Sonya Holley: “Schiller was such an amazing start to everything that I ended up doing in my career”

Alumni Spotlight

Schiller-Alumni-Sonya-Holley
Date

December 05, 2022

Campus

All Campus

Knowledge Area

All Knowledge Areas

*Interview by Sonia Alegre, Schiller Alumni

Sonya Holley graduated from Schiller London in 2001 with a major in Business Administration and from Schiller Madrid in 2002 with a Master of Business Administration. She has a successful career in the fashion industry where she worked for iconic brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren as an international director.  She recently started her own business, “I Got Inspired Today”, a consultancy at the intersection of education and emotional coaching for narcissistic abuse survivors.

Why did you choose Schiller?

Originally from Florida, I moved to New York City for an internship with Ralph Lauren for a while and, when I came back to Florida, I was thinking: how do I bridge the gap between Florida and Paris or London or other international fashion cities?  I was asking myself this question while I was driving when I saw an ad for a university that had the word “international” in it.  I stopped and went in, and they told me all about the university and the programs it had and that I could transfer the fashion management degree credits. So, I decided to enroll and do a bachelor's in international business. I started in the Florida campus (the Dunedin, Tampa campus) in 1998, then went to London in the fall of 1999 and graduated from the London campus. After that, I went to the Madrid campus for my master's. Schiller was such an amazing start to everything that I ended up doing in my career.

What anecdotes or experiences do you remember from your time at Schiller?

I had an amazing experience at the London campus. One day I got a call from Dr Walter Leibrecht (the founder of Schiller, who was the President at the time) who called me into his office and asked me if I wanted to be the cultural activities director at the campus. I immediately said yes, of course, and I ended up working at Schiller as a student for Dr Leibrecht planning trips abroad, etc. It was a great experience culturally and personally speaking. Everything I did in Schiller set me up for things I did later in my career.

How different were the campuses that you went to, London, Madrid and Florida?

After London, I went straight to the Madrid campus and they gave me a scholarship, so I could continue my education at Schiller. I got there in 2000 and I graduated with my MBA in December 2001. I got to Spain, and I just fell in love with the quality of life and everything else, the dinners, the family time, the culture. I did my MBA classes in the late afternoons and then took my Spanish classes in the morning. It was wonderful!

The American campus in Florida was more serious from the standpoint that it was very much in order, very structured and serious in a way. I stayed in the dorms on the London campus for the first time, and London was like a family community. There were more than 160 countries represented in London, so we were an international family. And, Spain, well, at the time, it was like the party country. I graduated with very good grades and managed to study, and the campus was very well-rounded, but we studied hard and partied hard.

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Any teachers you remember or classmates you are in touch with and who are worth a profile in this section?

From the London campus, my favorite teachers were Ian Nixey and Marilyn Rushton, who is unfortunately deceased. Also, from the London campus, I am still in touch with some of my friends, mainly through Facebook these days, such as Rebecca O’Neil, Bander Momenah, and Vanessa Revuelta, among many others, as I was doing cultural activities and knew a lot of people.

How did Schiller contribute to your vision of the world?

When I was at schiller on the London campus, I realized that out of the 160-plus countries represented there, there were only two of us Americans. This made me realize that the notion that Americans know everything, and we are number one and we have most of this and that is somewhat distorted because then you realize that there are so many other countries out there and so many other people who have as much to give to the world as you do. I felt very honored to be in a learning environment where everyone had as much as I did to give to the world.

What nationalities did you find most interesting?

Africans and Russians were the most fascinating nationalities I came into contact with in London. Everyone stayed on campus, but the Russians had their own apartments in luxury areas of London. I had never seen people my age being so independent. Of course, there were a lot of people with a lot of money, and I must confess that when I went from the British pound to the Spanish peseta (pre-Euro time), I felt relieved as London was very expensive. Together with my roommate at the time and two other people we got a big apartment in the center of Madrid, and we all blew our money before the semester finished. We went to the bodegas and ate sardines and mejillones (“mussels”). I have so many good memories!

How did Schiller influence your work life?

I left Madrid and moved to New York City and I got a call for an interview for a job in the corporate offices of Tommy Hilfiger. When they interviewed me, I said I wanted to travel the world and have an international career, but a few weeks later they called me back and offered me a US-based position as an assistant in the denim area. I worked hard and a couple of years later, the VP called me into her room. She told me she remembered what I had said in the interview about my wanting to travel and that I was going to be the first ever denim assistant to be sent on a business trip. And they sent me to Denmark and Tunisia. So, Schiller did play a pivotal role in my life.

What would you like to get from the Schiller alumni initiative?

To remember the good old times and continue expanding the international network and the opportunities.