“More than 40 per cent of the class of 2016 is international!”
This is one of the first stats Stanford touted when I walked onto campus at the start of the Autumn quarter. I was impressed. However, it was easy to forget this percentage amidst the other qualifiers and descriptors I heard that weekend: “One of your classmates wrote for a famous TV series”, “One of your classmates won an Olympic medal”, “One of your classmates is already a practicing neurosurgeon”, or “One of your classmates already sold his first business to a private equity firm.” It was clear that I was surrounded by some pretty outstanding people.
But what I didn’t know (and what I’m still figuring out) is just how international my two-year experience would be or how globally relevant. While the verdict is still out on the latter, the jury is already in on how wide my world is while at Stanford.
At Yale, there was a sizeable international population. But, to be quite honest, we figuratively and literally sat at different lunch tables. Because Stanford is so small and the emphasis on community so strong, lunch tables are less siloed. Obviously, there is still some grouping by regional or national affiliation – same language, same culture, same food, it makes sense.
But, in the last week alone, the world barged in on my Palo Alto bubble in a myriad of ways:
1) I worked on group projects with peers from Saudi Arabia, India, Mexico, and China
2) I spent nine hours in my class on supply chains in developing economies, learning directly from peers about the challenges and opportunities inherent when working in Nigeria, China, India, Russia and South Africa (to name a few)
3) I attended a discussion led by two of my Lebanese classmates about the past, present and future of Lebanon. We asked hard questions. They answered candidly.
4) I started researching the Mexican business, government and education leaders who I will meet on a student-led study trip over Spring break (with 20+ of my classmates). The student-leaders are all Mexican and our access to the most powerful, innovative and impact-driven leaders in Mexico is unparalleled. NOT your normal Mexico Spring break
5) I went on a double date to an (almost) authentic Indian restaurant with my Indian classmate and his wife. I said I could handle spicy. I learned I didn’t know what spicy meant
6) President Obama came to campus. He spoke about cybersecurity with leaders from around the world (yes, somehow in this list of mine, President Obama is #6!)
Business school sometimes gets a bad rap for all the traveling students do. And some of it is warranted. I won’t claim that all business school travel is the pinnacle of cultural immersion and exploration. But what I do know is that many of my classmates will go back to their respective home countries and run for office, build and lead businesses that change economies across the globe and otherwise contribute to the development and betterment of their nations. Whether I am on the Stanford campus or lucky enough to be traveling with classmates to places like Guatemala or Colombia, I am slowly becoming a more international businessperson.
Folks are constantly saying that business school is all about the people, which is true. But what isn’t so widely shared is that the people are not just experts in their field. They are also doors to other parts of the world. You just have to be brave enough to knock.
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