Embarking on a degree program is often a joint decision. Every year, between 15-20 percent of our students arrive with partners. Coming to HEC Paris as a couple involves more than pursuing an MBA: it means both people have to integrate into a new country and culture.
As a result, we asked Zaheerah Samrod to share her experience of joining the HEC Paris community. She and her husband Zahid Ahmed-Hassen moved from South Africa to France last winter, when Zahid became part of the school’s January 2016 intake.
What were you doing professionally before you arrived at HEC Paris?
I’m a financial accountant by profession. Prior to coming to France, I had been working for three years at a diamond mining company in Johannesburg. It was a role where I needed to interact directly with the team, so I resigned from my job to move to France.
Some people are shocked that I followed Zahid, and they say to me, “But you left everything?” Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. My previous job had asked me to stay on, and I had really amazing remuneration offers from them. It’s not even something that I’d consider, not coming here and being with Zahid.
Did you try to find a job once you arrived in France?
I did a bit of job searching, but in order for a South African to work in France, you need a company to sponsor your work visa. It’s not very easy because that’s a big commitment for a company to make. You can’t commit to being in France post-MBA, because you never know what role your partner is going to take when they finish their studies.
I wanted to use my time in France productively, and add a skill set to my CV. Eventually, I decided to study French full time. I enrolled at the Sorbonne, which is basically French lectures, grammar and phonetics from 9 to 5 every day.
Are you active in the Partners’ Club?
I was nominated president of the Partners’ Club, and I took on the role in January. But once I started at the Sorbonne, I found that I just didn’t have time to arrange get-togethers, so I resigned as president. But I’m still in the Facebook group, and I do attend a lot of the evening activities.
Besides living in France, how has the MBA program changed your life?
Since Zahid started the MBA, I’ve found that we’ve actually become closer as a couple. When he and I were both working, life was so intense in terms of our jobs. We didn’t get to see each other as much as we do now. We’ve never had two months of holiday, so we said, “We’re just going to travel as much as we can, and do as much as we can together over the next two months.” So far this summer we’ve traveled to Germany and Budapest. Next, we’re going to Belgium. In August, it’ll be Nice, then 10 days in Italy, Croatia and Amsterdam.
What advice would you give someone who is the partner of an MBA student?
Try to learn French before you arrive, and continue learning French once you’re here. It just adds so much to your experience. As a partner, you interact on a daily basis with French people whether it’s at the train station, or over the phone to sort out administrative things. If you understand just a little bit—the basics—it makes your life easier.
Make sure that you, as a partner, have a project to keep yourself busy. It could be studying, or joining a gym, or getting involved in the Partners’ Club. You may not be the one earning the MBA qualification, but you certainly have the opportunity to come out of the experience a better individual.
Socialize with the classmates—there’s a big group to socialize with, between classmates and their partners. When Zahid is invited somewhere, be it for an official event, the MBAT for example, or even if it’s something informal, just a few of his classmates meeting up, he’ll always ask me if I want to join. I’ve also started trying to meet with the partner of another MBA student at least once a week, to visit a museum or have a coffee.
Has your “French experience” met your expectations?
My experience has definitely met my expectations. It’s actually better than I expected it to be; I thought I would miss home more. I do miss my friends back in South Africa, and I do miss family, but with technology it’s so easy to keep in touch.
That said, I absolutely love Paris. I love living abroad. I’m a big foodie, so I love the food here. It’s like heaven, all the pastries. And Zahid and I have experienced so much together. With the Euro 2016, we watched three matches live, including the semi-final in Marseilles, and the final at the Stade de France. We also watched the Women’s Final of the French Open.
I feel like I’m growing so much. I am putting my career on hold, but despite that, I think this is the best thing that I’ve ever done.
Resources for Partners
Clubs and Events
The Partners’ Club supports all HEC Paris MBA partners in their transition to university life. Regularly scheduled outings and on-campus activities enable participants to make connections and make the most out of life in France. Visit:
Watch a webinar featuring Neha Tripathi, the club’s 2016 president:
The CEO Speakers’ Series, the MBAT, and other events sponsored by student clubs are open to partners. Partners may also contact the president of a club to see if they are eligible for membership. To learn more, visit:
Partners are invited to attend on-campus French classes. More details, as well as a list of other classes available in the area, are provided by HEC Paris upon arrival to campus.
The Social Business/Enterprise and Poverty Certificate is an intensive, 7-week course held on campus. Participation is based on application, and partners are welcome to apply. Visit: