Studying business abroad: interview with Dr. Michal Paserman

Dr Paserman spoke with David Levy about the benefits for business students of a semester, year, or degree abroad.

Dr. Paserman,  how do you attract U.S. business students, and what do you consider to be the benefits for American students studying abroad in Geneva?

I truly believe that students benefit significantly from spending time studying abroad because it gives them an international perspective. This is particularly important in the business environment, which is globally interconnected. Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to meet professors with skills, expertise, and approaches that are different from what they are used to. They also get a chance to extend their network by meeting classmates from different parts of the world who could eventually become important assets for them. 

Geneva is one of the world’s leading financial centers with a long tradition in wealth management and private banking. It is also a world center for commodity trading, and we have in Switzerland a center of cryptocurrencies. Geneva is home for some of the leading multinationals such as P&G, Bacardi, and McKinsey, and international organizations including the WEF, U.N., CERN, and sport associations. 

At the University of Geneva we have close relationships with these organizations. Our students benefit from interesting internship and job opportunities with these organizations, guest talks, study visits, study projects with industry mentors and more.

Do international students in Switzerland attend classes with local students, or are there particular classes and programs designed just for them?

Normally international programs are mixed. We have several international undergraduate programs here in Switzerland that are delivered fully in English, but there are more options when it comes to master’s degrees, and Ph.D. programs. For example, at GFRI, our master programs are delivered fully in English, and include both local and international students. 

Are students generally studying abroad for a year or a semester, or are they completing entire programs?

We have both types—some may spend just a semester here, while others pursue an entire degree. It really depends on the student’s aspirations and on the program they choose.

If a business student has decided to study abroad, at what stage in their education would you recommend that they do so?

I believe students derive more benefit from studying abroad after completing their bachelor’s and gaining a bit of practical experience through an internship or other work experience. They can then better relate to the content of the classes. 

Are there distinct advantages to completing a master’s degree abroad for those who would like to work in international business but want to pursue their career in the U.S.?

I absolutely think so. I always tell my students that the more you travel, the more places you see, and the more people you meet, the better off you will be. Every interaction with somebody from another country gives you a more realistic perspective on the world, even if you end up pursuing a career back home. Many of our students come here for just a year, but it remains a significant and memorable experience for the rest of their lives. They often keep in touch with their classmates that can become business partners— we have a great alumni network, which is an additional advantage. So absolutely, yes, an international program is beneficial even to those who end up pursuing a career in their home country.

Does GFRI help American students source internships or research opportunities with European companies?

Absolutely. We strongly emphasize practical experiences. We help our students find internships through the financial institutions and fintech companies we work with. Students are allowed to take on internships while on student visas, and we strongly encourage them to do so. Our students also participate in the CFA Institute Research Challenge, which is an experiential learning activity that offers them the opportunity to work like professionals. We also have lots of career events.  

We help our students develop soft skills as well. For example, in our executive program, the master of advanced studies in finance, the main objective is to prepare students for leadership positions in finance. Our approach is holistic and aims to complement financial skills with soft skills. We have therefore integrated into the program a professional development series.  

We open the program with a unique “Leadership Retreat” designed to enhance leadership competencies that are required for financial executives to manage staff and processes effectively. Taking place in the beautiful village of Gstaad, the retreat is a wonderful opportunity for the students to step outside of their daily classroom life in a peaceful environment for a creative and innovative learning experience. Over 3 days, students work to improve their international communication, international negotiations, and entrepreneurial skills. 

We host career events and workshops on personal branding, but also resilience in the workplace, creativity in business, and stress management.  

We conclude this series with a boardroom simulation game, with senior professionals from the financial industry as judges. All this helps prepare students for the real business world.

Have you noticed any obvious cultural or temperamental differences between American and European students?

Yes! I just mentioned international communication being an important part of soft skills training. Well, we just discovered that for the cohort that began this September [2021], we have 18 students representing 18 different nationalities. That type of diversity is wonderful and valuable for all, as long as we are aware of it and understand it. Part of the reason that we focus our leadership retreat on international communication is to really develop that type of awareness and cultural intelligence. There are, of course, obvious cultural differences, but what I find is that there are actually more commonalities than differences between our students: they share a strong interest in finance. They’re all very ambitious and hardworking. We don’t have a dominant nationality, it’s very diverse. Our students also tend to meet outside of the classroom and maintain close relationships after they graduate, bridging cultural differences.

How do most students fare after they graduate from the program?

Most of our students find jobs in their fields of interest, whether here in Switzerland, back in their home countries, or elsewhere in Europe.

Is there any other advice you’d like to share with students who are considering completing all or part of their business degree abroad?

As I mentioned, I really think that the more you travel, the more you see, the more you interact with people who are different from you, the more skills you develop. Those interactions that take you away from your comfort zone tend to be the most beneficial. I think it’s important for students to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad when they are relatively young, because it can be a little more difficult to do so once they are immersed in the job market. 

What are the advantages in getting a master’s in wealth management / master of advanced studies in finance instead of an MBA finance?

The MBA finance is a general degree which introduces students to various disciplines, including marketing, strategy, organizational behavior and more, with a focus on finance. The share of finance courses in MBA finance is bigger than those dedicated to the other fields. 

Master’s programs in finance are specialized degrees that give students the rigor, depth and advanced skills required for positions in finance. This is getting much more important in the fast-developing finance industry, which is becoming increasingly more complex. In our finance programs we cover the recent innovations in FinTech, the emerging fields of sustainable finance and impact investing, and other innovative interdisciplinary courses, such as neurofinance.  

This is evident in the very high employability of our graduates, with a placement rate close to 100% upon graduation. This is an extremely high rate, reflecting the strong demand for skilled graduates with excellent education, and our close relationships with financial and other institutions. 

Is this the right program for someone who aspires to corporate leadership?

Financial academic rigor is important for leadership positions in finance. It gives graduates the confidence and know-how to lead teams and processes effectively, create value for their institutions, and ultimately succeed. 

Many of our alumni are currently in leadership positions in prominent institutions in the fields of private banking, wealth management, in corporates, as well as in NGOs. These include, among others, Credit Suisse, UBP, BNP Paribas, Pictet, Lombard Odier, and Julius Baer.

Do students who apply to the financial planning and controlling programs typically come with a CPA to the program? Is that helpful?

Our master programs cover most of the material required for the CPA, CFA, CAIA and other professional qualifications, and thus provide a good preparation for their exams.  

We also have partnership agreements with some of them, which allow our students to benefit from special scholarships to cover the exams fees, research fellowships, and study materials. Another benefit is networking, as our students have the opportunity to connect with local professionals who are members in these associations. We recently hosted a career event in collaboration with CAIA, and our students participate in the CFA Global Research Challenge. 

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