Andrea Baji grew up in Hungary and earned a BA in international business at Corvinus University, Budapest, before her Cems masters in international management. She studied as an exchange student at the National University of Singapore.
I believe that the best way to improve myself professionally and personally is to step out of my comfort zone — and I wanted to test this hypothesis.
I always had the desire to learn about other cultures, to experience their lifestyles and understand their values — and by doing this, to expand my horizons. Through being enterprising and getting that exposure to the world, I wanted to develop qualities that are important to me: openness, flexibility, trust and willingness.
I needed a university where I could fulfil these ambitions, besides studying business. Corvinus University of Budapest, where I completed both my undergraduate and masters degrees, was a good match. High-quality education was essential, but the bonus was the university’s strong global connections.
The urge to stretch my comfort zone took me to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on exchange during my first degree. I had mixed feelings. “Will I fit in?” I wondered, being from a central European country which some people had not heard of.
The first month was tough, but the next three months passed like seconds. In class I discovered the concept of social entrepreneurship, which later inspired my masters thesis. We tested cola and nappies to understand the business cases for them as products. Besides the courses, I was introduced to the American culture through the world of student “frat parties” and turned 21 in Las Vegas, where I tasted the famous In-N-Out burger.
This adventure was an inspiration for my future. I wanted a masters that let me see the world, study in top universities and prepared me for a good career. The obvious choice was the Cems masters in international management, which included study at Bocconi University in Milan, at Corvinus and at the National University of Singapore as my next exchange destination.
I had never been to Asia, and wanted to explore the continent. This time I was more worried, as Asian culture seemed even further from mine. I wondered if I would understand the accent, if I could eat the food and bear the humid weather, or if the courses would be too analytical and my classmates much better than me. But this time everything went smoothly from the beginning.
Everyone was enthusiastic and had the same goals: to learn about business and experience Southeast Asia.
I could listen to the insights of venture capitalists investing in the region, solve business cases based on the strategies of Sun Tzu’s Art of War and evaluate wind power opportunities in the region. Working with students from around the world, I got to know different perspectives and work styles.
We bonded on our travels. I visited the world heritage site of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and snorkelled around the Koh Phi Phi islands in Thailand. I was in Singapore for the lunar new year, got to understand what a charismatic leader such as Lee Kuan Yew means for a nation, and how it is possible to build up a top economy consciously with long-term plans.
These experiences positively shaped my personality. I became more open and flexible in interpersonal relationships and new situations. The way I see the world changed. I have a broader knowledge of other cultures — I was involved in their values and traditions — and these experiences will always be the strongest reference points for me in the future. Finally, I became better in managing conflict through working in international groups.
My decisions have so far been validated by my experiences. Recently, I got the opportunity to work for German consumer goods group Henkel in Vienna. I am part of an international brand management team, which forms a bridge between eastern and western European countries. The knowledge from my studies and exchanges prepared me for this. I haven’t worked in marketing before, but I’m confident I can help the company achieve its goals.
Thinking back, it feels reassuring that I overcame my concerns about being alone in a foreign environment for half a year while managing high academic expectations. Now I am able to see situations that might concern me as challenges — and every challenge teaches you something useful and makes you more confident. I will keep on aiming to be better and expanding my scope — and I cannot wait to see what challenges the future brings to me.