Surviving an International MBA – Part 1

It all started when I got accepted at a ‘good’ business school in India. The thought of actually stepping out of the shores for my MBA crept into my mind and after a year of failing to fund my International MBA, I came back with much vigor and applied to some pretty well known schools abroad. I put in a strong application and I thought, that was one of the toughest times I would have. “Once I am done with my application, I am well on my way to some sleep and peace”. Ha! That’s never the case, as I figured out soon! Along with the admission offers came in, some headache with regards to funding and the visa process. Constantly, I would wonder whether the whole world was conspiring against me! Things went wrong so many times and I used to end some of the days wishing I didn’t have to go through so much trouble.. With the visa in hand, I had touched almost the ninth heaven, but then I was pulled down by the amount of work that loomed ahead of me! Resigning from my job, off-shouldering the responsibilities, booking my flights, shopping for the right stuff and phew, chasing rental owners here for a good house deal! First, get a roommate if you wish to make a few savings on your monthly budget. It took a lot of time for me and my roomie to finalize a place here, with criteria like proximity to school, secure place etc. But now retrospect, I wonder, what the big deal about a house was.

Then I had to haggle for the right flights with my travel agents, almost everything looked at its worse each day. When finally everything seemed just okay, about a few days before I left, the Mumbai floods made its grand entry! ‘No power, no electricity and water everywhere’ is a sad way to remember my last few days in Mumbai. After all this, I landed in my business school and then began the actual ‘survival’ stint. The moral of the story, “Just hang in there, things will take time but will surely fall in place.” I stand to vouch for that! : )

One of the biggest miseries students face in their initial days in a new country would be the lack of basic communication lines, in terms of computer, cell phones, car etc. Transportation becomes a big issue if you stay in a small college town and not in well connected place like downtown Manhattan. Trying to find a car within our budget, grasping with some of the details of buying a second-hand car, getting a license to kill…err…to drive and finding an insurance agent who will accept your no-driving history in US will be some of the painful things you will have to go through. I was one of the few lucky ones who fixed all these things very fast and hence was at least spared the frustration attached with these. You would be better off if you can settle it all, before your course starts. Believe me, they are not kidding when they say, “You will hit ground zero running”

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The first thing that will probably hit you in the business school would be the attention that is showered on you as the incoming class. You are put on a very high pedestal about how great your achievements have been and you indeed feel lucky to be the chosen one. Trust me, you feel so good that there is a good chance that you will get carried away in this new enthusiastic wave. But soon you will realize that put aside all the adulation; there is no one to help you with your course work.

And you don’t really have enough time to finish the pre-assignment pack that was given to you more than a couple of months ago. So, you fret and put in a couple of hours into the night before your first class trying in vain to finish the entire material. Well, it is not really that easy and chances are you will go to class avowing that by the end of the first day, you will catch up with all the backlog work. Ha! Don’t worry if you will never go back to the pre-work, at least, as I figured out, not until the first quiz. The first day of school is exhilarating as you see your diverse classmates and see that the professors are very different from the ones we had been so used to back in India. The professors, according to me, play a very important part in your learning and they can either make you love the course or just detest it. You need to be well prepared before the class as the classes go at a very fast pace. My constant dilemma used to be if I should be working on pre-work or post-work. There is just way too less time to do both! The final grade in each course is a percentile basis which takes into account your quizzes, your assignments, group works, class participation and of course the final exam.

As you try to pick up the first few assignments with your teams, you will be faced with various career workshops to help you through the maze of fields of consulting, investment banking etc. Guess which one has the maximum turn outs… Of course, the workshops for Undecided people! Now, what the hell did more than 50% of the entire school write in their essays and how in the world did they gain admissions if they are still undecided? Haha, welcome to the world of uncertainties, that’s an ‘Yeam Bee Yeah’ world for you! My take on this is, yes, some of b-schoolers are focused and pretty sure where they want to go, some are not so sure about what they want to do is the right for them, so they attend these workshops. And the remaining people have no clue what they want and are dead sure that their MBA essays was just something that allowed them to give vent to their creative writing skills, it is nothing to do with the actual career preferences! As you are baffled by so many things around you, out comes the due date before which your resumes should reach the career centre so that they can publish their resume books for the recruiters. And you run around to modify, re-modify the resume that you have with all the right words and action verbs.

Second Years & Career fellows come here to the rescue and help you with these. By now, your quizzes start in full swing and a week later, Mid-Terms. Jeez, why is the time flying! Amidst all this, right after the second week, start the un-official recruiting season and symposiums. Companies start visiting campuses to put a pitch for their recruiting dates. And soon, your schedules look so crazy that you would be dead without a planner and a laptop. If you haven’t picked up these, then be sure, you are a dead duck. Now, starts the time-management… take some, leave some. Obviously you can’t do everything out there. But trust me, you will soon find ways to deal with these, even if you can’t be on the top of everything , you will do just enough to remain sane!

Ouch! In the grand scheme of things, I forgot to mention the Clubs which will begin around the second week of b-schooling with a fair where you get to know all the incredible clubs you saw on the websites and picked just to give the best answer while interviewing with the Admissions. In a rush you go & sign up for all the clubs and your email boxes start overflowing. Of course, then comes the responsibility of taking a leadership position. Don’t for Chrissake, take upon too many of them! You might be fantastic at interviewing for various positions but if you cannot do a decent job managing the club, there is definitely no point. And of course you are depriving others who really want to contribute. Some people take upon these positions only to add flesh into their resumes. Hmmm, now, don’t get me started on that! Do something which you sincerely love doing. Maybe you can take upon serious roles in 1 professional & 1 personal club and of course be a part of various activities organized by all clubs. It is fun if you join something you love else by Term 2 you will start hating your decision.

Then the Term 1 comes to an end. And the relaxation period begins for a week but during the mid-week comes the final results. Some celebrate while others drink away to forget the bad scores. And you soon realize competition is deadly. It is not as easy as you thought it might be! Ok, the next Term, you avow to make up & get some great grades… but you will soon see that Term 1 was just a cake-walk compared to Term 2. Now, if all these unnerve you a little, don’t worry, you will soon get over the initial fear. Some things have just got to be done in life and this is one of those. You will be just fine… after all every year thousands of students graduate out of all these schools. Hey, what about newspapers, work-outs, televisions, get-togethers etc for which all I can say is ‘Duh?!’. While you are at it, try to get your hands on ‘Snapshots from Hell’. One helluva terrific read on your flight journey! Adios, see you soon.

The authoress, Sowmya aka Simba is one of the moderators of PaGaLGuY forum. She has diverse interests in various activities that are beyond the scope of this small introduction. She is currently a first year full time MBA student at the Duke University, Fuqua School of Business. She believes there is much to b-schools than just being accepted and hopes to give a bird-view about living the life of a B-Schooler.

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