Former Mastercard CFO Offers UVA Darden International Students Advice to Maximize MBA Experience
By Jay Hodgkins
When Germany-native Martina Hund-Mejean (MBA ’88) came to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in 1986, there were fewer than 20 international students out of 240 students total in her Full-Time MBA class.
How times have changed. Hund-Mejean visited the Darden Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a fireside chat with international students in the Full-Time MBA Class of 2023, of which 40 percent of the 351 students are international, representing 40 countries.
“It’s unbelievable,” she told the students about their representation. “You should be very happy about that.”
Hund-Mejean said Darden’s international students had some positive impact in her time, but not as great as today when students from outside the United States are a larger part of the class and can make their voices heard.
“The world has changed,” Hund-Mejean said. “It is much more global. That’s why the School wants you here. You can bring a different point of view to the table. And you are here because you want to hear a different point of view from Americans about how things could work.”
In today’s global world, Hund-Mejean said business schools can’t survive without the kind of diversity in the classroom Darden has achieved with its latest class, which is also composed of 40 percent women and 21 percent U.S. minority students. The former Mastercard CFO and current chair of the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees said major corporations wouldn’t consider recruiting at schools that don’t take international students as seriously as Darden does.
Advice for International Students to Thrive at Darden
Just a few weeks into their Darden experience, which for many is their first experience in the United States, the School’s international students were keen to hear from Hund-Mejean about how she carved out a successful career working for multinational companies based in the United States — a goal many of them aspire to achieve.
Hund-Mejean said a key for the next two years would be to figure out how to best take advantage of the three primary elements of the Darden experience:
- The classroom experience
- The social experience
- The recruiting experience
She acknowledged the classroom experience is intimidating for many internationals, as English is not the first language for many of them, but she implored the students to push themselves in the classroom setting.
“My one piece of advice: participate, participate, participate,” Hund-Mejean said. “It took me eight weeks to find my voice. It’s hard. But when you reflect back, you will see how it hones you. How it helps you engage with people.”
She also championed the importance of classes like “Leading Organizations,” which teach soft skills as opposed to hard skill courses in subjects like finance.
To take advantage of the social experience, Hund-Mejean acknowledged that some international students may feel different, which can be uncomfortable in social contexts, but said there is “an American curiosity” driving U.S. students who “genuinely want to understand you.”
Hund-Mejean advised the international students not to cluster among themselves too often. “You may feel strange about it. The Americans feel strange about it, too. It’s part of coming together. You can share part of your culture. It doesn’t matter if you are from China or Chile or Hungary or whatever. Share some of your culture.”
Hund-Mejean said by doing so, it makes the international student experience at Darden a lot more enjoyable and pays long-term dividends.
“It builds relationships so that when you really don’t understand something in class, you can talk to people,” she said. “But it also builds friendships for years to come. And it really helps when you want to go to a multinational company that wants to send you all around the globe. It helps you understand new cultures then, too.”
Lastly on recruiting, Hund-Mejean acknowledge that recruiting and earning a job — likely in the United States — is why most international students came to Darden, but that it’s a particular challenge for international students because resumes and interviews are completely different in the U.S. than in many other countries.
For resumes, she advised students take advantage of the services provided by the Darden Career Center to help them prepare the best resume possible. But she said interview preparation is even more important.
“The interview is a real Achilles Heel for many internationals. It was for me,” Hund-Mejean said. “You want to invest a lot of time. Get paired up with an American colleague who has been in the area or industry you want to go to.”
By getting the most out of those three areas during her time at Darden, Hund-Mejean said the School provided a transformational experience for her.
“I believe that Darden allowed me to thrive throughout my 30-year career in a way that I would have not been able to do without this experience. That is why I am so passionate about the School,” she said.
She also gave the students a vote of confidence about their value as future business leaders.
“You have what is so sorely needed in this world: Integration between different countries and cultures. In your interviews, you’re going to have to focus on that because you are going to need to make the pitch of why they should hire you.”
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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