The International Experience: What it's Like Coming to Grad School in America
It’s been hard enough for me to adjust to all of the changes that come along with graduate school, from living off of loans to having homework again. I only had to move up the East Coast to come to school though—I can’t image the transition my international classmates went through!
Given the importance of global perspectives in the business sector, most business schools aim to bring a significant number of international students into their programs. My school is about one third international, which is roughly on par with the class makeup of other similar business schools.
To give you a sense of what it’s like to move to the U.S. to attend an American business school, I talked to my friend Olga. Olga is Russian and has lived and worked in Moscow (speaking Russian, of course) for her entire life. While she had visited the U.S. before moving to Boston, it has definitely been a big change! Here’s what she has to say about the experience.
Why did you decide to come to America for business school?
I really believe that America has some of the best universities in the world, and I knew that if I came to business school here that I would be able to get an amazing education. American degrees are also really respected in Russia, so I felt comfortable that the investment would pay off—it’s a great way to set myself apart. My sister has also been living in the U.S. for a while, so I was looking forward to living closer to her.
How have you liked business school so far?
I like it a lot. When I was applying here, I didn’t know anyone, so I was mostly thinking about the academic side of things, but I was also excited to make some more friends from other countries.
I’ve been happy to find that people seem to be mixing pretty well—I don’t feel like people from certain countries only hang out with each other, but rather everyone hangs out with a pretty diverse group. I’ve gotten to meet a lot people with really different backgrounds, which has been great.
What has been the hardest part about b-school so far?
Reading the cases [our homework assignments] was hard in the first couple of weeks—understanding everything that was going on with the reading and then being able to talk about it took some time. It wasn’t a problem exactly, but it took a while to get used to.
There are also a lot of teeny, tiny details about the way people do things in the U.S. that I have had to adjust to. For example, when I was in undergrad I didn’t have a typical U.S. undergrad experience where everyone lived in dorms and did everything together. In Russia, everyone goes to school together, but you live elsewhere. People all live on campus in b-school, which in a lot of ways is great because it helps me to get to know everyone. But at the beginning, it also took some getting used to because it was hard to get any down time.
What are your post-b-school career goals? Do you feel torn about whether to stay here or go back to Moscow after school?
I really want to get some experience working in the main office of a large company so that I can learn more about how it is organized and how business strategy is set by senior executives. I was working in the technology sector, which I enjoyed, but I’m open to trying out new things in the U.S. so that I can get exposure to different industries.
In Russia, I was working at international corporations, so it makes sense for me to stay here and work at an international headquarters for a while so that I can continue to learn about how businesses are run. I don’t plan to return home straight after school, but I do in the long term—maybe after a few years. I could never say that I won’t go back!
What advice would you give someone thinking about moving abroad for grad school?
I would tell them that moving to the U.S. for b-school is worth it. Some things about the process are really, really hard, especially doing everything—including academic writing—in English and understanding the cultural ins and outs of the social scene.
In school, you will be in a classroom with a lot of confident, smart, native English speakers, so you do need to make sure that you at least feel comfortable with the language—I’d definitely do anything you can to practice before moving out.
Like I’ve talked about, adjusting socially at first can be a little bumpy, but things do get much easier after the first couple of weeks, and I’m now really enjoying spending time with my classmates.
Finally, I’d recommend booking your tickets home for winter break before you move—when you’re feeling homesick, it’s so nice to remember that you already have a flight home for the holidays.
What do you miss the most about Russia?
Of course I miss my friends and family, but I also really miss the Russian language. I like playing with words, making jokes, using different styles of words together to be funny—that type of thing. I’m a little less funny in English because the language is just different, and I’m not quite as familiar with it!
Leslie Moser attends Harvard Business School where she is pursuing her MBA. Before going back to school she worked at Teach For America where she tried to tackle educational inequity one email at a time. Leslie loves to travel, eat Thai food, and watch reruns of The West Wing.More from this Author