AUBG EMBA student Ardiola Alikaj has never hesitated to take on a new challenge. Her professional experience began while she was still in high school when she became one of the pioneer tourist guides in Albania. While working in the Butrint National Park, which had just become a UNESCO site, Ardiola found her passion for archeology and later enrolled to study this discipline in university. Upon graduation, she continued her work in the field, first as a tourist guide and assistant archeologist at the park, and later on as a project manager in a tourist agency.
In the years that led to her enrollment in AUBG’s EMBA Program, Ardiola has completed a Master of Science in Archeology from the University in Tirana and a specialization in Restauration in Archeology from the University of Bologna, and has then embarked on a journey to become an entrepreneur. One of her first leadership experiences took her to Kosovo, where she was appointed the branch manager in a tour operator company.
“Going abroad and working with another customer archetype was very challenging and at the same time an expansion of my other abilities in terms of sales, recruiting, HR,” she said. “Being a branch manager makes you develop skills that you may not necessarily have. You just have to make the office work.”
Later on, as the Executive Director of the National Albanian Tourist Guide Association (NATGA), Ardiola worked on making tourist guiding a regulated profession in her home country. She also visited Italy with a group of experts from the Ministry of Tourism to research the best practices in agritourism.
In 2021, Ardiola became the Project Manager of the Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation Programmatic Area at Partners Albania for Change and Development. She wanted to expand her academic knowledge with an international master’s program and ultimately chose the EMBA at AUBG because of Bulgaria’s proximity to Albania.
“I’ve heard of AUBG because I have friends and relatives connected to the Bachelor’s program in Blagoevgrad,” she said. “The program has a very good reputation in Albania. It is a very strong program with a great curriculum and professors.”
Still at the beginning of the 16-month program, Ardiola said one of the first things that impressed her about the EMBA is the faculty. “The professors at the AUBG EMBA program have excellent professional backgrounds,” she said. “They are the crème de la crème of their disciplines and learning from them is very rewarding. The study materials are excellently selected. It is exactly what a student in this kind of master’s program should go through. I completely enjoy it.”
Based in Albania, Ardiola travels for the AUBG EMBA classes in Sofia, which take place twice a month during the weekends. “I find the administrative staff extremely professional,” she said. “I have no words to describe how cooperative they are, how much they are there for you. They go beyond their job descriptions to support you. They have even shown me around Sofia.”
When asked what advice she would give to a professional considering whether to apply for an EMBA Program, Ardiola said “Don’t question it. Go for it.” Going to another country and meeting a diverse group of experts is extremely beneficial, she said. “In class you have people coming from different fields of expertise,” Ardiola said. “They work in IT, pharmacy, software… And going out of Albania where I have colleagues connected mainly to tourism and startups, I learn a lot. I learn from being in Sofia as well: because even though we are also in the Balkans, Bulgaria is in the EU, and this extends your experience. You can grasp the best practices from the region. You can understand how you can be a better manager to your company and what direction to give to your business in the future.”
Upon graduation, Ardiola plans to gain professional experience in an international company, perhaps in Sofia.