Classmates: They make life easy and fun!

“It is not a sprint, it is a marathon.” We were told this on the very first day of the ESMT MBA program. I do not like to compare the MBA program, or for that matter, any educational program, to any sort of race or competition. However, I agree in this case. Like a marathon, it is long, exhausting, fun, and finishes soon. However, there is more to it. There is no competition in this one; everyone is on the same team, and that makes it special.

By now, you would have guessed what I will be talking about in this blog post: yes, you are right — my class! I came to ESMT for its unique approach towards MBA training through excellent facilities, top-notch professors, modern curriculum, and various networking opportunities, which are the essence of business and management studies. However, I believe the learning experience is enhanced further with diversity; ESMT is truly international. With 67 classmates representing 34 nationalities, I am learning as much from my classmates as I am from my professors.

ESMT Full-time MBA class of 2018

So where do I begin? There are so many amazing things that have happened in the past five months that I fall short of words and time to describe everything. Nevertheless, let me start with the studies so that we can go through the fun part later and end this on an eventful note!

Not everybody comes with the same knowledge and experience so it becomes utterly important to collaborate to excel. For instance, I am not good at finance but I managed to sail through because of the support from my study group and classmates. Similarly, when someone lacks the required skills, a fellow classmate may help. As I said in the beginning, there is no competition; and even if there is any, it is healthy. We all know we are in this together and together we will succeed.

Getting too serious? Okay then let’s move to the fun part, because that’s what we do when it gets too intense in terms of assignments and projects. Now that we have spring (although some would like to call it summer, given the temperatures) the ESMT gardens serve as a football ground. We have a lot of football frenzy people in the class so who would stay back indoors after a full day of class! (Me, yes, I don’t play the game but my love for it is eternal!) Or maybe ping pong!

But what rules here at ESMT is kicker! Being a school based in Berlin , “the party city”,  it is no wonder! And once the game is on, it is the best thing ever. And, trust me, we have quite a few terrific players in the class. Don’t believe me? Well, two of my classmates were the champions of the MBA Tournament (MBAT) held at HEC Paris in May. So yeah, we do rule the kicker scene among business schools!

MBAT Auction

Speaking of MBAT,  ESMT was the smallest contingent at the tournament but did win a lot of hearts. Apart from kicker, we took third place in poker and two wins in swimming! Here as well, the school and the class supported the team. There was even an auction held to raise funds — everything from martial art to Bollywood dancing session was up for grabs. Kudos to the MBAT team who made us proud!

A few of my classmates also participated in the yearly finance competition held at SDA Bocconi. Others are working on some cool and innovative ideas and are planning to represent the school at various events. With so much enthusiasm around, as a student and fellow classmate I feel inspired.

Hotpot with classmates

As a class we do a lot of things, but I would commit a big mistake if I don’t mention the most important part: food! Really, what’s life without delicious food? We live by that mantra. Until now, we have had so many cuisines, sometimes in small groups and sometimes almost 30 to 40 of us showing up at the restaurant. Again, kudos to my fellow classmates who like to share not only their professional experience but also culture through culinary heritage. From Italian to Chinese and a Brazilian barbecue coming up just before we go on our summer break, we have enjoyed it or will enjoy it all!

Well these are just some glimpses of life at ESMT made easy and fun by the cohort! I will leave this for now, but will come back soon to describe more of my time here in Berlin!

Starting Over In A New City

I have met a lot of people who dropped everything to go start over in a new place but I never thought I would be one of them. Leaving behind family, friends, a career (or at least that’s what I thought it was at the time), comfort, routine, everything you’ve built for most of your life. It sounds exciting but the beginning is always overwhelming. What gave me the extra push to do it are the words of my former company’s CEO, who said “growth and comfort do not coexist.” Indeed I was comfortable and so were all the people in my closest circle of friends and family. Most of us lived in the same little neighborhood of Astoria, New York our whole lives and had plans of getting married there, raising our kids there, taking our grandkids to the park together. It is a typical Astoria family thing to do and for some reason I couldn’t bare the thought of living that “typical” life.

Did I work this hard to be “typical”? Did I reach a certain level of comfort in my life that I thought was sufficient to continue this way? I was too comfortable it bothered me because I knew I wanted to do something crazy on my own without having the pressure of the society I lived in holding me down.

And now, here I am, writing this blog post from my apartment in the whimsical neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. Everyone called me crazy for leaving the perfect life situation to start over and be “alone” in a different country but I never felt happier in my life. I’m finally living by myself, meeting new people from all around the world (some of which have become my best friends), trying new foods, learning German (a language I never thought I’d want to learn), interning at one of the largest e-commerce companies of Western Europe and doing it all on my own.

