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Carolina On My Mind

Well, after almost two years abroad, we are moving back to North Carolina!  Tom has accepted a position in a company he is really excited about, which requires us to live in the US. This has been in the works for a couple of months now, but I needed to keep it under wraps until it was official, and he let his current employer know.

There are a lot of mixed feelings around this move. Though we left the US in January of 2020, we got to Portugal in March. This was right when Europe shut down and we’ve been in and out of different levels of restrictions since we got here.

We really haven’t had an opportunity to fall in love with Portugal. That’s not because there is anything wrong with Portugal, but because it’s hard to really get to know a place under these circumstances. Until this summer, restrictions made it difficult to enjoy the ease of European travel offered by living here as well.

Luckily, Ellie had in-person school most of the time and she has made wonderful friends who she will keep in touch with. Covid restrictions closed the school to parents, so Tom and I weren’t able to form the same community there. I have made some close friends, but the importance of community  became evident to me when I was back in North Carolina this summer.  For me, community is different than friendships (though there may be overlap).  It’s about having some sort of connection and regular interaction with people who have shared values or interests. Many of the farmers and regular customers at the Carrboro Farmers Market hold a significant part of my community and it felt so good to be back. Even going to Pilates and catching up with people I knew from before provided a sense of connection that I didn’t realize I was missing. I believe that we could have formed that community in Portugal if it weren’t for Covid lockdowns and such.

I’ve learned a lot about myself since we lived here, which has been very valuable.  Part of this relates to my identity as an American.  When we moved, it wasn’t to get away from North Carolina.  We really loved the area where we lived. That said, we had a lot of concerns about various matters/issues in the country and were also eager to remove ourselves from the hostile political environment. Here’s the thing though….whether I live in Portugal, the US, or Antarctica those same concerns affect me. I didn’t experience much of the hostile divide in my everyday life in the US. Social media was my main exposure to this divide which is something I experience no matter where I am living.  What I’ve learned is that I really do identify as an American, in addition to a global citizen. There are elements of the US that I’m proud of and others that I’m not. Moving back will allow me to be more active in causes that I feel strongly about.

There are a number of things I will miss about living here. Though I haven’t been able to spend much time with them due to lockdowns, my brother and his family live just 30 minutes away from us. I had looked forward to getting to watching my niece and nephew grow up. I love the pretty constant 70 degree weather with sunny skies, walking on the ocean every day, the incredible shellfish, and the extremely affordable health care!

There are also a number of things we’re looking forward to in the US.  My dad and stepmother are less than 15 minutes away from us and Ellie is looking forward to the weekly dinners they used to have. She’s also incredibly excited to be back with her long-time friends, get her driver’s license, and get a job. Ellie’s never been to Mexico, so we’re looking at a beach vacation sometime before she graduates. I can’t wait to get back to my friends, family, and also my community. I look forward to driving without anxiety, running more than one appliance at a time without blowing a fuse, not having to use a VPN, and grocery stores with so many options! Tom is most excited for the taco truck he has missed and the craft beer store where he meets his friends.

I’m also looking forward to language learning.  My Portuguese lessons challenged me in a way that I really enjoyed. Though I don’t plan to continue Portuguese, I am going to start learning Spanish.

The most significant things I’ve learned through this experience are more around how I want to approach life than anything else. When we first moved, our goal was to stay five years and apply for citizenship. Being open to possibilities allowed us to explore and pursue a path that was not aligned with that goal.  Since I’m a big planner and goal oriented, being open to different options is something that is difficult for me. Exploring, pursuing, and being excited about a path that is different from our original goal helped me learn the real value in being open to possibilities.

More than anything else, moving abroad has made me really see the world as a place that is open to us (well, except during a global pandemic). Moving abroad as a family is no joke. It’s a lot of work, logistics, and bureaucratic hoops. And we’ve done it now. Twice.  I have no doubt that if we want to do it again down the road that we can and we will.  It’s this confidence, this identification as a citizen of the world, that our students living abroad obtain as well. And it’s really an incredible feeling!

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School Visit to Nova Portugal

I recently had my first school visit since March of 2020!  Though there are visits around Europe planned to start in August, I was excited to have my first visit closer to home to Nova Portugal. In fact, it was a mere 15-minute drive from our apartment!

I do not fall in love with every school I visit. I first visited universities in Portugal back in 2018. There were not any blogs about this trip, as nothing I saw especially blew me away. My biggest hesitations were around the international student resources, and small international student numbers.  Portugal has done a great job at positioning itself as a wonderful place for expats and has created several initiatives to lure people to move to the country.  So, it is surprising that this isn’t done at the higher education level yet.

