Survival Training: Why I Need an American MBA

November 5, 2013

Student Perspective

Elena Abramova

Elena Abramova ’15

I am often asked why I decided to get an MBA degree. This is mainly because I already have a master’s degree with a great GPA that might be important for American employers. I would like to answer everybody at once.First of all, my move to the US was connected with my career development. My employer was planning to expand the business to the US, and I was hired with prospects of long-term business trips overseas. Later the company opened a branch in Washington, D.C., and helped me to relocate.

So I consider an MBA degree as a next step, a career acceleration tool, an efficient way of professional and social adjustment. I want to understand why Americans are the way they are, how they do business, work, and become successful. That is especially important for me as a marketer—I need to know, understand, and feel the audience. I am now part of a student community of working professionals with great networking opportunities.

Second, English. On the one hand, academic and business vocabulary and on the other hand, colloquial speech and slang. The worst thing is stumbling upon terms that you do not know in any language. Or my special pleasure—sports terms and words whose meaning no dictionary ever provided.

Third, my first education has nothing to do with business and marketing experience; I am a linguist. Moreover, I got my diploma abroad. I’ve always worked in the marketing and PR sphere without a special education and that’s totally fine for Russia. But here, in the US, it looks like it would be a big advantage to have an education in the marketing field.

I should say my MBA had become extremely effective even before I was accepted. The process of choosing a B-school, participating in open houses, preparing and taking exams, translating and evaluating my diploma, etc. allowed me to know the US much better.

America is really a country of opportunities. Every problem has a number of different solutions; every goal has a certain path to being achieved. Life as a whole is very structured and organized.

Choosing a B-school was a long complicated process. First, I eliminated online education. I decided that I need to meet people and be in a social environment. Then, I searched all the variants available by location and cost. I scrutinized a lot of rankings, data of average graduate’s salary, and collected reviews and opinions among my friends and colleagues.

When I am asked whether it is important to have an MBA degree, I just quote one of our professors. At the orientation session he said that putting MBA into your resume did not work. But if you study hard, develop your skills and competences, use all the available opportunities to enrich your life and accelerate your career, then the MBA might become a real trampoline [Americans would say jumping board]. I absolutely agree with him as I noticed how many resources and tools for professional growth are offered by George Mason. Honestly, I hardly had half of them at my undergraduate college.

Will my degree be in demand in Russia in case I go back? Definitely. Though of course, not by itself, but in addition to the experience, knowledge and skills.

As I had lived in the US for two years by the time I got accepted, the graduate school has become a second wave of adaptation. In that respect, the management courses are highly effective as I am getting the core of American business communications.

What were my strongest impressions?

  1. The educational systems are different. It concerns both form and content. When I came to the very first class, I was greatly surprised that we had homework for it, moreover, a lot of people were prepared. The whole situation when no one prompts, reminds and asks is not familiar. You need to remember, find out and do everything by yourself. The scariest thing for me is you could not easily retake the exam. In Russia you always have an opportunity to retake an exam for free, or even do it many times. By the way, twice I read my grades incorrectly (I got used to very simple grade system, no percentage, just one of four numbers) and got terrified.
  2. Individualism, independence, personal space. That is especially noticeable in a learning team. Evidently that is the only way of existing in such a multicultural and diverse  society. On the other hand, simplicity and straightforwardness. Need help? Ask. Want to suggest? Go ahead. By the way my group mates helped me a lot, probably they believed (and they were absolutely right) that it was really hard for me.
  3. Infinite rationalism and depth of analysis. All processes and phenomena are scrutinised,  split into components, labeled and put into perfect order. There is a detailed methodology to making right decisions, avoiding typical mistakes etc. When I asked about intuitive solutions in business (as it happens very often in Russia), our professor said that they were possible in ethical dilemmas only.
  4. Amount of questions and topics deeply researched and analysed. Russian people often believe themselves to be special, creative, emotional and somehow enigmatic. At the same time Americans allocate a huge amount of data and research results on every single issue of an individual or society. They figure out tools of measurement,  find all the possible patterns, develop plenty of algorithms and provide not only multiple research results but illustrative cases as well.
  5. Attitude to money. Americans talk easily about their financial interests, actively negotiate, defend their positions. They could plainly explain their job change by getting a better paid position. In Russia people would beat about the bush and talk about career opportunities, more challenging projects etc. At the same time, Americans do a lot of volunteer work and maybe that’s why they easily differentiate personal benefits and non-profit activities.
  6. Gender blindness. First, I stopped getting embarrassed by discussions of any issues related to human health. Later I got used to humour that in my native country would be considered totally rude in mixed gender groups.

In conclusion I would say that studying is hard, but very interesting and useful. Especially if you are a foreigner who recently came to the US—the fact that is a great challenge on its own.

My further plans? Work, study, get professional experience and assimilate. Whether I stay here, return to Russia or go to any other country is still an open question.

This post was written by Elena Abramova (George Mason MBA class of 2015) and was originally published on

About Rebecca Diemer

I serve as the associate director for MBA Programs at George Mason University's School of Business.

View all posts by Rebecca Diemer

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