During the winter of my second year at Kellogg, I had the opportunity to participate in an exchange program with HEC Paris, a leading French business school. This would probably seem like a pretty standard MBA activity, except that winter was January of 2021— right in the heart of the pandemic.
I came to Kellogg with a goal to pursue as many global opportunities as possible—through academics, extracurriculars, and personal travel. I majored in Government in undergrad, and before business school I spent five years working at the intersection of politics and Middle East policy at AIPAC. When I applied to Kellogg, I wrote about my desire to capitalize on my background in politics and international policy, and pursue the study of business through an international lens. I ended up committing to Kellogg in large part because of the resources dedicated to global programs.
KELLOGG TEAM GOES ABOVE-AND-BEYOND
When I got to Evanston for my first year, I took advantage of every opportunity I had time for. I travelled to Seville and the Canary Islands on my pre-orientation KWEST trip, signed up for classes like “Strategic Challenges in Emerging Markets”, joined the KWEST Executive team to plan 30+ international trips for incoming first-years, and booked flights to Cambodia and Vietnam for my first-year Global Immersion in Management spring break trip. I was also accepted to study abroad on an exchange program during my second year at a South African business school.
With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, I became nervous that studying abroad would no longer be possible, and that I’d spend the rest of my MBA program with two feet planted firmly on US soil. But the Kellogg Global Experiences team didn’t give up. In a testament to the value of choosing a school that is heavily committed to international learning, the Global Experiences team moved mountains with Northwestern University to make it possible for a small but eager group of us to study abroad. Not just to participate remotely, but to physically move abroad for a quarter at a time when very few (if any) other US MBA programs were giving students that option.
When it became clear that my original exchange program wasn’t possible due to South African travel restrictions, the Global Experiences team offered me the chance to study at HEC Paris. Excited about the possibility of traveling abroad despite the pandemic, I recruited a close friend to join me in the program, and we found a long-term Airbnb in Paris’s Latin Quarter. After months of uncertainty and planning, I dusted off my high school French skills (aided by spending several weeks of winter break playing Duolingo) and flew from Chicago to Paris for the winter quarter.
One of the most valuable aspects of my exchange program was meeting classmates from all over the world. Kellogg is very international, but the majority of students still hail from the US. HEC Paris attracts students from across Europe and the Francophone world, and most of my classmates had not been living in France before the program. They were eager to hear about my experiences at an American MBA program, and I was excited to learn about their backgrounds and expand my global network.
PREPARING TO WORK WITH INTERNATIONAL TEAMS
Similar to Kellogg, all of my classes at HEC involved group work, and I particularly valued the opportunity to get to know students on a more personal level through those projects. I also had the chance to take classes with content or modalities not offered at Kellogg, including a particularly fun two-day intensive simulation course where I worked with a group to make operational decisions for a fictional startup. The group I was assigned to included students from different countries and backgrounds, which led to very different opinions on how to run our fictional startup. Over the course of the two days, we really got to know each other and were able to leverage our diverse backgrounds to improve the end result.
Living in Paris for the quarter gave me a completely different experience than I would have had if I had remained in Evanston. Living in a foreign country and using a new language every day is quite different than travelling on vacation. I loved doing day-to-day tasks like going grocery shopping (the cheese section is simply better at the grocery stores in Paris) and ordering crepes from the stand on my block. I even took up running as a way to see more of the city. I also had the chance to travel to the south of France with some of the other Kellogg students studying abroad, and explore Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence, and the French Riviera.
Just a few months after my exchange quarter, I graduated from Kellogg and started my job as an Associate at a global consulting firm. My experience on exchange has already impacted my experience in the business world. The group projects with international peers prepared me to join teams of international colleagues. This has been especially important as I’ve already found myself on consulting teams where I’m the only American. Thanks to my exchange, I’m more eager to take on projects at work that might require living abroad. The Exchange also helped me grow my global network and become closer to the Kellogg friends who joined me in Paris (one of whom is going to be a bridesmaid in my wedding next year!)
Kellogg students are lucky to have such incredible support from the Global Experiences team. With the worst of the pandemic hopefully behind us, Kellogg’s unique international experiences are back in full force. I would encourage all MBA students to consider an exchange program, even though it means spending one of the precious quarters of your MBA away from your university. For myself in particular, Evanston is a wonderful place, but you only get so many opportunities to pick up and go abroad for two months. I’m grateful for the role that HEC Paris played in my MBA experience, and for the lessons I learned both inside and outside of the classroom.
Bio: Marissa Wizig (’21) is a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management 2Y MBA program where she served as a member of KWEST Exec and co-President of the Women’s Business Association, and received the Dean’s Service Award for significant and lasting contributions to the Kellogg community. She is currently an Associate at a global consulting firm.