From Colombia to the UK: My transformative MBA journey |

From Colombia to the UK: My transformative MBA journey

By Craig OCallaghan

Updated Updated

Sponsored by Durham University Business School

If you’re looking to level up in your career, often the most significant way to do so is by studying an MBA.  

That was certainly the case for Federico Fernandez, a full-time MBA student at Durham University Business School, who chose to move from Colombia to the UK to complete his studies.  

Federico has ambitions to return to Colombia after his studies, having found the MBA experience at Durham a transformative one, opening his eyes to career possibilities he’d never previously considered.  

We spoke to Federico to learn more about why he chose to study an MBA at Durham and how the school’s MBA programme and well-connected cohort have given him the tools required to take the next step professionally. 

What were your motivations for studying an MBA? 

I worked in investment banking for five to six years, first working as a credit risk analyst for a year. Once you’re in that industry, you realise the best way to keep on climbing the corporate ladder is by doing an MBA. So from very early on, I told my boss during my initial job interview that I wanted to do an MBA.  

Another reason I wanted to study an MBA is I wanted more experience in many, many fields. I studied economics so it was very mathematics- and public sector- oriented and I wanted something broader.  

Now, I’m learning about operations, about leading and managing people, about ethics and sustainability. Those are things that I never learned when I studied economics. I wanted to give my career that holistic blend. 

What appealed to you about studying an MBA in the UK? 

From the beginning, I was pretty sure I didn’t want a two-year programme. It’s too much for me, even after a year I feel it’s too much for me because I enjoy working.  

In South America where I’m from, people always look up towards the US for their studies, but one-year MBA programmes are not very common there. One-year programmes are mostly in Europe. When I had to look at Europe, the UK was the only option for me.  

Apart from this, universities in the UK offer great prestige, reputation, career opportunities, and a massive cultural experience in a country that has a rich history. 

What made Durham University Business School feel like the right fit for you? 

Durham is one of the most prestigious universities in the UK, located in a UNESCO World Heritage setting. Its academic reputation and research are world-class and ranks highly in international rankings. Additionally, its collegiate system contributes to creating an entertaining student life and a strong sense of community. 

I looked at a couple of business schools and applied to some others, but Durham was better value for money. I think it was the best option and the curriculum was great. The modules, lectures, guest speakers, networking with companies and international business trips were the best possibilities.  


How have you adjusted to living in Durham while you study? 

A cousin of mine did her undergraduate degree at Durham and she loved the place and really recommended it. I also spoke to some study abroad agencies and Durham was top of the list. I had a lot of people saying it was a top university and going to be a great place for me.  

This isn’t my first time living in the UK. I lived here for a couple of months, around eight or nine years ago but that was in London. Now I realise London is not England, this is the real England. The north-east of England offers a real taste of the authentic British lifestyle and culture.  

The culture shock when I came at the beginning was tough to adjust to but you start growing in this environment. Since we’re such a small cohort and you know everyone, everybody’s in the same situation and we’re constantly trying to hang out or travel around together as a group. Also, the college system allows you to meet people and make friends quickly. 

What have been the benefits of studying a full-time MBA programme? 

From the beginning, I knew I wanted to do a full-time programme. For me, it’s not only about what you learn in class but the holistic experience: living abroad, learning in a different language, meeting people who don’t speak your language, going grocery shopping, managing your private life as well as studying and job hunting. For me, focusing on these smaller details and the intangible experiences really helped me to make the most out of the bigger picture In that sense, the full-time programme made a massive difference.  

How have you benefited from the wider MBA cohort at Durham? 

It’s such a wide and diverse cohort, not only people who speak different languages from different countries but also people from a whole range of backgrounds and industries.  

You have people who are in marketing, sales, agriculture, who are electrical engineers, even one person from a former military background. It’s amazing the type of skills they bring into the discussion, even the way they speak about certain subjects makes a total difference. The level of the conversation increases in ways you wouldn’t imagine. I think it makes it a much more exciting environment to be in.  

Another thing is that the average age of the cohort here is substantially higher than in the US. So, you have people with massive levels of experience. We have a guy who used to be CFO for Pepsi in Africa, in his mid-40s who brings a massive wealth of experience. It’s incredible the types of knowledge and experience people bring to discussions.  

How have the programme and your experiences shaped your future career plans? 

What being here and interacting with my classmates brings to the table is to open my mind to the point where I’m in a position to go into different industries. You come here and you know exactly what you want to do but being here for a year gives you a different view on what you want to do with your life.  

Learning from other people opens up your ambitions and your tastes. Now, maybe just for example, agriculture is what I want to do, or maybe entrepreneurship or consulting, when at the beginning I thought I was going to do investment banking. This is the real value of the MBA. The learnings gathered here have given me the skills that I need to either transition into different industries or continue developing my capabilities in my current industry.  

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