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International MBAs


Students complete a group project during an international exchange. Photo by Ewan Photo Video.

Alberta is at a crossroads between its traditional global positioning as an oil and gas powerhouse and a more diversified energy economy that leads rather than overshadows other industries. It is now more important than ever for professionals in this province to expand their horizons and gain international experience.

While obtaining an MBA can help launch someone’s career to the next level, adding an international component to that MBA can open up an array of career opportunities that would not otherwise be available.

The Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business are recognizing just this: the increasing importance of the integration of global and local perspectives to a well-rounded MBA experience. Both schools offer international options that cater to the career goals of today’s diverse student bodies. Possibilities include one- to three-week summer exchange programs, a semester or year abroad, and international weeklong learning modules.

The University of Calgary is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The business school has spent the past half-century positioning itself as a premier educational institution for those wanting to further their business-related knowledge and launch their careers to the next step. Now, Haskayne offers a variety of opportunities for its students to strengthen their global perspective and become leaders who are ready to take on today’s multifaceted business challenges.

Tailored to senior professionals, Haskayne’s executive MBA program is rated in the top 20 in the world by Ivy Exec. The EMBA attracts a diverse student body to all of its streams, and particularly to its global energy EMBA program.

This program, tailored to senior professionals with an average of 13 years of work experience, has a unique international focus in that it is separated into intensive and compressed learning modules. Each of these is delivered in a different global location and the learning that occurs when a group of leading executives, 40-50 per cent of whom are from outside Calgary, travel together to energy centres in China, the Middle East and the U.S., cannot be replicated elsewhere.

The international experience extends to students in the daytime and evening MBA programs as well. Zhiwei Han, the director of Haskayne’s international summer MBA exchange program, has spent a number of years fostering summer exchange opportunities for students at 15 prestigious institutions across Europe and Asia. These have been wildly successful, and many students each year participate in exchange programs in the U.K., France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Japan, Korea and China.

Han says participants reap huge benefits from international summer programs, and students continually tell her these exchanges are amongst the most valuable components of the Haskayne MBA. “Students come home with increased employment opportunities, an expanded business network, and knowledge of international business practices and customs that cannot be achieved other than by immersion in another culture,” she says.

While all exchange programs have an academic component, international exchange programs also offer students a chance to get out of the classroom and participate in business tours – or even to work on a significant project for a local or international company. Visits to Alibaba’s headquarters in China or an Audi factory in Europe, for example, and the chance to speak with and learn from executives provides perspective and knowledge that can’t be learned at home.

And some students do not come back home right away. Instead, they transition their exchanges into jobs abroad. Students often structure an exchange to be the last component of their MBA and find the contacts they make with other students and instructors, or interaction with executives during company visits and guest lectures, lead to international employment opportunities.

Han is tirelessly dedicated to the students she serves and constantly strives to provide relevant opportunities. She keeps close tabs on what today’s MBA students are looking for and sees the exchange program growing alongside the global economy. With the increasing popularity of Haskayne’s exchange programs, she is aiming for partnerships in South America, Africa, the U.S. and other locations, as student interest dictates. She is also hoping to add exchange programs during the traditional school year to provide even more opportunities for the diverse student body, many of whom are fitting in a part-time MBA with a full-time career.

For those who are completing their MBA while still working full time, the summer exchange program offers an unmatched opportunity to study internationally, without undergoing the disruption a traditional semester-long term abroad would cause.

Andrew Bennett is currently enrolled in Haskayne’s MBA program, and expects to graduate this year. A petroleum engineer in a major energy company’s new ventures group, Bennett participated in last summer’s three-week exchange program at the London School of Economics.

Bennett is specializing in finance and jumped at the opportunity to study in a world financial centre to complement his Haskayne MBA. He is applying the concepts he learned abroad during an intensive course in applied valuation and securities analysis to his current position, and he finds having the London School of Economics on his CV is something that sets him apart from other MBA graduates.

Says Bennett, “Oil and gas is only a small part of the global economy. The program provided me with an exceptional opportunity to get outside of the Calgary bubble and expand my horizons on an international basis. The Calgary market is getting more and more competitive and there is a considerable advantage to having been exposed to different industries, cultures and diversity of thought.”

Bennett considers the people he met in the program to be one of its biggest assets, and echoes what other students have said is one of the greatest advantages of participating in an international exchange: the opportunity to meet people from around the globe. “The student body was very diverse. I have expanded my network and I now know numerous MBA students and graduates from world-class cities around the globe. My experience at the London School of Business has been a definite highlight of my MBA program.”

Haskayne MBA graduate, Vadim Demb, is a senior project engineer. He participated in a summer exchange to the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen, Norway, an exchange that is understandably a natural fit for Haskayne students, given that Norway also has an energy-based economy. The curriculum attracts students from around the world, many from top-rated schools.

Demb chose to participate in this exchange in large part to have the opportunity to meet and interact with such students, as well as learn from top professors and instructors with industry experience. He considers this to be one of the most valuable aspects of a summer exchange program. Demb, who completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary, was pleased to find, after participating in an exchange, the U of C experience is absolutely comparable on a global stage.

“The exchange experience was very valuable,” he says, a sentiment that is strongly reflected by the many students who take advantage of the opportunity to imbue their MBA degree with a global focus and see it pay off in dividends down the line.