My unforgettable semester abroad in Madrid | By UBC MBA student Luiza Vargas
I always knew I wanted to do an international exchange. I am so passionate about learning and exploring different cultures that I began researching partner schools before I got my acceptance letter for the UBC Master of Business Administration (MBA) program.
I had 32 schools to choose from and I took three important factors into consideration: the city I would live in, the courses I would take, and the culture of the institution. Since I pursued the Innovation and Entrepreneurship track of the UBC MBA, I was also looking for schools that excelled in that area.
I chose IE Business School because I love absolutely everything about Spanish culture. I could see myself living in Madrid for the long term, there were 57 electives I could choose from, and the university was built by entrepreneurs and innovation and entrepreneurship are at its core. As a bonus, it was an opportunity to improve my Spanish.
Classmates turned fast friends and travel partners
My classes began in September 2022 and I loved every second of them – they were brilliant! In addition to the full-time faculty, the school brought in professors who were experts in their industries to teach a course for a couple of weeks at a time. That gave us different perspectives, very up-to-date practices with real-life examples, and a great network for the future.
I made friends on the very first day. My earliest friends were also exchange students and we bonded right away, so much so that we went on a trip together to San Sebastián in the Basque Country only 10 days after meeting. Within a few weeks, I got to know a lot of other IE Business School students and we went to coffees shops, birthday parties, and museums together.
Late-night studying and weekend getaways
The first six weeks of my exchange experience were intense. I took most of my classes at the beginning of the semester, whereas many students spread the seven courses more evenly throughout the three months. There were a lot of readings and assignments to do, but I also wanted to make the most out of my time in Europe.
I travelled every weekend after that first trip to San Sebastián. I went to Munich for Oktoberfest, Mallorca, and Zurich. It was an amazing opportunity to explore so many different places, but it meant a lot of early mornings and late-night studying to be able to enjoy all those weekend adventures.
Highlights of Global Network Week in Dublin
I was beyond excited when I learned that, like UBC Sauder, IE Business School is also part of the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM). In October, there was going to be a break from our regular classes so students could embark on Global Network Week – an opportunity to pursue intensive study at another network school. I was able to apply through UBC Sauder to participate in Global Network Week at UCD Smurfit School (UCD) in Dublin to take a course on digital transformation.
Dublin was incredible! The GNAM brought together MBA students from UBC Sauder, the Yale School of Management, Oxford’s Saïd Business School, EGADE Business School, Fundação Getulio Vargas, UCD, and many others. We had classes in the morning and went for company visits in the afternoon.
Dublin is a tech hub, so many of the world’s largest tech companies have offices there. UCD took us to HubSpot, Meta, IBM, and Accenture, where we engaged in discussion panels, case studies, and lectures. UCD also organized dinners and events for us so we could network with each other.
A road trip to the Dolomites with 15 MBA students and a stop in Lake Cuomo
Many of my UBC Sauder classmates went to Europe for Global Network Week. Students travelled to IE Business School, SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, ESMT Berlin, and UCD. When the week came to an end, we had several days before our regular classes started up again. Many of us decided to meet in Barcelona. It was such a unique experience travelling together in Spain.
During that trip, I chatted with a friend who was on exchange at SDA Bocconi. He was planning a trip to the Dolomite Mountains the following weekend with 15 of his classmates and he invited me to join. It was such a great opportunity to visit a gorgeous place while also networking with MBA students from another university. After I finished an intense week of classes at IE Business School, I flew to Milan to meet them. From there, we drove to Bormio, stopping at Varenna to have a coffee, and looking at Lake Cuomo on the way.
Reflections on a semester abroad to close out my MBA
Once I came back from Italy, I had one final assignment to present, and then I was done the coursework of my MBA. Spending my last semester abroad was the best decision I could have made, but it wasn’t without its challenges and downsides. I missed networking events, workshops, and moments with my cohort back in Vancouver. Many of my peers will not be staying on the west coast so I missed out on time with them.
Nevertheless, the life experience I gained and the amazing moments I enjoyed made it more than worth it. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to do an exchange and it is something I definitely recommend to anyone who has the chance to take part.