Chicago Booth’s International Business Exchange Program (IBEP) offers students the opportunity to study abroad in their second year at one of 33 partner institutions in 20 countries around the world. Students take the quarter-long opportunity to expand their knowledge of new industries and markets, practice a new language, and immerse themselves in local culture. While some students travel abroad to fulfill requirements for the International MBA (IMBA), others take the opportunity to deepen their business knowledge beyond the walls of the Harper and Gleacher Centers in order to discover the new, exciting, and altogether life-changing.
For some Boothies, the study abroad experience helps them rediscover valuable aspects of their lives that may have been neglected while studying and recruiting. “It reawakened my love of the arts,” says Jordy Freeman (’16), who spent the winter quarter studying at the Escola Superior d'Administració i Direcció d'Empreses (ESADE) business school in Barcelona, Spain.
“I took an awesome Life Philosophy course that utilized literature, music, film, and art to extract ‘principles’ for living a good life. I realized that I'd been suppressing my creative side.” Freeman took the opportunity to explore Catalonia, the northern regions of Spain, and nearby France, even meeting up with several classmates on a road trip full of adventure. “The experience reminded me that I'm at my best when I'm leveraging both sides of my brain.”
Just over the border in France, Rui “Vicki” Wang (’16), was exploring the luxury goods industry at the École Supérieure des Sciences Économiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) business school in Paris. “The MBA,” Wang proclaims, “is not only an academic and career development experience, but also a global exploration experience.” While some students might shy away from the local culture and stay close to the safety net of the business institution, many seek out the local environment and challenge themselves to break out of their comfort zone.
When they do so, students tend to be welcomed with open arms. “From my opinion, as long as you are open-minded, show your willingness to understand the culture, language, habits…regardless of your race or gender, you will receive a warm welcome,” says Wang who chose to study in France in order to expand her knowledge of international markets beyond what she has learned in the United States.
And further still, some students decide to enrich their studies not by traveling far away from their homes (Freeman is from Texas and Wang is from China), but rather returning to them with a completely new perspective. “I really enjoyed spending time in the townships of South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe,” says Alfa Bumhira (’16) who studied at the University of Cape Town, South Africa and took advantage of the country’s proximity to his hometown.
“I was raised in the Highfield Township of Zimbabwe and this was like my homecoming...I was able to learn more about the challenges of people from all walks of life and their interest in becoming a part of the change happening all over the continent.” Bumhira decided to spend his time not only enriching his own educational experience, but also the learning experiences of his local friends. “Booth has taught me that economic opportunities are for all. I enjoyed sharing my Booth experiences with ordinary people and fellow students I met in the townships where I grew up or in rural areas where my family is from.”
While the majority of students are perfectly content with spending their two short years exploring all that Chicago offers the MBA student, roughly 10-15% of students—like Freeman, Wang, and Bumhira—decide that a trip abroad is necessary. There is much learning and growing to do in and around the Winter Garden, along the halls of our River North campus, and at the University of Chicago. However, for those that feel the local experience is just not enough, a trip abroad during a harsh winter just might be the thing for you.
John studied abroad in South Africa as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. He is thankful for the opportunity that writing this article with Jordy, Vicki, and Alfa gave him to reflect on such a life-changing experience.