“Coming from Peru, Barcelona helped me see things from new angles, explore new horizons and open my mind”

María José

She was born in a city guarded by a volcano and home to one of the world’s deepest canyons. From this city, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Peruvian Andes and its historic center feels like a journey through time, adorned with colonial houses that blend European and Andean styles. We’re talking about Arequipa, Peru, a distance of 9412 kilometers from Barcelona, the city where María Fernández Šikić, our protagonist, now resides.

– If you could choose something, what would you bring from Peru to Spain?

+ Cuisine.

– And from Spain to Peru?

+ I’d take security and transportation.

– The word that best describes Arequipa:

+ For me, it’s “rocoto relleno” (stuffed spicy pepper).

– What about Barcelona?

+ Gaudí.

– Your favorite place in Arequipa:

+ It’s never about the place; it’s always about the company. Anywhere with my family.

– Your favorite place in Barcelona:

+ La Sagrada Familia.

– One thing Peru and Barcelona have in common:

+ Cultural and geographical diversity.

– Something that’s very different:

+ The architecture.

These are snippets from the story of María José Fernández Šikić, a business administration graduate born in Arequipa and an MBA graduate at EAE Barcelona After years of working in the banking sector, she decided to change her path.

A difficult yet transformative decision

María José worked at Interbank, the third-largest bank in Peru, which is part of the Intercorp group. Although she had learned and grown professionally within her sector and enjoyed a good working environment, she realized that she needed to take a step forward.

“I decided to leave my job. At that time, my top priority was to achieve my master’s degree outside of Peru, a significant step in both my professional and personal life. It was a decision that came with a lot of personal conviction. My last role at Interbank was something I was deeply passionate about, and I was learning every day. I had an incredible boss, very intelligent and a genuinely good person and I had a wonderful team to work with. However, I made this decision with a strong sense of personal purpose: aiming for growth and greater maturity. I also wanted to feel more fulfilled as an individual and, above all, take a break from that season of intense work,” she explained during the interview.

As she tells her story, she admits that it was a tough decision: “It forced me to resign from my job at Interbank. I had mixed feelings about it because that role was one of my most enjoyable experiences. I had developed financial analytical skills and soft skills, and I genuinely approached the job with passion. It was challenging to inform them that I had to leave the bank. However, the good and important thing is that, to this day, that door is still open for me – which is exciting and motivates me because I would love to go back at some point in the future.”

Challenging oneself: Starting over in a different country

Her idea began to take shape during the pandemic. It was a period of reflection for María José, which began with market research on master’s programs to choose what to study and where.

One of the primary reasons she made this decision was to challenge herself. She explained, “I needed to see things from new angles, explore new horizons and open my mind to other ways of life outside my home country, to experience different cultures and connect with people I had never met before. Also, I believed that traveling alone, without knowing anyone —because that’s how it was; I chose to go to Barcelona without any friends or family there— and doing it on my own would contribute significantly to my personal fulfillment and growth. Traveling alone is important and it helps with personal development and maturity.”

“I chose Barcelona for several reasons: firstly, because I had references from people in my circle who had done it there. It’s a very cosmopolitan city with connections to many languages and cultures, which make it quite enriching.”

The decision to move abroad, even when it’s a voluntary choice, involves a process of adaptation. Here’s how she went through it and what she did to feel at home in Barcelona: “It was quite a challenge, at times even a bit stressful. But after around two and a half months, I managed to adapt and started feeling right at home. I formed close bonds with the people I lived with. Barcelona, as a city, offers a lively daily life, boasts beautiful beaches and mountains, has pleasant weather, a sense of tranquility, a well-organized environment, and efficient transportation. All of these factors make it an inviting and comfortable place to live. It’s a city that’s easy to get around, and it’s known for its safety. What I appreciate the most about living here is the freedom to go out and take a leisurely walk without any concerns.”

Barcelona: a hotspot for networking, startups and thriving entrepreneurship

María José tells us that Barcelona is “a thriving networking hotspot because, thanks to tourism, it’s incredibly easy to connect with people from across Europe and around the globe, immersing yourself in diverse cultures.”

She goes on to explain that the city serves as a central nexus where “cultures, traditions and customs are in constant flux. This rich tapestry of diversity positions it not only as a cultural epicenter but also as a prime location for conferences and gatherings, attracting top executives from major companies like Meta, Google, Amazon and others.”

When it comes to the city’s economic landscape, three key factors stand out: the flourishing startup scene, a culture of innovation, and a thriving entrepreneurial spirit. “Barcelona truly nurtures numerous startups, particularly in the realm of technological innovation. This encompasses companies specializing in artificial intelligence and various other tech-related fields. There’s a dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem here, driven by substantial government support. It’s noteworthy how the state offers substantial incentives and accessible financing, even to foreign entrepreneurs. Barcelona’s digital prospects and diversification are evident around every corner.”

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The professional and personal impact of pursuing an MBA

She felt the need to break free from the comfort zone she had meticulously crafted through hard work and dedication, in order to welcome new experiences. She confidently states, “Having worked in Peru, particularly in the financial sector, for a decade, I found myself confined within a bubble of processes and working methods rooted in my own culture. Venturing abroad and choosing Barcelona allowed me to explore new perspectives and ways of thinking beyond the Latin American context.”

Lastly, María José shares with us a valuable point: “I wholeheartedly recommend this experience because Barcelona has provided me with lifelong friends. Sharing the daily grind from scratch has truly enriched me and deepened my understanding of how others think, make decisions and perceive the world. It’s about sharing knowledge, wisdom, experiences and anecdotes — all of which contribute substantially to both professional and personal growth.”

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