What are the qualities of successful business school candidates? Intelligence, flexibility, ambition, and a willingness to be exposed to new experiences — among others. If the experiences of some of this year’s cohort are anything to go by, then extraordinary resilience and steely determination should be added to the list.
As MBA and master’s students arrive on Europe’s campuses this month, stories are emerging of plucky students who refused to let Covid-19 stop their plans. We caught up with six who have overcome adversity to get to Europe.
Yara from Beirut, who does not want to give her surname, will soon start her MBA at emlyon in France, following a daunting array of challenges. She was unlucky enough to catch COVID in June which, she says, was stressful as some people refused to see her for the three months following her recovery. She was then in a shopping mall that collapsed following the port explosion in Beirut in August, receiving injuries that required treatment by the Lebanese Red Cross, as the hospitals were all full. Following this, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
OVERCOMING HURDLES FROM BLACKOUTS TO THE PANDEMIC
Added to this were financial problems. Although she has been saving for an MBA for five years, Yara was unable to access her money because of government rules limiting dollar withdrawals from Lebanese banks to $1,000 a month. Her employer began paying her into a different account, but ATM withdrawal limits meant it took up to three weeks to take her salary out. The bank refused to allow Yara to transfer money to France to pay emlyon.
However, she was determined to continue her MBA. “I decided I would not let the political situation, or the banking system, prevent me from pursuing my education. I could have accepted a family reason, but not this. I rejected the reason,” she says.
Yara had to ask a friend in France to pay her enrollment fee for her, and paid back his parents in Beirut in cash. Added to this were electricity supply problems in Beirut, which led to blackouts for up to three hours a day and made communication even more difficult. Finally, however, Yara has overcome all these hurdles and will begin her (delayed) MBA at emlyon in January. “Emlyon have been very supportive, I haven’t joined the program yet and I already feel part of the Emlyon family,” Yara says.
CHINA TO THE U.S. TO AMSTERDAM TO SPAIN
Tyler Douglas Berghorst, who has just started his MBA at IESE in Barcelona, had been teaching in China for the past three years. He was all set for his video interview in February and a month before, during the Chinese New Year holiday, he went traveling through Asia. As he was away, COVID exploded and his employer advised him not to return to China. He went to Mumbai, where he had a cheap bespoke suit made, then conducted his MBA interview on his phone from a hostel in Myanmar. “One thing that I really liked about IESE is that the interviewer went: ‘Wow, what an interesting story!’” Tyler says.
After traveling to China via Thailand — one of the few places with flights to China — Tyler received his offer from IESE. Then his real problems started. His residence permit was close to expiry, but embassies were closed to getting a visa for Spain proved impossible. He planned, therefore, to travel to his home state of Michigan as applying for a visa for Spain would be easier from there.
Three flights were canceled before he finally made it to the U.S. From there, he gained his visa for Spain. However, days before flying he heard from a classmate that the country he was planning to fly to was refusing to let Americans enter. So he hastily re-routed his flight to Amsterdam and arrived in Barcelona at the end of August, just in time to begin his MBA.
“When my third flight from China had been canceled, I strongly considered deferring for a year, but after a moment of wavering I became more determined,” Tyler says. “I had committed to this program and was so excited that I couldn’t give up.”
A BRIT IN OZ TRIES TO GET HOME
Bianca Sartori-Sigrist recently arrived in London to begin her MSc in Climate Change, Management and Finance at Imperial College Business School. A British citizen living in Australia, she was applying to programs and navigating interviews with Imperial just at the time when Australia closed its borders, on March 20.
“Like most of us, I never thought like most of us the ban on travel would last that long. The borders are still closed now,” she says. As a resident in Australia, she had to get a formal exemption from the Australian home office to leave, which took almost three months. She had to submit evidence that she was leaving for the long-term, such as proof of residence in the UK, course details, and details of her family in the UK.
Just a month before she was due to fly, a spanner was thrown into the works when the UK said that arrivals would have to quarantine for two weeks, meaning that she had to change her flights, which proved a headache because of the number being canceled.
‘I COULD HAVE DEFERRED BUT I DIDN’T WANT TO WAIT A YEAR’
Just when things seemed to be running smoothly, two weeks before she was due to fly Bianca’s airline introduced a requirement that passengers have a negative COVID test in the previous 96 hours. “My flight was at 9 p.m. on a Sunday, so I had to run around last minute finding a test center where I could get a results certificate in 24 hours, which no centers in Sydney could guarantee,” she explains. Finally, though, she made it to London.
“I could have deferred but I didn’t want to wait a year because climate change is such an important issue that it needs to be dealt with now, not in a year’s time,” says Bianca. “This is a unique course and Imperial is one of the best universities anywhere, so It’s worth making the effort to travel across the whole world for.”