Stanford was my top choice because of its emphasis on social enterprise, and Babson was number two. I didn’t get into Stanford, and I could have waited another year to apply again, but I decided to go to Babson. The vibe and the student body just clicked with my personality, and I was super impressed with the energy. In class, people seemed more relaxed than at other schools, like everyone is friends with everyone. It was all very natural.
I had a scholarship from the Saudi government that allowed me to spend seven months in Boston before I applied to Babson. This gave me time to study for the GMAT, work on my applications, and visit different schools. The vibe you get from the schools when you go to them is totally different from what you see on their websites.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced was convincing my father to let me study abroad for the first time. I’m the youngest of four siblings and so my parents are protective. I’m also a girl from Saudi Arabia, and while it’s becoming more common for women to go abroad, it’s still not as common as it is in other places in the world.
It didn’t happen overnight that my father was like, “Sure go.” I applied twice for scholarships in Saudi Arabia. When I was accepted to the first one in 2008, my father was upset about me leaving. I realized that it was probably too early for me and my career. So I told him, “Keep it in your mind, I’ll broach the subject again.” When I want something, I won’t forget about it for years.
Three years later, I applied for another scholarship and would ask him every day, and every day he would say, “We will see.” When I needed a final answer, I wrote him emails while he was travelling and did everything I could. I even met him in Egypt. I told him, “If you say no I will understand, but I would really appreciate it if you would say yes.” And he did. He even came to Boston with me and stayed there for two months. I wrote about that whole experience in one of my application essays. I said I’m living my dream by writing this application in Boston in my apartment by myself.
The best advice I received came from my adviser at Babson. I was super nervous when I first started the MBA program, and she said don’t get stuck on the details. Sometimes it’s stressful, but she pointed out that the journey is bigger than hard courses and the other things.
I was visiting family friends, and the dad asked me if the tuition was worth it. I already had a business background, so I didn’t learn as much in terms of hard skills, but my personality has changed a lot. Eight years ago, I was super shy. It was hard for me to mingle and socialize, but after Babson I have a lot more confidence in myself. I realized that everyone has positive and negative traits, so why just think about the negatives? I also learned a lot about teamwork. Every team has some sort of challenge, like different personalities or work dynamics, and I learned a lot by overcoming those.
During my first year at Babson I went to Uganda with the dean of the school in the Babson Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy to teach entrepreneurship to kids. I went with the mentality that I’m going to an Africa country, which stereotypically is a poor country. We might feel pity, but I realized that the people in Africa are happier than us. They know how to enjoy the moment.
I didn’t know how helpful teaching entrepreneurship would be since a lot of them might not start businesses. But I realized that it’s important not just for starting an enterprise, but for challenging them to think differently and in a more organized way. It was also the longest time I’d gone not speaking any Arabic.
Ultimately, I want to start a social enterprise, but I’ve been away from my country for a couple of years, so I need to be back here to see what has changed and develop my network. I’m thinking of starting it in two to three years depending on what the country needs. Until then, I’m thinking about working for an international company just because I want to practice what I’ve learned.
I was part of the Net Impact Club at Babson for two years. That made me realize that there are other people in the program who are interested in the same things that I’m interested in. There’s also the Women Innovating Now (WIN) program. It’s an incubator for female entrepreneurs. I had an idea, but I wasn’t ready to start my business yet. Still, it was really interesting to meet women who wanted to create their own companies in areas like education, energy, and social enterprise.
One of my favorite classes was Extended Enterprise Management by Marty Anderson. It looks at the whole enterprise instead of just accounting or marketing. We learned about building a business from the very beginning. Professor Anderson really inspired me to believe that you don’t have to have everything set in your mind before starting out. If you’re interested in something, just go look, travel, and figure out what you like. And one day you will have an answer for everything. He would say “travel naked,” which means just take yourself and your bag and go explore someplace new. This is my kind of thing. I’m an explorer. He would always say don’t get stuck, take some risks, learn new languages, learn new games.
My advice to MBA candidates is to put your eyes on the goal, enjoy the journey, and live now because when you look back you’re going to miss it a lot.