From Egypt to Bethlehem to Study Business

Rehab Elkhayat and Mai Abdelfattah, two women from Egypt, are getting their MBAs at Lehigh University
Rehab Elkhayat (left) and Mai Abdelfattah (right)

Three women, from three different backgrounds, all united by one thing—they wanted to get a master of business administration (MBA) degree in their home country of Egypt, but didn’t know how to afford it. Now they’re studying in Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics through a program that helps Egyptian women get MBAs in the United States.

Rehab Elkhayat studied accounting as an undergraduate and was looking at programs in the Middle East or South Korea (she also speaks Korean), but she jumped at the opportunity to study in the United States when she saw the scholarship in a Facebook ad.

“I’m studying business and the U.S. is the biggest thing in business,” she says. “This program was the perfect opportunity for me.”

The program, funded by the U.S. State Department and facilitated by the Institute for International Education, helps prepare the women for entrance exams like the GMAT and TOEFL English-language test and then matches them with American colleges.

Elkhayat was matched with several schools but chose Lehigh because of its location and rankings— Bloomberg Businessweek has recognized the College of Business and Economics’ Flex MBA as one of the top part-time MBA programs in the nation.

Like most Egyptian women, Elkhayat lived with her parents and had never traveled or lived alone. She was happy to find that the Graduate Life Office and the Fulbright Program at Lehigh offer extra support and community for international students.

“This is a special thing about Lehigh,” she says. “They make us feel so included. Living alone in a foreign country has been surprisingly not as strange as I expected. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m an ocean and a continent away from home.”

Like Elkhayat, Mai Abdelfattah learned about the scholarship program from a Facebook ad. She had worked for 13 years as an electrical engineer and was working on a Ph.D. in engineering, but she wanted to learn about the science of management so she could move up at her employer.

“I don’t want to manage by instinct or circumstance,” she says. “I want to understand the strategy and work with people in a scientific way.

Abdelfattah chose Lehigh in part because of its reputation as an engineering powerhouse, and the MBA program at Lehigh is flexible enough that she can take some of her electives in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science to continue progress toward her doctorate. She also appreciates the opportunity to learn about business and to work in a different way.

“In engineering, you have to solve the problem in the most economical way,” she explains. “But here you can think about more qualitative things, like the customer and marketing goals. I now understand and value other aspects of the organization.”

When Ghada Ghaly first learned about the program in a newspaper ad, she didn’t realize it was in the United States, but her mother encouraged her to apply anyway. Ghaly was working as a public relations officer at a government agency in Egypt, but her ultimate goal is to work for the United Nations in the rural part of the country. Already, she has visited UN headquarters in New York City twice through the United Nations-Lehigh University Partnership, and she’s hoping to get an internship at the UN’s office in Egypt when she graduates.

Ghaly, as well as the other two women, needed some time to adjust to the very different style of teaching in an American MBA program, which emphasizes class discussion and group projects.

“I was unsure at first—the content and the curriculum were fine, but the discussions in class were challenging,” she says. “In Egypt, students do research papers and projects on their own. But because of the group projects, I made a lot of friends quickly.”

In addition to adjusting to the academics, Ghaly had to learn how to cook, do laundry and live on her own. She’s living in a house with four other international graduate students, and she enjoys the comradery of shared experience.

“They’re also studying in a different language and understand how hard it is,” she says.

Although each woman has different work experience and hopes to achieve different goals after graduation, they’re all confident that the Lehigh MBA will help.

“I never thought about traveling abroad before,” says Abdelfattah. “But every day brings a new experience and I’ve learned so much about business and life in other countries. This was the best decision of my life.”