Education enriches you - and challenges you

4 minute read

Before Oxford, during my life, I had already taken a few unconventional paths. Born in Colombia, my parents and I immigrated to New York 20 years ago. Then we moved to New Jersey and then again to Pennsylvania. Next, I went to university in Tennessee. 

After graduating, I worked in Texas, then in Italy. I interned at a Moroccan human rights non-government organisation, then began my first full-time position in management consulting at Bain & Company. I then joined the United Nations for half a year. These places and experiences taught me a few lessons.

First, I identify as a global citizen…an immigrant...a dual citizen…a Colombian-American and a multilingual. This internationality is inherently part of my identity. Yet, having spent most of my life living, studying and working in the US, I wanted to widen my worldview even further. While working at the UN, I realised how much I appreciated and valued a multi-national environment of colleagues. Similarly, at Oxford, I knew my classmates would be from many nationalities, with no nationality making up the majority.

Secondly, I wanted to follow opportunities when they arise. Although there is a lot of hard work involved, 'success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.' Sometimes, that scholarship, that internship or job offer, that relationship with a mentor presents itself when you are not expecting it. If and when that serendipitous, opportune moment arrives, be prepared to recognise it, and pursue it. 

Being separately admitted to both the Master of Public Policy (MPP) and the MBA programmes at Oxford, and then receiving the Pershing Square Scholarship was an opportunity that I could not refuse.

Thirdly, the world is complex. Companies are not perfect. Governments are not perfect. Even the UN is far from perfect. These organisations need to do better; we need to do better, and there needs to be more cross-sector collaboration. Last year, I began (many) applications for both MBA and Master of Public Policy programmes. These degrees were important for my professional development, and I sought to further my understanding of business and governments (including intergovernmental organisations, like the UN). 

Most importantly, I wanted to understand the interaction between the private and public sector. The Blavatnik School of Government’s vision of a 'world better led, better served, better governed', combined with the emphasis on social impact at Saïd Business School, felt like the perfect combination for me.

When it came down to it, I was choosing between the top MBA and Master of Public Policy programmes in the United States and the 1 + 1 programme at Oxford. They were all unbelievable opportunities, yet only one choice would challenge me personally more than any other. 

Push me out of the US, push me off the typical path for consultants going to graduate schools, push me into a country where I did not know anyone, and into a university with 800 years of history and tradition and greatness to live up to.

Finally, I’ll end with this – the ultimate purpose of education is personal enrichment and introspection. My grandfather was a Colombian lawyer and magistrate who grew up in Paris and studied Law at the Sorbonne. He travelled extensively for a man of his age from Latin America – traversing Europe and making it as far as Morocco. 

Though he passed before I embarked on the journey of applying to graduate schools, I know he would have wanted me to choose Oxford. Because besides your education in the classroom, most learning in life happens outside of it. Of course, this includes learning from your peers (fellow Oxonians who are accomplished and intelligent and impressive beyond belief). But also learning from walking through buildings, taking part in college traditions (dinners!), studying in a new library every week, adapting to a different style of teaching, rowing on the Thames, and telling apart English from Irish or Scottish accents. 

These daily exchanges are part of the culture of this magical and charming academic town outside of London. These are not just educational experiences, but life experiences that enrich me and challenge me to change and improve every day.