chair. I mean, where is a better place to study luxury brands than the capital of all fine things?abroad2
Once I decided which school I wanted to go to, the process was very easy and smooth: fill out the application, apply for a student visa, book a flight, and everything else is taken care by the international departments of the two schools. When it came time to register for classes, I could choose from a large offering in French or English. I took all my classes in English, making sure that I met all the core requirements of the Freeman MBA curriculum.
For those people interested in learning the language of their host country (of course, you better be interested if you plan to live somewhere for 4 months) the school offers a month of free (!), but optional language training before the business courses commence.
I have to admit that instead of studying French in the classroom, I chose to travel before the official beginning of the semester. Being in the European Union allows for cheap and easy travel. Many students managed to go somewhere new almost every weekend: Oktoberfest in Munich, road trips to Brussels and Brugges, EasyJet to Madrid or Prague. Others concentrated on seeing as much of Paris as possible. I decided to do a balancing act by visiting a few European cities (Amsterdam, Oslo, Copenhagen, Baden Baden) and also spending several weekends exploring Paris.
The school also organized a few trips, mostly day-long, to see places like Versailles, Monet’s house Giverny and a few others. One of ESSEC’s student associations called MELT organized several longer trips, such as the 2-day trip to the Loire Valley (about 3 hours ride from Paris), known for its gorgeous castles and wine caves. We stayed overnight in a town called Tours and got to experience France outside of the capital.
And yes, there was studying. One of the best things about studying at ESSEC was the international student and faculty rosters. In each of my classes over fifty percent of all students were international, just like myself. I met and became friends with people from Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, India, Korea, Iran, and many other countries. This international factor certainly contributes a lot to discussion in classes. Plus the opportunity to build a truly international network is unparalleled!
abroad3While the weekdays were for school and school-work, the weekends were all about absorbing the thousand things Paris has to offer. Gems like the Rodin Museum, Espace Dali, Musee d’Orsay, and, of course, the Louvre take a whole day to explore. And then there are lunches at the Latin Quarter, dinners on Boulevard Saint-Germain (beware of the high price tags), Christmas markets of La Defense and river cruises along the Seine.
And then, there is the food… An Australian friend of mine once said: “In Paris, I measure everything in chocolate eclairs.” In order to keep off the extra pounds I went running – not a difficult task when your morning route lies along the Seine and passes the Statue of Liberty (the baby version), the Eiffel Tower, the white domes of Sacre Coeur and Montmartre in the distance, and the numerous ornate bridges Paris is famous for.
Many people think that studying abroad is typical for undergraduate programs and unusual for an MBA student. We only have 2 years (sometimes less) to build relationships with our classmates, professors, and future employers. Before making the decision to go abroad for several months, I had to carefully weigh my options.  Having done that, I am convinced that this was a great decision for me. If you see yourself working internationally, if you love travelling and want to learn another language in addition to business curriculum, if you are adventurous and open to new experiences, you will benefit from programs offered by the Goldring Institute. It is a great resource, which maximizes the value of your Freeman MBA.
Written by Marina Brazhnikova, MBA 2