Ashraf Jaffer is living her ideal life in Barcelona, Spain – teaching accounting to UNC Kenan-Flagler students.
She came to Carolina in 2006 after earning her PhD from the London School of Economics, and later moved to Mumbai when she needed to be closer to her family. That’s when she began her journey of teaching remotely.
“It was a win-win because I was looking for a way to continue to work for UNC Kenan-Flagler and the online program was a good fit,” says Jaffer.
Several years later she began teaching from Barcelona. “My husband, son and I went there on vacation here and decided to never leave,” says Jaffer. “We love the access to the sea and mountains.”
An award-winning accounting professor with expertise in managerial accounting and financial statement analysis, Jaffer teaches in the School’s online programs. Odds are she’s taught just about every online MBA student since UNC Kenan-Flagler launched the program in 2011.
Jaffer is living proof of the value proposition of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s online MBA and MAC programs: Students can learn effectively and build deep connections with their professors and classmates wherever they are in the world.
While the hours are challenging – she mostly works from midnight to 6 a.m. – the convenience of working from home in a city she loves is representative of the future of work – even more globally and digitally connected.
“For me, my students are the true inspiration and the reason that for me waking up in the middle of the night is pure joy,” she posted on Facebook. “I shed a couple of tears every week 10 when the magic of the quarter ends. I am grateful for the opportunity to interact with some of the brightest, most dedicated and awesome people!”
Ensuring her enthusiasm is contagious for students is a priority because so many had a poor experience with studying accounting in the past or expect it to be difficult.
“A lot of it is psychological,” says Jaffer. “They think the subject is really hard.”
Instead, Jaffer wants them to consider it a challenge they can master. “We don’t have to be perfect. We have to be engaged. It will get better,” she tells them.
And master it they do. As one graduate wrote: “Ashraf has truly changed my entire career path. As someone who was never interested in accounting, Ashraf sparked an interest that has turned into a budding investment banking career.”
“Core accounting is like learning a new language,” says Jaffer, “so, I understand how it can be a struggle for students.”
To put herself in her their shoes, she tries something new and difficult every quarter. She has taken up yoga, learned how to do “double unders” on the jump rope and is training for her first 10K even though she hates to run.
“As I am teaching something new and foreign to students, I do something that is new and foreign to me. We keep each other accountable and motivated to keep pushing forward and learning.”
With 15 to 20 people in a class videoconferencing from around the globe, they forge close bonds. Students who show up early talk about their lives outside of class, and they have formed an online community so they can execute workout challenges together.
“You get to know people really well,” she says. “Do they have pets? How many kids do they have? Do they leave their Christmas decorations up? You get a window into their worlds.”
Jaffer sees students in person at Summits in Mumbai, London, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Singapore and New York, and special events in Chapel Hill, such as graduation and the alumni immersion. And students and alumni seek her out – taking time from vacations and work trips to make their way to her to Barcelona, sometimes meeting her in person for the first time.
“My students are super smart, motivated people,” says Jaffer. “They are willing to teach me. They are middle- to upper-managers, people to whom I can relate. I can talk to them about life.”
Jaffer’s family is all in at UNC. Her husband Binyam Taddese (MBA ’08) graduated from UNC Kenan-Flagler and also teaches in the online program. They are, of course, raising their son as a Tar Heel fan.
Leading this life, being able to move to three different continents and still maintain a fulfilling career with the same employer is something Jaffer never imagined possible.
“UNC Kenan-Flagler was the first and is only job I’ve ever had,” says Jaffer. “Every single day I am thankful to call this place home and the people I work with my family. Very rarely do you have an employer that understands where you are coming from and works with you so that you can live your best life. I am ever so grateful for UNC Kenan-Flagler for taking chance on me when I was newly minted PhD graduate.”