As a mother of two daughters under four, the only viable option for Yvonne Ofosu-Appiah to do a Cambridge MBA was to bring her family with her from Ghana. “I wanted a top-tier university but couldn’t leave my children,” she says.
Ofosu-Appiah, who had spent seven years in finance services in Ghana before coming to Cambridge Judge “to build up my holistic skill set”, says having her loved ones around enabled her to focus on her studies. And her situation is typical of a growing number of MBA students. The decision to enrol takes on an added dimension for anyone with a family – particularly young children – but there are many good reasons why the experience can be a great one for everyone.
Bringing the family
Ofosu-Appiah, her husband Harry – on a break from his telecoms career – and daughters Ginelle, three, and 13-month-old Seanna, moved into a furnished apartment, where all their new neighbours were also international students and their families. “We immediately found people with interests in common,” she says. “There’s organised child care and play schemes – I made many friends on my MBA but we all made really good friends in that community too.”
“Being with my children helped me concentrate far more than if I had been here and they had stayed in Africa,” she says. “If I was on my own here, my mothering instinct means l would be calling every night to check up on them.
“So it all worked perfectly. It’s true that the first semester was very intense. Harry got a job working in event co-ordination at a major supermarket chain, and we had to fit work, study time and family time all together, which was a challenge. But I was fortunate because my mother was also able to come over from Ghana and stay with us to help with childcare for a few weeks during that first term. She also came over again when I went back to Africa – Kenya – for my Global Consulting Project.”
But whether or not you can call in favours from relatives, help is always on hand from the University. “You really don’t ever, either individually or as a family, find yourself isolated,” says Ofosu-Appiah. “Help is always there, whether you have a problem with your course work or your living arrangements. The back-up you get is fantastic.”
Ofosu-Appiah plans to use her new skills working for African-focused equity funds and would be happy to work in other countries on the continent. But she would also love the opportunity to remain in Britain. “We love Cambridge with its green spaces and wonderful pre-school education and so many things for families to do.”
An educational experience for the whole family
Another who seized the opportunity with both hands was Jeronimo Garcia, who saw his Cambridge MBA as an opportunity for his entire family to enhance their education. The Chilean student realised that not only would bringing his wife and young sons with him give him peace of mind – they could also learn English.
“I wanted to immerse my family in an English-speaking culture and I am amazed at how quickly they have picked up the language,” he says.
Garcia chose Cambridge because “right from the interview I fell in love with it – the city, the University”. And although he was also offered a university place in the US, he found Cambridge Judge’s more experienced MBA cohort meant Cambridge happily accommodated students with partners and children.
“I was advised to join Churchill College at Cambridge for my MBA year, and it was fantastic,” he says. “Everyone there had kids. You’d open the door and everyone would be playing outside. I could have chosen somewhere else but the family would be isolated – here my wife and my children made so many friends.”
There were financial benefits, too. “In Britain if you have a child of three you get 15 hours free pre-school. We couldn’t afford childcare – indeed, the nursery quotations we got were more expensive than the rent on our flat – so the free childcare was invaluable.”
Garcia, who has spent nine years in investment banking, was committed to separating his study time from his family time, and giving his utmost to both.
Despite worldwide opportunities for his Global Consulting Project, he applied to do his in London. “Some of the places were really exciting – Dubai sounded great! – but I didn’t want to uproot the family again so I went to Google in London and actually did a lot of that work in Cambridge, meaning I could come home every night. And when I got my internship at an investment bank at Heathrow, I could have stayed there Monday to Friday but chose to commute every day. It was the most insane thing I’ve ever done – a five-hour round trip each day – but it gave me a good taste of commuting in London.
“The benefits of having my family around me were enormous,” he says. “I knew they were well and safe, and we weren’t missing each other.”