Henley’s “priceless” support during MBA helps take student to the next level

After doing her honours degree in Switzerland, Noluthando (Nolu) Khawula wanted an internationally recognised business school for her MBA. Henley Africa ticked all the boxes. Now working in the UK, she is determined to use her business skills and the international passport to the world of work that the school gave her to make a positive impact at a global level.

I’ve always known that travel would form an important part of my life. The bug bit when I spent time in Australia and Singapore on a netball student exchange programme in matric. So it’s not surprising that I’ve spent a lot of time studying and working overseas. I studied hospitality business management after school, majoring in financial controls and financial management. I then left South Africa to take up an internship in the UK before returning home and switching to financial services.

When I decided to do an honours degree I chose to do so in Switzerland where I could learn French while completing my Bachelor of Arts Honours at the University of Derby, Leysin campus in association with the Swiss Hotel Management School.. I wouldn’t say I’m completely fluent in French as a result, but I think I can hold a reasonable conversation.

I found that my corporate experience gave me the edge during my honours studies. Most of my classmates had moved straight from undergraduate to postgraduate studies and didn’t have the same work experience. When I graduated in 2009 the global financial crisis had taken hold, and work was hard to come by in South Africa. So, I decided to remain in Switzerland where I was fortunate enough to work for Philip Morris International in Lausanne, and the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations (UN), in Geneva. It was an unbelievable experience. But I knew I needed to go even further with my studies. Business school was beckoning!

I did a lot of research on business schools before choosing Henley. I wanted to attend a school that had an affiliation with the UK, but that was also anchored in my African context. Henley Africa has this thanks to its relationship with Henley UK and the University of Reading. The accreditation factor was also a huge part of my decision-making and the fact that Henley Africa is quadruple accredited sealed the deal for me.

COVID-19 hit while I was at the business end of my degree. I lost my beloved mother to the virus and was then confined to a hospital bed because of a high-risk pregnancy. It was a terrible time, but the silver lining was when my perfect little boy Kungawo, we call him Kunga for short, was born.

Henley was exceptional to students during the pandemic; you cannot put a price on the support we received from the school. Whether you were losing a family member, or your job was in danger, the school came through for us in a way that still gives me goosebumps. We were even offered sessions with a psychologist, the wonderful Megan Hooper, which meant the world.

In my opinion a business education is vital. You don’t need it to run a business, but it will take you to the next level, enabling you to run your business in a much more effective manner because talent and street smarts can only get you so far.

I now live permanently in the UK with my son, having been offered a position as business support manager in a healthcare company after my MBA. With no support system in place, this can be challenging. I’m slowly building a friendship circle with parents of little ones who attend the same nursery school as Kunga, but it’s not the same as having your close friends and family with you. My dad and family are back in South Africa, and although we chat all the time it’s not the same as being together.

Spare time? I’m the mother of a three-year-old boy so I’ve forgotten what that even feels like! As soon as I knock off from work I collect Kunga from nursery school and my next job begins.

The last book I read was How to raise a Human Being by Dr Lee Salk and Rita Kramer. Kunga and I joined the local library and on our first visit it was my book choice. Kunga chose The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. I think he was drawn to it because his grandmother – my late mom was a translator and author – had translated it into Zulu back in the day.

By the time I turn 40 I would like to be in a position where I can bring about real change. I dream of returning to the UN and driving the fight against climate change, an issue that has always been close to my heart.

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