MBA Study Abroad Shapes “Who You Are and How You See the World”
By Becky Kramer
Melanie Wood has heartfelt advice for other MBA students at Washington State University.
“Do the study abroad; you’ll never regret it,” says Wood (’21 MBA). “You’ll carry the experience with you forever. It shapes who you are and how you see the world.”
Wood took part in an international field study to Finland and Estonia with fellow MBA students and faculty in 2019. The trip included visits to Nokia’s corporate headquarters in Helsinki and Rovio Entertainment, developer of the video game Angry Birds.
The weeklong trip deepened Wood’s appreciation for the tech industry’s global nature—an asset in her job at Microsoft. She also keeps in touch with students she met on the trip.
“Study abroad is quite different than being on a vacation,” says Wood, a senior Surface specialist at Microsoft. “If I’m in Finland on my own, I’m probably not going to tour Nokia’s headquarters and learn how the telecommunications company does business. And I wouldn’t be with a cohort of other business professionals.”
Wood earned her MBA last year. But she recently re-enrolled at WSU as a nondegree seeking student so she could take part in this summer’s MBA trip to Prague. “That’s how much I value the study abroad experience,” she says.
Appreciation for Other Cultures
The Carson College of Business offers international field studies through its online MBA and executive MBA programs. The elective trips allow students to interact with business people from other cultures and experience international markets.
“After a hiatus earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re pleased to again offer an MBA study abroad trip,” says Cheryl Oliver, the college’s associate dean for professional programs. “Students often tell us that study abroad was among the most valuable experiences during their MBA studies.”
Besides the learning and networking, the trips are designed to develop students’ appreciation and respect for other cultures.
“Even if MBA graduates never work directly on a business expansion overseas, the study abroad experiences prepare them to work in an increasingly diverse US workforce,” Oliver says.
Leveraging International Experiences
Wood spent four months as an exchange student in Finland during her undergraduate years, so she was eager to see the country again. During the MBA study abroad, she took the same overnight ferry trip to Estonia that she had as a young adult.
“I traveled back to both countries as a seasoned adult with an established career,” Wood says. “It was amazing to see the same places through a different lens.”
Wood extended her time in Finland to visit Microsoft’s Helsinki office—an experience she recommends for any MBA student who works at a multinational company.
At Microsoft, Wood’s sales territory for the company’s Surface hardware covers state governments in nine western states. But she still leverages her international experience in day-to-day interactions.
On a recent call, she sent a direct message to a Microsoft employee in Finland, letting the individual know she had visited the country. Effective networking relies on those personal connections, she says.
Making the World a Smaller Place
Wood used Microsoft’s annual tuition reimbursement to help defray the cost of her MBA. She spread the program over 3 1/2 years to balance her studies with work and parenting.
“It was empowering to choose school for me. I didn’t resent the late nights when I was staying up to finish reading a chapter or complete a project,” she says. “It was a privilege to invest in myself.”
The knowledge Wood gained during her MBA has enhanced her work performance. “Not all of it was book smarts,” she adds.
Working on long-term group projects strengthened her communication and teamwork skills. And the study abroad trip renewed her interest in other cultures.
“Everyone should experience being a foreigner in another country,” Wood says. “It gives you a lot of empathy for foreigners in the United States and the path they travel to get here. It makes the world a smaller place.”
Learn more about the MBA international field study.