Photo by Francisco Nogueira

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into my visit at Nova School of Business and Economics. This school is actually a department of Nova University Lisbon university-a public university. Given the economic history in Portugal, public universities do not have a ton of surplus funds so you can imagine my surprise when I pulled up here.

As noted, my visit was specifically with Nova School of Business and Economics (Nova SBE) is n Carcavelos, which is about 20 minutes by train to the city center in Lisbon.  The recent history of this school is quite fascinating!  Just over a decade ago, the dean of the school- Alfredo de Sousa-decided he wanted to turn the school into one of the premiere business schools in Europe, with unique offerings and features. He first went to the government for funding, and they said they could offer moral support, but not financial (this was during the Portuguese financial crisis). This did not prevent Mr. de Sousa from pursuing his goal and he spent the next 7 years raising 56 million euros for the project from donors all around the world. A foundation was created that funded the new campus and continues continue to exist with the sole purpose of supporting campus maintenance and scientific endeavors.

I must take a minute to talk about the campus as this is one of the unique aspects introduced.  When I tell you that this school is right on the ocean, I mean that it literally right there! You walk through a campus underpass and there it is! The Carcavelos beach is known as a surfing hotspot in the country, and I must tell you, I think the weather in this part of Portugal is as close to perfect as it gets. Photo by Francisco Nogueira

The new Nova SBE facilities were completed in 2018 and are breathtaking. The campus includes 55 classroom (many with an ocean view), 26 amphitheaters, 24-hour study spaces, a food court, postal delivery service area, medical center, and on campus housing.  The on-campus housing is limited (122 rooms) but there are other student housing providers in the area. This is much more extensive than what is often provided at the departmental level at most European universities.

As impressive as the facilities is the fact that the school has triple crown accreditation. Let me take a minute to explain what that means. All of the schools we list in our database are fully accredited.  Business schools can also seek these “extra” international accreditations through AACSB, EQUIS, and AMBA.  AMBA accredits only the MBA program, while AACSB and EQUIS accredit the entire business school. These accreditations look at things that I think really matter about the educational experience.  Factors assessed include engagement among students and faculty; mission statement; instruction quality; teaching effectiveness; curriculum development, content, and review; corporate connections; internationalization; personal and professional development opportunities for students; and balance of emphasis on knowledge and skills.  Unlike global rankings, which are based entirely on research related criteria, these factors really have an impact on the student’s experience and outcomes! To have any of these accreditations is notable, but to have all three is extremely rare (less than 1% of business schools around the world have it) and is referred to as triple crown accreditation. Given that Nova SBE has the accreditation you can know that the agencies vetted them thoroughly for these factors.

All of the programs at the business school are taught in English and have been since 2010.  There are three bachelor’s programs (Management, Economics, and Portuguese and Business), seven master’s (Business Analytics, Economics, Finance, Management, International Management, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, International Development and Public Policy), one joint management program and one joint MBA program. SBE bachelor’s degree programs take three years to complete and cost 7500 euros per year. Except for the joint degrees, master’s at SBE cost 11,900 per year.

Experiential leaning is a key feature and work with companies is integrated in the curriculum. Additionally, sustainability themes are included in all the programs.  Students do not have a ton of time for surfing as the programs are extremely demanding and the management and economics bachelors are especially math heavy. That said, international student surveys note that students are extremely pleased with how accessible professors are for help outside the classroom.

Professors are not the only ones providing support. The SBE is self-contained (even more so than most European departments are) so students can get all their administrative/student life type needs met without leaving campus. There are offices that provide academic services, career services, counseling, first year mentoring programs, peer tutoring, academic skills workshops, assistance with housing, visa, and other non-academic matters, and more.  Further, there are over 30 active student clubs including topics like investments, entrepreneurship, cooking, and-of course-surfing. Given that the entire business school is English speaking, and the international student body is 40% (which does not even include the 500 or so exchange students hosted every year), accessing resources and student life opportunities is much easier for student than it can be in less internationalized schools.

Portugal is not an ideal place to start one’s career in business, due to lower salaries.  Graduates often seek (and find) employment elsewhere. Nova SBE alumni can be found in 65 different countries around the world, working at companies including Deloitte, EY, McKinsey, Amazon, L’Oréal, Google, and Unilever. In fact, 84% of students are employed within 3 months of gradating and 97% are employed with six months of graduating.

These are the types of school visits that excite me! Ones in which I have no “buts” or caveats to include.  Ones that are strong in academics, international student resources, outcomes, and overall experience.  I walked out thinking about students I know who this could be a good fit for. If you are interested in studying business in a beautiful setting, at a school invested in your success, I highly suggest you check it out!