Lessons from the real world

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Last year, several friends at two top business schools in the Boston area gave me this piece of advice about the business school application process: “The hardest part is getting in. After determining the school you want to attend, you can spend the rest of the spring and summer relaxing.”

I fully expected the period between making my decision and starting classes to be exactly as they predicted. I planned to sit back and look forward to the fruits of my labour: the best and most rewarding two years of my life would be followed by a six-figure (US dollar) salary.

My plan would have come to fruition had my friends included a caveat: go to a school in the US. But since they neglected to mention this, my decision to attend London Business School made my spring and summer more challenging than I could ever have imagined. Yet, throughout all this hard work, I have learnt invaluable lessons that will leave me better equipped for business in the years ahead.

I never realised that the task of moving to London would be more difficult than taking the GMAT, writing applications, attending interviews and “patiently” waiting for acceptance decisions. I spent spring and summer, for instance, reviewing exchange rates, trying to find the best way to finance my studies.

Should I try to get money in pounds, dollars or euros? What if I work in the US after school and the dollar is down or up, or maybe the pound will be down or up?

I spent days gathering the appropriate documentation to prove to the UK consulate that I deserved a student visa. Finding somewhere to stay was no easy task. I had continually to convert pounds per week to dollars per month. Out went the new DVD player and television – these would not survive a US Postal Service shipment, the customs import tax and the 240 volts of the UK electricity grid.

Thanks to these experiences I have been reminded that the UK and the US are two very different countries.

Yet, for me, it was relatively easy. I am 27, from the US, single and have no children. My classmates from Argentina, Russia, China and elsewhere, some with their families and partners, have had a much more difficult time.

For some, it is their first visit to the UK. Some, who do not have the robust US educational lending institution Sallie Mae to fund their education, have had to beg, borrow and steal to afford their education.

Others have had to travel long distances and provide an endless stream of documentation to obtain their UK student visas. Some are constantly worrying about securing a well-paid job in a developed market to repay the large debt they are incurring.

With so much stress, one would expect a class full of tired, irritable and anxious peers. Yet my classmates are the most excited and optimistic group you could imagine.

I believe the reason for this is that LBS attracts those who want to be global business leaders. The students are not looking to work in one country or region for the rest of their lives. Each student has come to the school not only to learn the academic skills of international accounting, finance and so on, but also the soft skills such as how to negotiate the differences that exist between countries and cultures.

My classmates and I know that if we are able to deal with the challenge of reaching LBS and surviving, we will be that much better prepared for today’s complex business environment. The obstacles we have encountered are just a small taste of what is to come in our business careers.

This is not the first time that I have had to adapt to a foreign environment. In my previous career as a military officer in the US Air Force, I worked in many different countries and experienced different cultures.

Although this career taught me a great deal, probably the most important skill I acquired was the ability to appreciate the politics, history and economics of other countries. When I made the decision to leave the air force and enter business I was already well aware of the promising and exciting opportunities that lay outside the US.

I decided that rather than play it safe, I would take a risk and try to capitalise on them. But in order to do this I needed to gain technical skills, which were best
provided by an MBA.

I have an understanding of how to manage and lead. Give me a balance sheet and I would not know where to begin. A marketing strategy? What on earth is that? There are so many business skills I have yet to acquire.

Yet the raw skills are not all that I am searching for. I need an MBA from an institution that will not only improve my understanding of general business skills but also enhance my knowledge of the international business environment.

After analysing the top business schools, I came to the conclusion that LBS would prepare me better than any other institution. And prepare me it has.

Beyond the challenges I encountered when moving to the UK, LBS prepares me every time I work with my study group, which contains people from seven countries. It prepares me as I train my ear to understand the myriad ways that people speak the English language; and when I encounter the customs and courtesies of Asian, Latin American and African cultures.

It prepares me when I speak to my French classmates (as I try to improve my French for my foreign language requirement). It prepares me every day, when I wake up and realise that in order to be where I want to be I have not just to survive but to succeed.

So, for me, the headaches I have endured over the past few months have been worth it. By the time I leave, I hope I will have learnt how to thrive, not only in the UK, but wherever my future career may take me.

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