It’s all happening thanks to ESMT Berlin. I found the perfect masters program to help me pursue a specialized higher education without being in debt for the next 20 years of my life. Located right in the heart of Berlin, only steps away from some of the most historical landmarks in Europe, ESMT opened so many doors for me that helped me learn about myself and about the people around me. As the only American in a class of 89 students, not only am I debunking some myths about Americans (like that we use more credit cards to pay our credit card bills or that we are obsessed with McDonald’s) but also rapidly increasing my cultural competence, allowing me to travel to new countries and better connect with locals. Some of my classmates have become my best friends, joining me on my adventures to discover the city and giving me their support during tough times, like when my grandfather passed away in September. This experience has been magical so far and I am excited to see what the future holds.

If you’ve read this far, it either means you’re somewhat inspired by what I had to say…..or you just like to read. Either way, I hope you never let yourself become too comfortable with your life situation. And if you do, I hope this post inspires you to do something crazy in your life that will give you the opportunity to learn about the world and about yourself. Whether it be moving to a new city, pursuing a different career, volunteering to help people in underdeveloped countries, learning a new language, or following a different dream, do something that prevents you from living a “typical” life.

I changed my mind about my MBA school

There was pin-drop silence for a moment and then everybody was on their feet, clapping and cheering. He had delivered his last one! The claps did not stop until he himself stood on the chair and thanked his audience for their support. More claps followed. I said to myself, “How humble! Appreciating others for his hard work!”

It wasn’t a normal performance though. It wasn’t delivered by an actor from one of Berlin’s many theaters. Rather it was our last class for Managerial Analysis and Decision Making (MAD) with Professor Francis. He was no less of an artist. He showed the same conviction in the class as artists showcase in their performances. He practiced what he taught, too. He even shared an instance from his personal life where he applied what he was teaching. Above all, he was all about the fun of learning. Never did I imagine that this so-called intense MBA would bring me so much joy.

What made the experience special was that this was one of the early classes of the MBA 2018 program. It made it evident that what was going to follow would be good. And that did happen. Generally, all of the classes I have had until now have been good learning opportunities. I had never imagined that a quantitative methods class could be taught simply and without involving a lot of numbers. And I dare not miss the unique, elementary-school-like experience of learning financial accounting.

I must elaborate on this! Having just two accountants as students and another 3 to 4 students with similar work experience out of a diverse class of 67, the professor had to teach accounting basics. How did he do it? He got us handouts for every topic and went through each of them like one would do in a school! Today, if you give me any financial statement I can explain it with ease. If anyone would have asked me to do so a month ago, all I would have said is “Are you kidding?” Maybe all the B-schools have this pattern or maybe not, who can tell. All I can say is that, as a student, I can vouch for ESMT.

Another standing ovation to the professor, Financial Accounting class, MBA 2018

With such an intense curriculum, there have been several occasions when I was not prepared for the class or was not very interested. But I never missed a class. I was always sure I would learn something new or have some new experience every day. Did I mention that we toasted to our successful completion of marketing classes and the beginning of spring break with some Irish whiskey, courtesy of our Irish professor?

Marketing Management class, MBA 2018

It is not just about learning but about celebrating this year. Three months have already gone by. I hope that the rest of the year passes by slowly because I want to enjoy every moment of this adventure to the fullest.

Prof. Francis said in one of the classes, “Deciding is to give yourself a true chance to change your mind.” Yes, I did change my mind last year and decided to come to ESMT Berlin. Do I need to say it was one of the best decisions I ever made?

What was the last meaningful interaction you had?

Beautiful fireworks, Crimea

“That’s not funny,” she said. “People live like this every day, scared for their lives. They are used to the sounds, but the reality of the danger never goes away.”

It’s a Wednesday afternoon. Outside, the Berlin winter is doing its best to remind us of its presence. Inside, the walls that surrounded Walter Ulbricht now watch over us as we sit in the foyer. We are both MIM students, she from Ukraine, I from Nigeria, and we are waiting for the lecture to start while we discuss what we did for Christmas. “That’s not funny” was in response to my giggling about her New Year’s experience in Ukraine.

You see, Ukraine is still experiencing conflict with Russia, a conflict that started in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, a conflict that has resulted in a death toll of more than 9,600 Ukrainians and displaced 1.1 million, according to a September 2015 report by the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), and 400 deceased Russian soldiers by October 2015 according to The Washington Post. Due to the understandable tension, the New Year celebratory fireworks were toned down to avert alarm or panic should they be confused with gunfire.

