A Leap into Business School

"I was drawn to Stern in large part because so many of my fellow classmates will have similarly international backgrounds, and because I know Stern's reputation will precede me not just in the U.S., but around the world."

I am idly flipping through the pages of my diplomatic passport as I prepare to turn it in for cancellation. I'm sorry to see it go. That diplomatic immunity can come in handy, I understand. But it's a necessary part of the process of resigning from the U.S. State Department so that I can attend business school at NYU Stern (Stern Full-Time MBA Profile) this fall.

As I wait my turn, I think about what the passport says about me, with its stamps and visas. What it says about where I've been and where I'm going, and how business school, specifically, Stern, fits into that trajectory.

Just one look at the multitude of stamps makes it clear that I am a person for whom visiting the world outside the U.S. is not only a pleasure, but a necessity. I know that will continue after business school, as travel has been hard-wired into my system since my mother willed my one-year-old self to look cute for my first passport photo.

Drawn to Diversity

Traveling abroad, but not even just traveling abroad—actually living abroad, soaking in the food, the music, the politics, and the economics of a country—has defined more than half my life. I was drawn to Stern in large part because so many of my fellow classmates will have similarly international backgrounds, and because I know Stern's reputation will precede me not just in the U.S., but around the world.

As I look at the stamps of the places I've been with friends, I congratulate myself on what a good travel companion I am, very useful anywhere Spanish is spoken and pretty darn useful anywhere Russian is spoken. French is more problematic: I can buy overnight train tickets, but cannot be relied on to understand enough to make sure we get the sheets and pillows that usually make such trips more pleasant. I will eat almost anything, but have a special fondness for foods that require assembly: fajitas, sushi, Korean barbecue. From all I've seen so far, my Stern classmates are cut from the same adventurous cloth.

As I look at my first diplomatic visa, issued by the Embassy of Peru, I realize how much I am a product of the childhood and professional years I have spent in the diplomatic world. There are many more such visas in passports past, from when I traveled the world as a dependent of my diplomat dad.

Tailored for Career-Switchers

I cannot tell you how many times I have been complimented for being "diplomatic," only to have the person realize what they've said and, usually, laugh a bit self-consciously: "Of course you are, that's what you do." That may be, but I know a lot of diplomats who aren't in fact that diplomatic.

I'm banking on that skill, coming as I do from a nontraditional background, to be highly transferable and attractive to recruiters. On this same theme, another reason I picked Stern is because they have a unique program tailored to career-switchers like me—the Industry Mentoring Initiative, which matches students with mentors in the fields the students are interested in entering.

As I look at the many entry and exit stamps from the international airport in Bogota, Colombia, I am reminded that I am also a person for whom family is supremely important. The stamps are from visits to my parents when they were posted to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota. Growing up as a Foreign Service family, we moved every 18 months to five years. With my family now in Washington, D.C., I feel fortunate that I'm attending a Top 10 school in a dynamic city like New York—the dynamic city, one could say—only four hours from "home."

Selling the American Story

Now I'm looking at an entry stamp from Heathrow Airport, and I am reminded that I am a person with an unshakeable belief in the transformative power of words and stories. The stamp is from a trip I planned more than a year in advance just to see a favorite book brought to life on the stage of London's National Theater.

This affinity for words and stories is what attracted me to a career in public diplomacy at the State Department.

What is public diplomacy, you may ask? Essentially, it's selling the American story. As I transition into business school, this same affinity is fueling my interest in marketing. What is marketing if not using images and words to tell a story about how a certain product is going to fix your problem, fulfill a need, make you happy, or otherwise change your life for the better? This is a key reason I am attending business school: to gain the knowledge and skills I need to perform the marketing function I enjoy, at the high level demanded by American business. I am also looking forward to marketing products with which consumers have a direct, personal connection. U.S. foreign policy doesn't always fit that bill.

But that said, I am a person who loves her country. Looking at the U.S. entry stamps that pepper my passport, I am reminded of the countless times I have handed this passport to a dour-faced U.S. immigration official, only to have him or her notice that I've been out for a long time, and hand it back to me with a smile and a warm "Welcome home." I love to travel, but I adore coming home.

Taking a Chance on Ukraine

Back in the U.S., I am reminded of all that makes this country great, like our culture of accountability. Yes, there can be corruption, but there are investigations, arrests, and trials that are not shams. The respect for the rule of law, which underpins the economic engine of our country by ensuring that contracts are honored, and which makes Hernando de Soto's mystery of capital not so mysterious at all.

At the end of the day, much of what makes our country so great can be attributed, in fact, to business. The innovation, the high standard of living, our pre-eminence on the world stage—all of this would be more elusive without a strong economy. And when our economy takes a turn for the worse, those of us with MBAs will be uniquely positioned/expected to get it back on track.

I am a person who, in pursuing an assignment to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine (they have a lovely visa), took a leap out of my Latin American safety zone to go further east than I'd ever been before, to learn a language that I never thought I'd conquer, and to take my chances with Chernobyl radiation. I am a person who, despite my years of moving around, am still kind of surprised at how well I pulled off that particular life experiment. Not only did I land securely on my own two feet, but learned Russian and was a witness to an amazing moment in history: Ukraine's Orange Revolution.

Asking the Right Questions

And this brings me to the final reason I chose Stern. As I again feel the coiling of muscles as I prepare to leap—into New York, into the world of business after being immersed in government, into statistics and accounting and other foreign languages, and into a whole new career—I know that my Stern classmates, accurately described as "down to earth," laid back, and welcoming, will be there to lay a steadying hand on my arm when I land. As you think about where to apply for business school, make sure you know yourself. What do you need, what do you enjoy, and what's important to you? Find a business school that will answer those questions in the right way for you.