Should you do an exchange?

by Arin Aghazarian, '15

Why are you here and not somewhere else?

Was it the academic rigor and the analytical thinking? If that is the case then maybe a study abroad experience is not for you. You will most probably not find a school with such strong academic credentials.

Instead if you were looking for an opportunity to explore new cultures, keep on experiencing new things and create a broad network then maybe you could consider an exchange.

Last year at this time I was pretty much having the time of my life. I had formed a close group of friends and was still meeting awesome classmates. The academic rigor kept me on my toes and I was involved in many extracurricular activities. Making the decision to pursue an exchange at that time was difficult. I didn’t see the point of changing something that was already great.

Thankfully, for career oriented and personal reasons, I applied for a study abroad. Fast forward nine months, I think it was a great decision – I don’t think any of the exchange students regret making that decision. In your second year, you’re pretty much doing "more of the same", great classes, study groups, TNDC, potlucks, maybe weekend trips, etc. As an exchange student you get to feel like the same excitement you felt in the beginning of fall quarter, except there is no recruiting stress. You get out of your comfort zone again and need to make new friends from different countries and different business schools. The MBA seems very short - two years will pass by fast but there is always an opportunity to make the experience even more exciting by doing something completely new.

  1. International experience – I chose to come to Paris because I spoke French but I had never really lived in Europe. While I had had a French education my entire life, I still felt a big culture gap between the French and myself. As much as you think you are ‘international’ and know about cultures, you will never really be able to adapt to a new culture until you actually experience it.

  2. New friends – During my few months abroad, I met people who were in the same situation as me. They had no family in Paris so we automatically became each other’s families. One important factor that is different in the exchange is that you’re not really trying to impress your classmates with your ‘intelligence’- you’re impressing them with your ‘coolness’. Everyone is on pass/fail so people are more relaxed and bond on a more personal level.

  3. Travel – Being in Europe, Asia or Africa, you get to travel to many great places at low costs. Most exchange students traveled to at least 3-4 countries over the quarter. Travelling from Chicago is difficult; everything is generally far, and the airport is always closed due to the weather, so an exchange offers far more travel opportunities.

  4. New classes - While Chicago offers an unparalleled academic experience, the courses offered at Booth are generally quantitative in nature and focus more on finance and economics. If you want to get a different flavor and focus on a range of topics such as luxury retail management or emerging markets, then I highly recommend an exchange.  Each partner school has a different strength and a prospective exchange student has a wealth of options to choose from.

I would highly recommend a study abroad experience. It is a great break before entering the workforce full-time and just an incredible opportunity to live in a new country and experience a new culture. It is just one more step that prepares you to be a global business leader.

Arin is a second-year student at Booth. She studied abroad at ESSEC, Paris in the Winter Quarter. During her spare time, she likes to wash clothes and clean dishes.