Skander Zmerli is a Senior at the Haas School of Business studying Business Administration. He was born in Tunisia, North Africa and moved to America in 2016 for his studies. With an interest in Product Management, Sales, and Marketing, he is going to start with Amazon Web Services this year as an Associate Account Executive. In this Humans of Haas Blog, I had a fantastic conversation with Skander regarding his journey in life, challenges, and what he is going to miss the most about Berkeley. 

Could you share a bit about yourself and your journey thus far?

I finished high school in Tunisia, in 2016. I barely made it through high school, having the lowest possible grades. So, I had to go down the Community College route, and learn English within a couple of months. I attended Santa Monica College in LA, and in my first year, I took foundation courses in Math and other subjects, as well as learnt English. My first 2 years were purely academic. Year Three onwards, I was heavily involved with activities, which made a huge difference in my self-esteem, my experience, and helped in my applications to different universities. 

I applied to Berkeley, Cornell, UCLA, USC, and Columbia University and was accepted to all of them. I worked really hard, and I can safely say that change is possible,  coming from someone who was suspended from high school, to now being at the Haas School of Business. It’s about how committed you are and how much you want it.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

Coming to America, 6000 miles away from home, has been a huge challenge. In North Africa, I was very close to my community and found a lot of value in family. I have separated myself from my family back home, and it’s been extremely hard for my parents, because I left home along with my siblings. Tunisia isn’t one direct flight, so I can’t go there often. Leaving everything that I knew -family and friends – and coming to this new country with a different culture and language, at a very sensitive age, was a challenge. On top of that, I had to juggle taking care of myself, managing my finances as an international student, and being responsible for my  own studies all on my own. This was all whilst getting involved, fitting into society, and improving academically. These responsibilities aggregated together have probably been the biggest challenge so far. 

What are the big takeaways from the challenges you’ve faced?

A lot of people say you must believe in yourself. It’s true, you must believe in yourself. But at the same time, you need to earn trust in yourself. And so, I had to work really hard on trusting myself that I could do it. I started with small steps – just being consistent with my routine, waking up at a certain time, and making my bed. And then, for example, getting an A in a Math class. I gradually built up confidence to a point where I told myself: I can do it. As I went through 3 years in Community College, and as I was about to apply to colleges, I was confident. Why? Because of the things that I did in those past 3 years – the small achievements all layered to form my confidence.

What are your career interests? What do you want to do?

Many students at Haas seem to be drawn towards Consulting, and there is an evident appeal towards that field. But coming into Haas, I was interested in Product Management, Sales, and Marketing. I believe that these non-traditional fields are just as important and I spent a lot of time learning what I wanted to do.

As of next year, I’m going to start with Amazon Web Services, as an Associate Account Executive. But I do know for sure that Tech Sales is the main field that I want to be a part of because I’m genuinely interested in it.  In this field, I can have physical interaction and impact on other people, and that’s what I’m looking for.

Ten to fifteen years down the line, where do you see yourself? 

After I get enough experience, my goal is to go for an MBA. I also really want to go back home and try to help my country as much as I can. My country has struggled quite a lot recently, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what I want to do; I’m still taking it one step at a time. But I do know for sure that I’m going to try my best in leveraging the resources that I have, my current learnings, and future learnings, to help my country as much as I can, in the long term.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I have limited free time, but I usually enjoy playing tennis. I like any activity that gives you an adrenaline kick. Currently, I’m getting my certification so I can skydive on my own – jumping by the sunset is the most beautiful thing you can ever experience in your life. I also love playing video games. I would pick playing video games any day of the week over going to a party. I’m always outside, and sometimes I need time on my own.

What will you miss the most about Berkeley and about Haas?

The environment. This is the one thing that you find yourself taking for granted, because you’re surrounded by it, but only when you lose it, or when you’re away from it, you miss it. I’ve been away from school for one semester, and I missed UC Berkeley so much in general because of its sense of community and difference from any other school. You go out on Taco Tuesday, and all these students are outside. There are all these traditions that we have, like yelling at night during finals week. These are things that you’re not going to experience even when you go to study for your Masters. It’s going to be a different dynamic. 

I will miss the Professors I met who helped me to find my way to becoming my true authentic leader, and my friends at Haas who became family to me; their stories and competition inspired me to go beyond myself every single day.

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