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5 Things an International MBA Student Needs to Know

Sep 15, 2021
Vanderbilt Business Student Affairs Director Jeri West explains how to succeed abroad in business school

By Arial Starks

Earning an MBA degree can be rigorous for anyone, but when you add language barriers, cultural differences, and a new country to the mix, it can prove even more challenging. International MBA students deal with these obstacles anytime they decide to go to school in a different country, but Jeri West, Assistant Director, Student Affairs at Vanderbilt Business, has 5 tips to help make the journey to the U.S. a little less bumpy:

 1. Get involved at school

International students, like any other student, need to find a sense of belonging on campus. Whether it be joining an organization or club, students should get involved and connect with peers to gain a sense of community in a place far away from home. West advises international students to engage with students who don’t have similar backgrounds; in this way, students can become fully immersed in the U.S. culture and pick up on unfamiliar things faster.

“We find that this population of students appreciates connection and people taking interest in them. Mostly everything they’re doing is unfamiliar in the community. They’re great students, they’re just in a new place,” West said.

Jeri West

2. Find housing early

International students are encouraged to start looking for housing early once they have decided to travel to the U.S. to earn an MBA degree. The housing market is booming in many areas of the U.S., including Nashville, home to Vanderbilt. Finding somewhere to live can be a hassle, and getting it done early will help international students cross a big item off their to-do lists.

“Get here (wherever your program is) in time to figure out what’s important to you housing-wise, how close you want to be to school, and to have a good sense of which neighborhood you want to live in,” West said.

3. Research the networking style of the U.S.

Business is conducted differently from country to country, due in large part to cultural differences. In the U.S., it is important to learn to engage with different people and promote yourself through internships, jobs, and organizations. West says students should always be prepared to promote themselves and tell their story. By doing this, international students will be more prepared in business settings. 

“With networking, you’ve got to be expressive and that can be hard for many who haven’t had exposure to the U.S. networking environment. It’s about working on your story and putting yourself out there,” West said. 

4. Learn about the class experience of your program as an international MBA student

When learning in a new classroom environment, it is important to learn social norms and what is expected of you in order to be successful. In most U.S.-based MBA programs, students are expected to engage and participate in class. Vanderbilt MBA students are expected to participate in class and work in teams, where it’s important to join conversations and group activities.

“Being prepared for an intensive MBA program is very doable, but you’ll want to be willing to interact with classmates and engage in class in ways you may not be used to,” West said. 

5. Ask for help

In most U.S. MBA programs, including the Vanderbilt MBA program, faculty and staff are there to help you with a variety of requests. In the U.S., it is very appropriate to go to your professor or advisor for help and/or advice when you are having a hard time doing something on your own. West says it is important that international students learn this early on, so that they may use the resources provided for them in order to be successful.

There are tools here for students to take advantage of and doing their homework, and coming prepared for a rigorous but engaging and enjoyable time will help them be successful,” West said.

Click here to learn more about resources available for international MBA students at Vanderbilt Business.

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