Sofia Hernandez and Mikel Noriega met seven years ago in Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. Both were studying abroad through separate programs, though they had friends in common, and that led to their meeting. A few years went by and Sofia’s career progressed at H&M, where she was most recently a merchandise planner; Mikel worked in investment banking for a boutique bank in Mexico City called Alfaro, Davila y Rios. They began talking about business school and getting an MBA, and Mikel took the plunge first.
“We had been discussing business school for two years before Mikel decided to apply. I applied the following year,” Sofia tells Poets&Quants. “We started to look into business school as an opportunity to accelerate our career growth while sharing a life-changing experience. We also both wanted to live in a different country, meet new people, and travel.”
Mikel applied to eight schools and was accepted at Melbourne University in Australia. He was waitlisted at UC-Berkeley Haas and UCLA Anderson. When he got word that he’d been accepted at Anderson, the choice was easy. The couple moved to Los Angeles.
‘I KNEW I ONLY WANTED TO GO TO ANDERSON’
But first they got married.
“We got married right before coming to L.A., so this has been our new home and we had the chance to basically start our lives with a clean sheet,” Sofia says. “We are building our lives together and making strategic decisions together, considering all the possibilities that our experience at UCLA Anderson is opening up.”
While Mikel was studying in the Anderson MBA program his first year, Sofia applied and was accepted. It was the only school she applied to. In a common theme for MBA couples, Sofia and Mikel were not interested in spending any more time apart if they could help it.
“Mikel had been there for a year already and I had been part of the community as a significant other,” she says. “I knew I only wanted to go to Anderson.
“The highs have been sharing this amazing experience together and being able to support one another because we understand what we are going through. Another high have been the friendships we have made, both individually and as a couple. Having the chance to meet so many new, exceptional people has been amazing. Traveling has also been a high — because neither of us is working we’ve had the opportunity to travel to many places around the world.”
‘WE HAVE SUPPORTED EACH OTHER WHENEVER WE CAN’
The lows, for Mikel Noriega and Sofia Hernandez, “have been considerably fewer than the highs,” she says. That’s not to say there haven’t been some lows. “The economic situation has at times been hard, moving to such an expensive city after quitting our jobs,” she says. “It is difficult because we want to take advantage of our MBA as much as possible, but at the same time balance a finite and rapidly shrinking budget. Another low was having to spend most of the summer apart, while Mikel was working in Seattle for Amazon and I was starting my summer quarter at Anderson. It did give us some time to miss each other and further appreciate how much we support each other when we are together.”
For now, though, there are no kids involved, and the couple doesn’t plan to have kids until both have graduated.
They have more advice for couples who might consider going to B-school together: Plan ahead economically and be on the same page in terms of lifestyle and budgeting — and to really work on communication. “Be clear and honest with both emotions and opinions,” Noriega says. “Something that has worked for us has been to be open to all the different experiences. We try to approach everything with a positive attitude and never compare our experience with anyone else’s or with each other’s. It is amazing how even for the both of us, the experience has been extremely different in almost every area: academics, social, and professional.
“We come from different professional backgrounds, retail and financial, so both recruiting and classes have been very different processes for us, but we have supported each other whenever we can.”