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Leaving Family Behind for Your MBA

November 18, 2009

Welcome back to school class of 2010 and welcome class of 2011! We’d like to pick up where we left off from a story from a Booth alumna ’09 about her experience leaving her family behind in Europe while she completed the full-time program.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. Why did you want an MBA and what were your post-MBA goals?

I am originally from Europe and I have a degree in Economics and Sociology. I decided to do an MBA with concentration in Finance when I was still an undergraduate. However, later I got a great job in international politics and had children and it seemed to me that I should give up that plan. Three months after my second child was born my husband asked me why I was not pursuing an MBA. I laughed and told him it was too late … then the next day I looked up the MBA rankings to find out which school was right for me.

My post-MBA goal was to work in investment banking and this is where I will be heading after graduation.

As an international student with a family, did you consider attending a program closer to home? What made Booth worth the relocation for you?

Yes, I definitely considered being closer to home. However since I was a career switcher, and I wanted the degree to be worth the time I would spend on getting it, there was no question I would not do it in the U.S. where the best MBA programs are and at one of the top schools. Booth was a natural choice for me: I had a degree in Economics and Sociology, two disciplines that the University of Chicago helped shape and this was a great recommendation for me; I wanted a full-time program with a flexible curriculum to allow me to adjust my school schedule to my family life and Booth was the only top school to offer it; I wanted to be in a big city and not to have to commute; and, of course while having all of these qualities, Booth was one of the top 5 MBA programs.

Tell us about the decision making process/factors that led you to decide to complete the program without relocating your family to Chicago?

As I have mentioned, I wanted to recruit for investment banking. Investment banking recruiting is very time consuming, with many recruiting events taking place all throughout Autumn and Winter. At first, I signed up my children for school and I found a nanny for them.

Yet after it became clear that my husband would not be able to work in the U.S. (because of his immigration status) and that the children would be spending most of their time at school or with the nanny with me coming back home around midnight, I decided that they would be better off staying in my country with their father and a nanny they were used to, (I could not invite her to the U.S. because of immigration laws), friends from school they enjoyed spending time with and, of course, my parents.

What did you do to make the experience more manageable for you and your family? Was anything harder or easier than you expected?

I have an amazing husband, amazing children and amazing parents and thanks to all of them everything worked well. We were seeing each other once a month on average, I would travel back to Europe for weekends and my family came to visit me a few times in Chicago. I took slightly longer Winter and Summer breaks and we kept in touch over the phone.

Is there anything you would have done differently or know now that could have made the experience better for you?

I had to give up some of the social life at school and sometimes did not work out my homeworks but overall the experience was worth it and I do not think I would have changed anything significantly.

Now that you’re done (yay!) how do you feel about the experience? How does your family feel?

I am glad I did it. Two years is a long period of time yet it feels like 2 months at most. My objective was to change careers and have more professional flexibility and I feel that I got it thanks to the fact that I did not chose just ANY program. In my mind choosing a top program with strong recruiting opportunities is critical for those whose objective is getting a new career. My husband is a businessman who does not appreciate government work and he is glad I was evenutally able to switch to business. My children almost forgot I was in Chicago. But they do remember Chicago’s museums, two level transatlantic planes and… the school’s locker room in which they enjoyed running.

Is there anything else that you would like to share? Any words of wisdom especially for international students?

Changing careers is a serious move. Prepare for this seriously and choose the best program: a strong degree will open new doors.? For international students that often means moving to the U.S. where their partners do not have work authorization. But you should not be worried about money: many families manage to survive on the student loans. If your partner does not want to stay at home, the challenge is greater but still possible to overcome.

You will be surprised how time consuming an MBA is, especially for career switchers. It will be tough if not impossible to pursue the degree without your family’s psychological and emotional support: whether your family is with you or stays at home, you need to know that they will do fine without you being there for them all the time, and you need to find a way to compensate for your absence when you are not at school studying or recruiting.

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