Yasmin AbouZahr, MBA 2023 had an unconventional MBA journey. A clinical pharmacist, she moved to Barcelona with two young children. How did she balance her responsibilities as an MBA student and a mother? How did her family adapt to life in Barcelona? She shares her experience in this post.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
After dedicating approximately six years to the healthcare sector as a clinical pharmacist, I noticed that my learning curve had begun to level off, and my aspirations extended beyond the frontlines of clinical practice. Recognizing this as a signal for change and a chance to explore a field that truly ignited my passion, I embarked on a joint venture with my husband: Pursuing our MBA degrees. Consequently, we both made the bold decision to leave our previous roles simultaneously. First, we went to INSEAD for my husband’s MBA, and the subsequent year, we headed to IESE for my own MBA journey. We opted for this consecutive approach because, during this period, we had our son, Taym, and I was expecting our daughter, Sophia, and we didn’t want to jeopardize our family needs.
How was your experience being a mom of 2 and an MBA student?
Returning to school was undeniably thrilling, but it posed an extraordinary challenge to juggle the demands of an intensive MBA program with the care of two children, one of whom was a newborn upon my enrollment at IESE (Sophia was 3.5 months old when I joined IESE). My MBA journey was far from conventional. First, my background in clinical healthcare meant that I had to rapidly bridge a substantial knowledge gap to keep pace with the MBA’s rigorous curriculum. Second, I had to prioritize not only my own well-being but also that of my two children. Consequently, my MBA experience differed significantly from that of my peers and I knew that going into this whole journey. My responsibilities extended beyond the academic realm and self-care; I bore the responsibilities of dependents who relied on me for both physical and emotional support. This encompassed organizing playdates, scheduling doctor check-ups, coordinating afterschool activities, attending birthday parties, all while dealing with occasional kids melt-downs, random illnesses and fevers, breastfeeding, and last-minute nanny cancellations. A lot of the times it felt like crisis management on a daily basis!
How were you able to manage all the demands of the MBA program while taking care of your family?
First and foremost, I firmly believe that a robust support system at home is the cornerstone of a successful experience. In my case, my support system was my husband, Ali. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Ali because none of this would have been possible without his unwavering support. He delayed the start of his new job and stepped into the role of a stay-at-home dad for the first term and part of the second term, taking care of the children and managing our household so that I could wholeheartedly focus on my MBA. He ensured I was on the right track before he left for Dubai to begin his new job in the second term. Even after his departure to Dubai, Ali’s support remained steadfast, transcending continents and navigating through different time zones.
The second crucial element is establishing a solid and consistent daily routine. After my husband departed, this routine became my guiding light. A typical day commenced with the kids waking up at 6 AM. I would start by breastfeeding my daughter and dressing my son for school. Following a quick breakfast, we would head off to school. During breaks between classes, I would rush to the family room to pump breast-milk so that my daughter would have her milk supply for the next day. After classes, I would stay on campus to finish as much as possible of coursework and cases for the following day because I knew that once I stepped through my front door, it was full-time mommy duty. At 4:30 PM sharp, I would make my way down the hill to St. Georges British School to pick up my son and return home. At home, we would prepare dinner and engage in some playtime. By 7 PM, our bedtime routine would commence, complete with a bedtime story and lights out promptly at 7:30 PM. A lot of the times it felt I was running on military mode, but that was the only way to survive this alone. Of course, there were overwhelming moments, especially in the first and second term, when I would wonder “what am I doing here??”, but I persevered with the help of my husband, keeping my focus fixed on my ultimate goal.
The third factor was to hire additional help at home to take care of my baby as I attended school while my husband was away. Our nanny took very good care of our baby girl Sophia who was too young to attend nursery or day care.
The fourth factor was the close-knit circle of friends who took the time to familiarize themselves with my family and my children. They would visit during weekends and public holidays when I was alone with the kids, offering to babysit and engage in playtime.
