How to turn a surf bum into a professional.

I always thought the typical MBA student graduated top of her class from an undergraduate business school, spent four to five years developing in a professional field, and always felt comfortable in a suit.

I’ve come to realize that I am not the typical MBA student.

I earned undergraduate degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Latin American Studies from a college of humanities, and spent the next three years living in a small beach town in western Costa Rica. I’m more comfortable in a wetsuit than a business suit, which is very uncommon if you’ve ever worn a wetsuit.

Samara, the town in Costa Rica where I lived, has a cyclical, tourist-driven economy. When it was high tourist season, everyone had jobs and extra money. In the rainy season there was a lot of time spent hanging around, surfing, and resting on the beach. Because of this, I held more jobs in those three years than many people do in their whole lives.

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Since moving back to the U.S., I’ve had a lot of trouble explaining my previous industry and it’s been very difficult to write resumes and work histories that do justice to the vast amount of experience I have. Many people don’t understand why I’ve had so many jobs or why I would stay abroad for so long. These people write me off because they can’t recognize the names of the companies I list or identify with my slightly different path.

I never planned to stay in Costa Rica that long, but sometimes life takes you on its own journey. Instead of learning the rules of the boardroom, I learned the rules of the surf line up. Instead of speaking business lingo, I spoke Spanish. And instead of watching people build bigger and bigger paychecks, I watched people live day-to-day, only worried about who had enough money for the next round.

In Samara, friends become family. And family is an extension of you. People, and our relationships with them, are the most important commodity. Jobs come and go, money comes and goes, but through the help of the community, there is always enough to get by. I’ve learned to value people above all else and have faith that I can do any task put in front of me.

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Since starting the Oregon MBA program, I’ve realized what I once saw as weakness and lack of experience is actually my own unique competitive advantage. My time in Samara made me who I am and I’m lucky to have found a program that values my experience and is committed to helping each student grow from whatever background.

Life is unpredictable, sometimes you just have to jump.

Written by Natalie Colvin

Natalie is a 2016 MBA from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. The experience of living abroad in Costa Rica, instilled in Natalie a passion for improving the world. After completing her MBA, she hopes to bring this passion to a career in corporate environmental and advocacy campaigns. Natalie received a dual undergraduate degree in development anthropology and Latin American studies from the University of Arizona honors college where she was also on the equestrian team.