Making it in Madrid: A Calgary Student’s MBA Abroad Experience


Before applying for her MBA program abroad, Alysha Kanji knew three things. She knew she wanted to study at a top university, achieve her MBA in one year, and to live somewhere in Europe while she completed the program.

She believed that a school that could meet these three requirements would give her more than just her MBA; she would gain a worldly perspective and have access to unique learning opportunities unlike any she’d encounter back in her hometown of Calgary.

Although Alysha had specific conditions in mind that would help her identify her dream school, settling on the right place and program was no easy decision. After months of dedicated research, Alysha narrowed her choice down to her two top schools: INSEAD a graduate business school with a campus in Fontainebleau, France, and IE Business School, a business program in Madrid, Spain, which conveniently provides complimentary Spanish lessons to those interested in truly immersing themselves in the local culture.

“I was looking for somewhere with a different language, and where I could get around without a car,” she says.

“The program offered at IE was taught in English, and the school offered free Spanish lessons each week, which made my choice clear!”

Motivated by her drive to experience a new culture abroad, learn a new language, and build a diverse network of global contacts and colleagues, Alysha accepted her placement at IE. It was settled: she was moving to Madrid!

Making Moves

To prepare for such a significant move, Alysha took online classes in Accounting and Spanish, used her class list to reach out to her new peers via Facebook, and finally, packed three hockey bags full of the belongings she’d need for her year abroad!

This year in Madrid was not her first time overseas. Alysha had previously traveled throughout Europe and Africa, but had never lived abroad for such a long period of time. Initially, Alysha was a little anxious about meeting new people and adjusting to a new environment, but she soon realised that the laidback Spanish culture, with its friendly citizens and siestas, made Madrid the perfect place for a year abroad.

“My first impression of Madrid was that it was very relaxed. People ate dinner at 10 p.m. and were very social and welcoming,” she says.

Alysha made friends quickly, and bonded with her fellow students by going out to enjoy the delicious, inexpensive Spanish cuisine. She grew very close to her roommate from South Africa, and the pair talked about the shared experience of moving to a new country far from home. Since many of her fellow students were also studying abroad, Alysha and her classmates were able to support each other and quickly became lifelong friends.

Life in Madrid

Along with enjoying a new culture, Alysha’s studies helped her feel at home in Spain. When Alysha started her courses, she had an immediate appreciation for her new environment, which also gave her a new perspective on her education and life back in Canada.

“Classes were great, and since you are learning with people from all over the world, it gives you a new perspective on your Canadian undergraduate experience,” she says.

 “My trip to Spain made me realize how lucky we are in Canada to do things like travel and study abroad.”

Her newfound fondness for home did not prevent Alysha from taking advantage of the many exciting opportunities abroad. She traveled cheaply, often for under 100 euros, and extensively on the weekends to cities like Copenhagen, Morocco, Egypt, and Prague. Learning about and experiencing these different cultures helped Alysha to become more open-minded, confident, and relaxed about new situations.

In addition to weekend trips, Alysha’s program offered students the unique opportunity to participate in a short exchange to Singapore, where they could travel to and learn about business in Asia and meet potential international business contacts. Both in Madrid and Singapore, Alysha discovered she had access to some truly remarkable professors who, much like their students, came from all over the world. By deciding to move to Spain for her MBA, Alysha benefitted from a truly global education.

Looking Forward

In addition to providing an accelerated path to her MBA, Alysha’s time abroad has given her a new confidence in herself and built enduring connections with her fellow students, both aspects that are crucial aspects for recent grads who are transitioning from student life to becoming young professionals.

By working within such a multicultural group, Alysha found plenty of opportunities to grow both as a person and professional. While befriending others came easily to Alysha, she found that working with her new peers wasn’t without its challenges as they each learned to accommodate different working styles. However, by meeting and addressing these difficulties head-on, Alysha gained valuable interpersonal and leadership skills that will enable her to thrive in a professional setting.

Alysha is now equipped with new skills and supported by a diverse group of friends, Thanks to everything she learned during her year abroad. She is enthusiastic about her abroad experience, and encourages other students to act quickly if they are considering studying overseas.

“I would recommend a study abroad experience to any student! My year in Spain opened up new doors and opportunities everywhere,” she says.

“There’s no time like the present,” she acknowledges. “Living in a different country for a bit will make you grow and evolve as a person and you’ll meet amazing people!”

Alysha still has a little time left before she finishes her program, and she is excited to make the most of her time abroad. Although her graduate education is coming to an end, this is just the beginning for her international business career.

Alysha’s top tips for studying abroad:

  1. Just go for it! You will never regret studying abroad, and the experience will give you a new appreciation for living in the moment. Additionally, the experience will give you a new perspective on the country you visit as well as your home nation.
  2. Be prepared to adapt, grow and evolve as a person. Moving to a new place can be challenging, but by going abroad, you will learn so much about the world, and yourself.
  3. Be open to new friendships! Try to get out of your shell, because by having the courage to say hello to someone, you may be making a lifelong friend. You’ll meet some amazing people abroad.

Contributed by:

Madison Burns, is Canada’s leading job board and online career resource for college and university students and recent graduates.

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