The fifth factor was the flexibility of the IESE MBA program. IESE has 2 tracks for the MBA program; the 15 months and the 19 months tracks. I chose the 15 months track where I was able to finish all my MBA requirements in less time and re-unite with my family in Dubai.
How did you stay socially connected with your peers?
During the first term and the majority of the second term, I practically withdrew from socializing. I was very overwhelmed and barely managing to keep up with my MBA and household commitments. However, as the second term drew to a close, things began to settle, and I got used to my routine. Naturally, the fear of missing out (FOMO) started creeping in especially that we were almost done with the first year and I missed out on so many events and networking opportunities. So, I decided to attend section events, which I found to be enjoyable as they allowed me to connect with my section-mates beyond the classroom environment.
As a parent, your weekends are typically dedicated to spending time with your family and children. While most of my MBA friends used their weekends as an opportunity to disconnect, go out, or travel, my situation was very different. With my husband being away and no additional help available on weekends (our nanny had weekends off), my weekends alone with the kids were very tough and draining! I literally had no time to rest! Hence, to ensure that I could fully embrace my parental responsibilities solo on the weekends I made a conscious effort to go out and socialize at least once during the weekdays.
What were some of the concerns you had before moving to Barcelona with your children and how did you deal with them?
I’d say the primary concerns revolved around the following aspects:
- Identifying an English-speaking school for my son that was conveniently situated within walking distance from our residence
- Securing the services of a good and reliable nanny to care for my newborn daughter
- Locating a suitable apartment for our family in a family-friendly neighborhood
To address these challenges, we undertook an extensive research into various nanny agencies, international schools, and neighborhoods in Barcelona. Additionally, I reached out to the admissions office to connect me with mothers who had undergone a similar experience in the previous year. This step was imperative in gaining insights and establishing realistic expectations regarding what lay ahead. Furthermore, it enabled me to pinpoint favorable residential areas that were in close proximity to both IESE and my son’s school. IESE also provided us with a list of reliable apartment rental agencies and websites which we used to find our home.
How was family life in Barcelona? What did you and your kids enjoy about living in Barcelona?
Barcelona was a great place for us as a family. It offered the best of both worlds, combining the advantages of a large and small city simultaneously. On one hand, it boasted the conveniences of shopping centers and family-friendly entertainment options. On the other hand, it maintained a cozy atmosphere where our day-to-day family needs were easily met within walking distance, fostering a sense of community and familiarity in our neighborhood.
One of my kids’ favorite activities was going to the park! Barcelona has so many parks scattered around in every neighborhood with play areas and sand pits. It is a very simple activity, yet it gave the kids a safe space to run, play and make new friends! Another thing we enjoyed about Barcelona was going to the beach in the summer time. Last but not least were the street festivals that the local neighborhoods would organize during the public holidays featuring several kids’ activities!
Looking back at your experience, is there anything you would have done differently?
The experience was great at IESE and I would do it all over again but here’s what I would do differently:
First, I would have my husband stay by my side for all of the 15 months or for at least all of the first year. His presence was very important to myself and the kids. I had to face several unnecessary challenges and ugly encounters that would not have happened had Ali was there.
Second, I would have tried to be less overwhelmed especially in term 1 and 2.
As a class, we all had different starting points at the beginning of the MBA program which is a true testament to the diversity of the IESE class. However, towards the finish line we all ended on somewhat similar levels which is the beauty of the IESE method! This proves that the famous IESE saying “Trust the Process” is very true!
Any tips for incoming parents or mothers?
Yes! I know it seems very overwhelming but I am the living proof that you can do it and excel at it! It all begins with setting the right expectations for your experience. Your experience will be different but enjoyable!
- Make sure you have the right support system at home
- Hire all the additional help you can afford
- Find the right routine that works for your family and stick to it!
- Prioritize your self-care and well-being in the routine
- Reach out to IESE mothers who have been through this and learn from their experience
Please reach out if you have more questions!
Thank you Yasmin for your honest sharing and encouragement to future IESE mothers.
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