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Looking back, the agonies of making a life-changing decision have faded in my memory. Yet at the age of 19, excitement and anxiety ruled and every option seemed thrilling but fraught with danger. Choosing an undergraduate programme and university was a daunting task.
I feared making the wrong choice, having previously considered studying medicine. I had always travelled a lot and loved getting to know different people and cultures, so working closely with others and completing part of my studies abroad were important factors in my decision. As a result, I decided that management would be my subject and Università Bocconi, in Milan, the place. Ultimately it became clear that I had made the right choice; in fact, graduating from Bocconi not only gave me the opportunity to take part in an Erasmus student-exchange programme at the University of Birmingham in the UK, but also paved the way for applying to Cems for a pre-experience masters degree in international management.
Cems is an alliance of management schools and corporate partners that offers students a masters programme, partly taught at their home universities and partly at one of the associate universities abroad. The curriculum is not for the faint-hearted – it requires an internship abroad, language tests, skill seminars and a fully fledged business project involving one of the corporate partners.
When I applied to Cems, I had just finished a year in Turin working for the marketing and communications team at Abarth, the performance car division of Fiat. I loved my job, which made it hard to return to studying – plus admission to Cems was tough and the chance of rejection high. Moreover, I was concerned that taking the course would delay my entry into the job market, which could be perceived as a disadvantage for Italian business students. My friends and family pressed me to think of the long term and not give up on education.
I listened, and the day I was accepted at Cems I knew I had made the right decision. I would also get to study abroad for a term at the Richard Ivey School of Business in Ontario, Canada.
From that point on, enthusiasm became the watchword of my masters experience. It is what I saw in the other students, in the professors and in the people behind Cems. It was my weapon when facing challenges, helping to make them less frightening. Enthusiasm is what made fellow students return to the discussion when problems arose in a team. It guided me when I did not know what to do next; it was my cure for tiredness and discouragement.
If I have to single out one thing I have retained from my time there, I would say it is the experience of dealing with diverse people. Companies increasingly work in a global environment with multicultural teams, but sometimes they underestimate the challenges this poses. Part of the value of the course came from taking classes in cross-cultural management and putting what I learned into practice in assignments, exams and projects. I also benefited from the internship abroad.
There is no doubt that my time at Fiat before the Cems programme helped me get the most from my masters studies, and I wonder if gaining experience before the masters programme should be an admission requirement. Ultimately, though, I believe it was the exceptional quality of that work experience, rather than the experience itself, that made it so useful.
The value of my studies became clear after my term in Canada, when I moved to Paris to work for Aigle, a French clothing and footwear company. For the first time I was managing a project on my own and putting into practice much of what I had learned. It was a three-month internship, and I am sure I would not have finished the project in such a short time without my new skills.
I have now finished the course and will soon graduate. I am still not sure what I will end up doing. What has changed, however, is that I now have a better mindset to begin planning my career – and I know my enthusiasm is backed up by a new set of professional, academic and personal tools.