The lackluster job market has many people wringing their hands, but foreign students in graduate business programs here are surprisingly confident about their prospects. And if they don't find employment in the United States, they have no qualms about returning to growing economies in their home countries.
"At the end of the day, even if I'm starting in India and looking into the strategy of the U.S. market, it's the same thing as starting in the U.S. and looking into the strategy of the Indian market. So I am trying to keep my options open," says Jyothirmai Peddhinti, an MBA student with a focus on competitive organizational strategy and marketing at the University of Rochester's Simon School of Business.
Peddhinti, 26, is a native of Hyderabad in southern India. She is one example of the crop of determined, high-caliber international students who are pursuing graduate business degrees in Rochester. These up-and-comers already have proved their academic and professional skills in other countries and expect that to give them an edge over the competition upon graduation.
"(The economy) is worrying, but I try not to get really worried about this. I try to focus on how can I be successful without having to worry about the economy," said Odilon Nagay, a Simon MBA student from Brazil. "Having an MBA from a really good school already helps you to approach the market when you're trying to find a placement in the United States."
The economy is worrisome not only for international students, he adds, but for domestic students as well.
Both Peddhinti and Nagay, who are in this country on student visas, bring varied experiences to the classroom. Peddhinti has a master's degree in biosciences from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, a top institution known for graduating some of India's brightest minds. After earning her degree, she was picked up by a firm in New York City involved with bone marrow registry and DNA sequencing for cancer patients.
"They were back then trying to set up their first operations in Chennai in the south of India, so they were trying to recruit more students to train (in) the DNA sequencing labs and help them with their operations in India," Peddhinti says.
She traveled between Chennai and New York, setting up and managing operations. By the end of three years she was helping with DNA analysis operations in India, New York and South Korea. Those projects sparked an interest in management. She returned to India to help a new venture get off the ground before applying to schools in the United States.
"It was a very educational experience along with opening my eyes to the challenges of starting a company in India," Peddhinti says.
She examined schools thoughtfully. Peddhinti wanted institutions that were involved in health care; the Simon School was among choices such as Duke University and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.
"For example, the amount of research and the amount of startups that come out of Rochester just based on the research ideas are a lot," she says. "I was looking for schools with that kind of potential. I wasn't looking for just any MBA program; I was looking for MBA programs that gave me that health care leverage."
At Simon, Peddhinti has been president of the Health Care Club. She also has interned at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
Nagay is no stranger to new cultures either. He first came to the United States when he was 11; he has lived in Denmark and worked in Angola, Africa. The Simon School is a well-known name in his family; Nagay's brother, an international projects manager with the Brazilian Stock Exchange, is a Simon alum.
The Rochester institution won over others-including the London Business School-that accepted Nagay, 32. Simon's ranking as a finance school and its size were points in its favor.
"When I first came to the United States, my plan was to go back to Brazil after graduation," Nagay says. "Brazil's economy is booming, (and) the MBA salaries in Brazil are much higher than here in the United States."
Roughly a year into the MBA program, having concentrated on finance, accounting and other business areas and had an internship in Milwaukee, Nagay now would like to get a taste of being a professional in the United States.
So would Chang Su, a Chinese student at Rochester Institute of Technology's E. Philip Saunders College of Business. Su is working on an M.S. in finance. She is part of the first group resulting from a collaboration between Beijing Jiaotong University and RIT. Su happened upon RIT in her role as tour guide to four RIT professors and others visiting her university.
"Since I (took) them to classrooms, I also enjoyed their teaching and I got all surprised by the school," she says. "Before that I (didn't) hear much about RIT."
If a prospective graduate student is among the top 10 or 20 in academics at Beijing Jiaotong University, it means an automatic recommendation to RIT, adds Su, who two years ago was part of the China Future Leadership program. She was among 30 students from the Asian nation who each year get to visit and take classes at Ivy League schools and others in the United States.
Su would like to get a job here and make use of the optional practical training clause that comes with a student visa. Foreign students have the opportunity to work for a year upon completion of a degree. It will broaden her horizons and whet her appetite to try new things, Su hopes.
"I think it is a little bit difficult to find a job, but I always am confident if I try really hard I will get one; but if not, I'll just go back," she says. "The final goal is that I will have a job that I like, and I would be more interested in America, but if not, it's OK."
Rashedur Rahman, a Fulbright scholar from Bangladesh and an MBA student of finance and operation management at RIT, also is eager to learn how to teach and do research in the United States. While his visa status, J-1, requires that at some point he will have to return to Bangladesh for two years, he hopes he can get into a Ph.D. program in this country. Rahman, 31, is a lecturer on leave from the University of Dhaka, and this is his second MBA.
"My plan is to go for research and academics," Rahman says. "This master's program from a U.S. school definitely adds value to my career."
All four students are busy networking and exploring opportunities for after they graduate next year. The experience in the United States, after a few initial adjustments, has been enjoyable, they say.
Su cherishes her roommates from India, Dubai and the United States, while Nagay believes life here is easy; access to material goods, education and credit for an education all are pluses. Peddhinti, who is taking a group of friends to India for Christmas, is equally thrilled to be here. Being in a U.S. classroom has opened the door to diverse opinions and a deeper understanding of subjects. It also offers her an advantage as she combs through job opportunities, even if the thought of paying back student loans does furrow her brow.
"The main thing that I have to make sure I sell to (prospective employers) is the fact that I do have very specific industry knowledge," Peddhinti says. "I'm trying to leverage the fact that I'm unique in a few ways."
I admire her spunk and the conviction and pedigree of the other students as well. Though I doggedly pursued a job in the United States 13 years ago, I didn't have opportunities in my native country that exist today. These soon-to-be graduates, who have the benefit of academic credentials and professional experience, are operating in a global economy where the option of going home isn't bad at all. In fact, it just might be better.
Smriti Jacob is associate editor at the Rochester Business Journal. She may be reached at email@example.com or (585) 546-8303.11/30/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.