Inside Michigan Ross: Being An International MBA Student In The U.S.

With my friends from Eugenia (Ukraine), Natalia (Russia) and Caleb (Nigeria)

It is never an easy decision to go back to school. For some, it means moving thousands of miles away from where you were born and lived your whole life… not to mention leaving the job you worked for years. 

Like many successful young professionals, I believed a better future awaited me. That’s what drove me to apply to top MBA programs in the U.S. Of course, the road to being accepted into your dream business school and landing a great job can be difficult. Between financial burdens, language barriers, and being away from their loved ones, international MBA students face many challenges on the way to graduation. In my case, once I started at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, I realized that I was not alone in my journey; I was joining a community that was full of kind-hearted people happy to support me.

Microsoft presentation in Seattle hosted by Ross alumni


In 2012, I was studying chemical engineering at Bogazici University in my native Turkey, and I heard that we could study one semester in another country. I was familiar with Europe, and knew German due to my primary school education; however, I had never been in the U.S.  I learned that a handful of universities had exchange programs with U.S. universities, and I decided to take advantage of this opportunity. I was accepted into the program to study one semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Those six months were the first time I was away from home for a long time. It was also an introduction to the kindness and snow of the Midwest and U.S. culture. 

I was touched by how people listened and supported me, and I was also impressed by the merit and reward culture and availability of resources and opportunities in the U.S. For example, I was a part of an international and local (American) student matching program called B.R.I.D.G.E. Through that program, my partner, Kendra Burpee, and I were awarded as Best Bridge Partners and Ambassadors. I realized I was able to leverage these resources and opportunities and be successful! These are the few things that impressed me coming from Turkey. As an engineer who is interested in the business world rather than core engineering roles, I decided at the age of 21 to come back to the U.S. after obtaining the work  experience required to pursue my MBA from a top business school.

In 2014, I started my career in GlaxoSmithKline in a commercial leadership program which I kicked off with my sales rotation in the local territories of Istanbul. I talked to the physicians about diseases and GSK’s products every day. Five years later, I ended up managing digital projects for physicians from over 100 countries in Latin America, Middle East, North Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia. After moving from a very local role to working in an exceptionally diverse environment, I again realized and remembered people from different cultures, backgrounds, and mindsets enrich my perspective of the world beyond what I had experienced or where I had lived so far. It was the same feeling I had when I was in Madison and I knew I wanted to keep working in diverse environments throughout my career. 

Out for Business – Celebrating Pride Week

At that point, I decided it was a great time to make my dreams come true and go back to school with my MBA in the U.S. I hoped to meet the people with whom I could exchange knowledge, culture, and experience. In making this decision, it was important for me to be in an institution where I could feel welcomed. More important, I sought a community that was empathetic, understanding, supportive, and globally-minded. Fortunately, I discovered the Ross School of Business and knew I had found such a place – where people value community as much as I do. I applied to the MBA programs simultaneously with my husband, Ozan Erdem, and we talked to many students and alumni from different programs. We were lucky enough to meet two Turkish alumni, Arif Keles and Sanem Simsek, who told us about their amazing experiences at Ross 10 years ago. We were really impressed by how enthusiastically they still talk about their MBA experience and how the resources at Ross helped them throughout their career. After we got the call from the admissions team, we knew Michigan Ross was the right choice for us.

We came to Ann Arbor for the first time to start our MBA journey after an 11-hour flight from Istanbul to Detroit in July 2019. Although earning my MBA in the U.S. was what we most wanted to do for years, I was having mixed feelings about leaving the country where I had lived for 27 years. When we were saying our goodbyes to families and friends, I knew that we were taking a risk by leaving our promising career and professional network that we had been building for five years in Turkey. I didn’t know if we’d be able to build that kind of network in America. At the same time, I worried about applying to jobs due to limitations of visa sponsorship.

We would also be discovering many new things, including simple items people take for granted in their daily lives: phone plans, credit cards, and shopping in large grocery stores. Because of my previous experience in Madison, I wasn’t too stressed about those details. Still, I can confess that we spent a whole day trying to decide on the phone plan and network we will use. My mentality is that we can figure out these kinds of details along the way by talking to our classmates or by asking the school during the Orientation. Luckily, in today’s world, we have access to every kind of information online, therefore, we were able to quickly build our new life in Ann Arbor in a week.

Nevertheless, I felt so excited on the plane about jumping out of my comfort zone on an adventure with a new blank page. I felt all these possibilities for the future opening up for Ozan and I.


After our long flight from Turkey, we went to the Ross building for the first time. When we walked in, I heard somebody calling our names: “Ebrar, Ozan welcome to Ann Arbor! How was your flight from Istanbul?” It was Diana Economy, director of Full-Time MBA Admissions.  She made us feel at home in Ross from the very first moment. I was also impressed that every member of the admissions team knew Ozan and I. Our other international friends also arrived that day, with many details such as where they came from, what they wanted to do after their MBA, and what hobbies they enjoyed. That’s when my journey at Ross as an international student started; it began with meeting people who were equally smart, kind, and willing to help each other — just as I wanted in my MBA program.

As I was getting settled during the orientation, Soojin Kwon, managing director of Full-Time MBA Admissions and Program, was welcoming the Class of 2021. Our class consists of 422 students, 27% of whom are international and represent 33 countries. During Kwon’s speech, I remember one thing she said really clearly: “This is your program and you need to own it. If you think there is an improvement area, please let us know and we can work to improve it.” 

MBA Student Orientation, 2019

I was very impressed by her direct and strong words and the program office’s openness to feedback. In fact, the launch of the STEM accredited MBA degree specialization was, in part, the product of feedback from international students and ongoing conversations between international students and the administration of Michigan Ross.


Networking is a concept unique to the U.S. We learned about the importance of networking in Orientation and were immersed in it throughout the year with over 100 events with companies and alumni. Networking includes many interactions between the job candidate and employees of the company or office the candidate is pursuing. These interactions start 4-5 months before the interview and, for many American companies, the chance of receiving an interview invite increases with the number of employees you interact with. 

There are two typical ways of networking: events and coffee-chats. Events begin with 30-minute company presentations before moving into intimate settings where MBA students ask questions on items like company culture and roles. The goal is to make a meaningful and memorable connection with the representative. These conversations can continue further through networking phone calls. Students can also network with company representatives by setting up coffee-chats (though there is rarely any coffee!), which can be school-facilitated or candidate-initiated. Often, these coffee-chats are one-on-one, where candidates can ask more specific questions to the employee’s daily life on the job.

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