Impressions of the Babson MBA International Component at Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, Spain.

Babson requires its two-year MBAs to complete an international component which may take the form of a “significant international experience.” When I heard that one of the options is a semester (three months) abroad in Madrid, Spain I knew I had to take a hard look at it.

The Babson Office of International Programs hooked me up with a Babson MBA student currently undergoing the program and he found me Andreas Berghoefer. It took some coordination, but after a few weeks, we finally hooked up on Skype this afternoon to go over his experience so far. Hopefully, Andreas doesn’t mind me sharing some of the things he told me here.

In brief: Andreas is from Germany, and a part of the two-year MBA program at Babson College. He was involved in a number of clubs at Babson, especially the Babson Family Enterprise Club. One of his main interests going to the Instituto de Empresa was to reach out to a wider European alumni network.

One of my first questions was on how easy or difficult it is to stay connected to the Babson campus while taking a semester abroad. Andreas said that he still receives all of the emails that he would other wise so that is good. However, he misses out on all of the hands-on activities including Buffoonery which is a bummer.

On the academic side, he said that the quality of each class depends largely on the professor teaching it. Sometimes slides are not translated into English very well and it reflects sort of poorly on what is otherwise a well-regarded program.

Another concern was the administration of the program–which he seemed to feel had more red tape and difficulty in changing than what you’ll find at Babson. He has felt this especially with regards to the IT department which sounds like it is in some state of shambles at Instituto de Empresa. Andreas mentioned that many of the group organization has been outsourced to Facebook at this point.

Back to academia, there is an enhanced focus on business plan writing which he didn’t feel was present at Babson. On the other hand there are not asa many electrified students with a start-up mentality in the program.

As far as networking with other students, there are roughly 60 exchange students at Instituto de Empresa. A good number seem to enjoy exploring Europe with many destinations within two hours reach. Andreas is of course from Germany, so he takes a number of weekends home there or visiting his friend in New York. The school seems to offer some opportunities for networking with other students, and it also hooks you up with a “buddIE” or mentor from the first year who you can hang out with.

There seems to be ample opportunity for social activity and enjoying life there. Andreas mentioned that he had heard from second years here at Babson in Wellesley that they have much more time on their hands compared to the first year. However, he felt that there was even more time for independence in Madrid. Part of this, it seems, comes from Madrid lacking all of the business involvement activities that are unique to Boston. This includes cross-campus activities and clubs at Harvard and MIT.

As for the basics, such as living–it seems to be a bit difficult to arrange for three months of rent in the city as most housing operates on a one year lease. On cost, the tuition is the same, but the cost of living is more expensive because of the weak dollar against the Euro.

My impressions

My desire to be in Madrid stem largely from my experience there in 2003. I was backpacking Europe on my own and ended up taking a week in Madrid thanks in part to the need to attend Radiohead’s performance at the Plaza de Toros Las Ventas on July 16th. I enjoyed my time there, spending entire afternoons smoking, reading and people watching in Plaza Mayor, it left a great impression on me.

However, I’m not going to be in the same place as I was in 2003 come fall of next year. I will be actively trying to complete a heavily invested MBA program. It sounds like I would have plenty of opportunity to hang out in Plaza Mayor, but what of the disruption? How badly will this interfere with a startup push, or attempts to find a job at that point? How much will I be missing out on if I decide to take three full months away from Boston?

It seems there is a heavy focus on living the life in Spain. There is ample opportunity to really enjoy the country for what it is. On the other hand, if I were to go, would I be treating it more like an MBA program, or an extended vacation abroad with a strong professional component? Which do I want? Does it matter? Will I get another legitimate opportunity to live in Spain or any other country for three months?

Conclusions

I think that I’m going to have to speak more to people who are going abroad in general. People who are interested in an entrepreneurial focus like me, and made the choice to go away anyway. Overall, I think that Andreas was able to give me an unvarnished description of what it is really like and I really appreciated the talk. He also mentioned that I might want to look at the Paris, Barcelona and Switzerland programs as well.

I don’t have a family business that I’m going to be operating when I get out of school, I want to go entrepreneurial if possible. Will losing those three months of being here in the states working on my project be detriment? Or will things in generally carry on much in the same way as they would have if I had stayed, only I will have regretted not taking the chance to leave the United States when I could.

I think that I’ll have to do a lot of more consulting in order to make a good decision on this.

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