Home away from home: The international experience
By Nicola de Vera, Two-Year MBA ’18
Home is 13 timezones and more than 8,000 miles away. I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines, and had never set foot in the United States until I moved here for my MBA two years ago.
Even if it feels like I just arrived yesterday, the reality is, I am graduating in a few months. Crazy how time flies! There’s no way this blog could fully embody what being an international student at Johnson has meant to me, but it at the very least scratches the surface.
Elephant in the room
No three words perfectly capture the core of international students’ struggles than: “Do you sponsor?” A great majority of internationals come to the United States to find opportunities better than those available in our home countries. We have been advised against asking this question and other explicit variations, so we tiptoe around this elephant in the room whenever we interact with companies on- and off-campus.
Regardless of one’s citizenship, MBA recruitment is a tedious process. So much energy is spent on network-building, job applications, interview preparation, and actual interviews, especially if the goal is to switch careers or industries. For international students, there’s an added layer of visas and work authorization. Before we even begin asking ourselves, “Am I capable? Is it a fit?”, the first question we have to address is, “Is the door even open?”
I won’t sugarcoat it—getting a job in the United States is tough, but not impossible. Success comes with a whole lot of humility, patience, and stamina. And maybe a little bit of luck. Fortunately for us, we are surrounded by an empathetic and supportive community that willingly helps us practice and offers feedback on nuances of American communication that we’re not as familiar with. It’s definitely a silver lining.
Kids in America
I come from a country that uses English as its primary medium of instruction and consumes Western brands and media on a daily basis. For me, the move to the U.S. wasn’t as big a culture shock as expected. Sure, there were bits and pieces of American culture that I’ve figured out along the way—like learning what a yardline is or getting pinched for not wearing green on St. Paddy’s Day. (Why does America have so many holidays?) But the biggest adjustment I had to make was being comfortable in an extremely social atmosphere. Remember how we were taught never to talk to strangers? As soon as I arrived in New York, it didn’t take long for me to realize that Americans strike up conversations with strangers—all the time. Here, small talk is a way of life. The U.S. is admittedly louder and more social than what I’m used to, but any difficulties assimilating to this new environment I attribute to my introversion, not my being Filipino.
At Johnson, we have 38 countries represented in the Two-Year MBA program. This diversity in professional and cultural backgrounds allowed for fresh perspectives and a richer learning experience. Differences aside, we have a lot more in common than I initially thought. We go through the core and the rigor of recruiting. We’re part of a community holed up in this small town in upstate New York. I knew early on that I wanted to establish meaningful relationships with my peers. I felt that had I gone to a business school in a big city, with a larger pool of candidates, this would have been more difficult to attain.
Despite the inherent differences of Americans and internationals, we also speak a lot of the same languages—football, travel, sustainability, sarcasm, Game of Thrones, etc. I’ve had pretty remarkable conversations with complete opposites and it sometimes still blows my mind that two people from different parts of the world can get along so well. (I get excited about this more than I’d like to admit.) It’s amazing how our stories, passions, and interests bring us together and make the world seem much smaller than it really is.
Studying abroad came with newfound independence. In my time in the U.S., I learned to cook, lived out of my suitcase over a six-week break, and underwent the full cycle of loving that first snowfall, getting tired of the snow a few months in, and missing it when it’s gone. Being away from family, adjusting to an unfamiliar environment, getting out of my comfort zone, breaking and creating new traditions—these were all part of the deal. I constantly learn and find myself reassessing my values and redefining my goals. I get to try new experiences, have challenging conversations, and discover things about myself that I wouldn’t have known being in one place all my life.
I can’t think of any other experience that both breaks my heart and makes it grow by leaps and bounds. This whole U.S. business school thing—it’s difficult, but every day I am immensely grateful. Getting my MBA at Johnson was the riskiest decision I have ever made. But it was (and still is) the best one.
About Nicola de Vera, Two-Year MBA ’18
Nicola de Vera is from Manila, Philippines. She got her Bachelor’s in communication at Ateneo de Manila University and worked at AyalaLand Malls, Inc. before coming to Johnson. Her interests include travel, theater, technology, and design.