Pursuing an MBA While Living Abroad

When Megan Salmon was accepted to the full-time, on-campus MBA program at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, she found herself at a crossroads. The same week, she was offered a position with the Foreign Service—a job that required a long and arduous application process. For weeks, Salmon struggled with the decision of what path to take. Ultimately, she felt that the opportunity to live abroad was too great to pass up so she turned down UNC’s offer.

Six months after moving to Albania, though, her aspirations to pursue an MBA began to surface again, causing her to feel conflicted. Her long-term goal was to start her own business—and she knew an MBA would give her the entrepreneurial skills to fulfill that dream—but she also wanted to gain some real-world work experience before doing so. How could she pursue both? A friend suggested MBA@UNC, and Salmon was sure she had found the perfect fit.

While Salmon wasn’t ready to give up her experience of living overseas, she also wasn’t willing to forfeit her entrepreneurial dreams. Now, as a current student at MBA@UNC, Salmon is able to live abroad while also earning a degree that will help make her dreams possible.

An Ideal Educational Fit

Salmon chose MBA@UNC for several reasons. For one, she had already thoroughly researched the on-campus program and knew that the curriculum aligned with her own professional goals. The ability to pursue the same exact curriculum that she would be learning on campus, but in the online format, would afford her the opportunity to receive the same quality education from anywhere in the world.

Another aspect that drew her to MBA@UNC was the support she received during the admissions process. While speaking with an MBA@UNC admissions counselor on the phone, Salmon explained that she’d be doing the majority of the program abroad. After asking whether the online program would be conducive to living abroad, the admissions counselor told her with no hesitation, “We will make this work.”

“That was very reassuring because with the other programs I was considering I would have had to bend over backwards—or be in a program that was not as interactive and not as comprehensive,” Salmon said.

As a student, Salmon has the flexibility to attend classes that are created specifically for people in her time zone, which means she can attend them whenever is most convenient based on her work schedule. Additionally, she has the option of Saturday classes, which was key for her. As Salmon’s job hours are inconsistent, having the option to focus on her studies on Saturdays—when she can almost guarantee she’ll be off—was a big selling point.

Another reason Salmon chose MBA@UNC over her other options? It was the only program that came with a strong recommendation from a trusted friend. Although other MBA programs were mentioned to Salmon as a way to add a credential to her resume, MBA@UNC was the only online program that was recommended as a reputable, rigorous program.

Applicable Knowledge and Skills

Fortunately for Salmon, her friend’s endorsement proved to be accurate. She found that many of her classes were directly relevant to her job with the Foreign Service. As vice consul, Salmon’s work involves visa and American citizenship applications. One challenge of her job was streamlining operations and minimizing waiting times.

As an undergrad, she wasn’t taught these concepts. However, one of the first core classes she took at MBA@UNC was Operations Management—and remarkably, there was an entire section dedicated to waiting line management. Following that module, Salmon was able to minimize waiting times and maintain an overall high level of efficiency. “The fact that the coursework was directly applicable the following Monday helped to prove the value of even just that module, let alone the entire class,” Salmon said.

That wasn’t the only online course that has proved valuable for Salmon. She also highlighted a core marketing class as one that stands out for being an eye-opening experience. While Salmon expected to discuss consumer perceptions and targeting demographics, she was impressed by the practicality of the topics covered.

Ultimately, the class was about creating a business—and designing a marketing plan for that business—something that Salmon has long aspired to. “I’ve been toying with a few ideas for years now, and it offered me an opportunity—in a controlled, supervised way—to explore one of these ideas seriously,” she said. She was also pleasantly surprised by a course on accounting—a subject that she admitted had always been her “Kryptonite.”

Professor Ashraf Jaffer clarified concepts that were previously difficult for Salmon to grasp. In fact, the professor was so effective in teaching the class that Salmon was sure she could run her own accounting firm upon completing the course. Not only did Salmon better understand the concepts related to the subject, but she was more confident in her knowledge and abilities to apply them to real-life situations.

Making Memorable Connections

I haven’t even finished school yet, and I’ve already been able to leverage connections I formed in the program.”

While Salmon stressed the value of the rigorous MBA@UNC coursework, she also emphasized the strong networks she made with other students. When Salmon began the online program, she didn’t expect to form the same kinds of friendships as she might in a classroom setting, but the program has surpassed all her expectations. Salmon’s courses require some form of collaborative work, which helps foster strong connections among students. “Altogether, you get to know someone fairly well over a 10-week period,” she stated. “And then you bookend that with the immersion experiences.”

Salmon attended immersions in both Istanbul and South Africa, and she advocates strongly for these weekend-long, high-impact experiences, which give students the chance to engage in dynamic discussions and sit in on lectures with a number of experts and thought leaders. While at the immersion in South Africa, Salmon attended a session on the country’s health crisis and its economic implications with Murray Cairns, a principal tutor at the University of the Witwatersrand. After listening to him speak on the topic, Salmon understood health care in an entirely new way. Still, Salmon emphasized that the highlight of MBA@UNC has been the students and the common bond they share. “We are all looking to make a jump and move upwards and outwards. We’re all looking to enrich ourselves,” she explained. “I feel very fortunate that our current student network is so strong, and part of that is because everyone is currently working, and students are exposed to opportunities and are open and free in sharing that information. I haven’t even finished school yet, and I’ve already been able to leverage connections I formed in the program.”