In the background, the TV shows figures of the expected influx of migrants into Germany in 2018. We are all migrants, due to education in our case, for economic or welfare reasons in theirs. She and I discuss the migration and its effect on the economy: Where will they go? What services will they need? How can technology best serve them? In their homelands, what industries have been lost and which still exist? How does this impact the life of the people there?

Fast-forward twenty minutes; we are now in the “people management and leadership” lecture. Professor Gianluca delivers research released in 2017 on the role of emotional energy on leadership. Focusing on the traits of good leaders, he instructs, “Think about the last meaningful interaction you had.” I recline and remember, “That’s not funny.”

I write this puzzled, excited, and a bit taken aback, reminded as to why I chose ESMT. An international student body giving insight from around the globe, outstanding professors to delivering pioneering research, a culture fusing the theory and practice of management.

What was the last meaningful interaction you had? I seem to be having them quite often here at ESMT.

ESMT visits Harvard

Berlin to Boston

As soon as I landed in Boston, my network went off and I was doomed to the very existence as to how would I reach my hotel now. Thanks to my back up plan I had a few screenshots guiding me. I decided to take the snapshots to a passenger outside the train station. The nightmare struck me, how will I ask him the way? I was curious and hoped he could speak English so I went and asked the direction speaking English very slowly. To my astonishment, he replied quickly and fluently and then I realized I actually had landed in the USA and I can speak English freely =P. He topped it off by ending the conversation with “Sub theekh hah” (Urdu) which means “All is good”, making me realize that the people from my part of the world i.e. Pakistan and India are everywhere. I had landed in Boston where the weather was fairly similar and my journey ESMT visits Harvard begun.

HPAIR CONFERENCE

Well coming back to the conference, the reason for my trip and the million-dollar question what was HPAIR? HPAIR is an internationally-recognized student-run organization at Harvard College. It offers a forum of exchange to facilitate discussion of the most important economic, political, and social issues relevant to the Asia-Pacific region. Past speakers at the conferences include Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, President of Singapore S.R. Nathan and former President of Goldman Sachs Philip Murphy. I was honored to be selected where I represented my country and university at this conference. I had to go through a series of 4 to 5 essay questions for the application and then had to undergo a Skype interview to land the title of becoming a delegate to this delegate.

There is a common misconception that this is the statue of Mr. John Harvard when in fact it was one of his students who posed for the sculpture
My Experience

The HPAIR conference was an amazing experience, meeting delegates from various parts of the world. The delegates represented top universities from around the world and the experience to network with them was unparalleled to anything. I took the lead in starting a conversation as for every country I had a friend already thanks to the diversity ESMT Berlin offers =). The language classes surely paid off as I started interacting in German with a few delegates who were proficient in German.

Our very first day comprised of keynote lectures by Mitchell Dong and Jon Liechty. Mitchell Dong is currently the Managing Director of Pythagoras Investment Management. Jon Liechty is currently the vice president, Regional Operations for Starbucks Asia Pacific. The following day we were able to network further with Mr. Michael Eckhart, Managing director at Citigroup and Caitlin Iles, Partner at Capital xx. It was an amazing experience sharing the same room with such great motivational people with whom I could interact and discuss further on Asian economy, future of Asia and especially the south Asian region current and expected growth.

My Track

The following day I could speak my vision regarding the future of South Asia in my respective track of governance and diplomacy track. The governance and diplomacy track further allowed me to discuss my vision and approach with esteemed delegates and experts in the field. Mr. Nima Baiati who is the Senior Director of Product Management and Corporate Development at Absolute Software. Dr. Gordon M. Goldstein currently the Managing Director at Silver Lake Partners and Dr. Nazli Choucri, Professor of Political Science at MIT. The topics took a turn and soon in our next panel of discussion we were in discussion regarding geopolitics, regionalism and nuclear tensions amongst the Asian regions. I could reflect my thoughts on the mentioned topic of discussion with various esteemed colleagues such as Mr. Frederic Graire. (served the French embassy in various roles in Pakistan and India).

Final words

To cap it all off we had amazing international and cultural nights. It was an honor to wear ESMT’s shirt and wave the flag of Pakistan. A symbolic gesture that made me happy and proud at the same time. The international night was the final night where we bid our farewell to various colleagues. Colleagues that had become friends over the course of 5 days sharing intellect and vision for the future. The experience to go through those 5 days was magical and surely I would recommend anyone who considers himself/herself a future leader of Asia or has a profound interest towards Asian economy, policies and international relations should opt to apply for this experience. Go and get an experience of meeting all kinds of amazing people will be my final sentence.