If you’re Brazilian and studying abroad for your MBA, you may be looking for a home away from home. The good news is that your fellow country men and women may be looking for you to become a member of their “solid community with the same roots.”
The top business schools in the United States are leading the way in establishing Brazil student clubs. This year, 11 students founded the first such club at Columbia Business School, with the stated goal of creating an ever-growing space for professional networking and Brazilian cultural events.
Columbia is the fourth of the M7 schools — the top B-schools in the country and always ranked among the top in the world — to establish a Brazil Club, but all have strong Brazilian populations, led by Chicago Booth School of Business at 3.4% and MIT Sloan School of Management at 2.9%. Northwestern Kellogg School of Management boasts about 2.7% Brazilians, Columbia has 2.1%, Stanford Graduate School of Business has 1.6%, Harvard Business School has 1.5%, and Wharton, at the University of Pennsylvania, has 1.1%.
“Here in the Brazil Club we are united through nationality,” says Pedro Coelho, president of Columbia’s club. “We all miss our country, our families, and here we have a solid community with the same roots.”
COPING WITH COVID RESTRICTIONS
From day one after graduating his undergraduate degree, Coelho knew he wanted to get his MBA and Columbia was at the top of his list. He wanted to focus on finance, and Co-President Daniela Boechat wanted to explore consulting. Both worked together at the same company in Brazil. Boechat had previously studied abroad, and she knew she wanted to attend her MBA at an M7 school.
“There were only a few schools that were worth being abroad for, and this was one of them,” she says. Another drawing factor: the MBA focuses on the two top career paths she was exploring, consulting and finance.
But studying abroad comes with its challenges, particularly during a pandemic.
“With Covid restrictions, international travel has been challenging because there are many restrictions,” Boechat says. “This club really stands out during these times, the club is like a supportive family that we chose, with others that share our culture.”
FAR FROM HOME BUT SURROUNDED BY ‘FAMILY’
The club is focused on supporting their community of incoming Brazilian students to the best of their abilities. “One of our priorities will be student outreach. We want to help them be prepared. We don’t want prospective students to miss out on scholarship deadlines, we want them thinking about this beforehand. Information on how to finance an MBA is crucial to incoming students.”
Boechat is focused on giving back to Brazil and sharing her resources and knowledge with society because the government funded her undergraduate degree. She feels a responsibility to help ease the journey for others. “We have to think of giving back to society, because society paid for our education,” she says.
Initially, the board gauged interest for the club through surveys given to the broader Brazilian CBS community; 130 Brazilian students. 98% thought the club would significantly improve their CBS experience, and 76% said if the Club was established, they would join. Of the M7 schools, three have a Brazil Club; MIT, Wharton and HBS. “That’s where the idea came from,” says Arruda Cerqueira. “We saw the other schools with established Brazil Clubs and thought ‘well there’s really no reason we can’t have one too!’”
While the club name speaks to Brazilians, students of other cultures are more than welcome to join. “We are not exclusively a club of Brazilians, we are a club to promote and share Brazil with others as well,” says Coelho. He says the club is separated into two blocks: a professional block and a social block. “Both of these blocks are important to sustaining the club because students are drawn to us for different reasons,” says Coelho.
About 70% of students are drawn to the club for the professional experience involving recruiting prospective students from Brazil, networking events including a speaker series, and an annual conference.
A VEHICLE FOR RECRUITMENT & MENTORING
Flavio Arruda Cerqueira began his education studying engineering at a Brazilian university, graduating in 2013. He then worked for six years at General Electric internationally, and came to study at Columbia in 2019. He decided to return to the world of higher education to explore investment banking after attending an information session at a Brazilian bank.
Upon enrolling, Arruda Cerqueira joined Columbia’s Latin American Business Association. Within LABA, Brazilian students often get together informally through group chats such as Whatsapp, but Arruda Cerqueira and the other Brazilian students were motivated to establish a stronger, more permanent home for their community. “Even though we have LABA we felt a need to have a more permanent Brazilian presence at CBS,” he says. The board also wanted a space where they could speak their native language, Portuguese, without language barriers; most LABA members are Spanish-speaking.
Arruda Cerqueira is the club’s vice president of communications, which involves maintaining relationships and connecting with business professionals. He’s thrilled to announce the club has been approved by the board this month, the month of his graduation.
Arruda Cerqueira aspires for the club to have strong alumni involvement, recruiting and mentoring incoming students. He recognizes the value in having alumni mentors on the ground to support incoming students through their transition to CBS. “Oftentimes the Brazilian students attend Columbia on sponsorship, and they plan to return to Brazil to work after graduating,” he says. Since they are returning to Brazil, it is crucial to connect the students with Brazilian industry professionals.
AN IMPORTANT COMMUNICATION CHANNEL
Boechat says the speaker series is an important communication channel between alumni and students. “Students can see who the professionals are and what they do. Having these meetings opens the communication channel, and that’s a huge part of our priority for us on the board of the club,” she says.
About 30% of members are drawn to the club for the social experience which includes trips to Brazil as well as local get-togethers centered around sharing meals. “Brazil is a friendly country and it’s very common to hangout with colleagues, get together and have barbecues,” says Coelho. They want to emulate this culture at CBS.
There are plans to host an annual Carnival trip to Brazil. In 2020, Arruda Cerqueira alongside a group of CBS students attended Carnival, and it has proved a great opportunity for students to immerse themselves in a weeklong representation of Brazilian culture. Covid permitting, the club hopes to bring a group in 2022.
For their first event in September, the Brazil Club will launch a dedicated Brazil Day within the LABA conference where students have the opportunity to network with industry leaders from Brazil. “MIT and HBS have a joint conference every year that happened just this week, where they bring in influential speakers such as the former Brazilian president. We thought it would be great to emulate this at Columbia too,” says Arruda Cerqueira.
BIG PLANS FOR BRAZIL DAY IN SEPTEMBER
Columbia’s Brazil Club wants to mirror this effective partnership model and plans to co-host Brazil Day, September 7, with neighbor NYU Stern. As proven through example, partnering with other schools increases attendance at events and opens up opportunities to call on a greater network of Brazilian business and government leaders to participate and interact with students, forming crucial relationships especially for those returning to Brazil.
Coelho says students who graduated a few years ago are wanting to get involved in the club. “We asked them if they’d like to be involved, and even buy the club’s t-shirt. There was a very strong response, they did want to. Many of them wanted to join the discussion and be involved.”
“Although the first class of the club’s students graduated yesterday, they will still participate in the meetings and engage in the discussions. We will continue supporting each other with networking and job opportunities and open the speaker series to our alumni as well,” says Coelho.
As a new graduate, Arruda Cerqueira plans on working in banking for Lazard, where he hopes to stay closely connected to his CBS Brazilian community and continue encouraging prospective Brazilian students to come to Columbia where he has left his legacy.
Both Coelho and Boechat graduate in May of 2022, and they have advice for prospective students. “Think about what you want to do with your degree beforehand, reach out to other students to get a greater understanding of the school,” says Coelho. Boechat adds, “Think about what you want to get out of this experience. It helps to have clear goals because your time in the MBA goes by very fast. Having clear goals can help assure you’re leaving with the experiences you set out to achieve.”