My First 3 days in Berlin

So Anne did mean it when she told us few weeks ago that “It will get better”. Yes, we were somehow complaining about the workload, of how we barely survived all those Decision Theory homework and statistics problem sets (mostly), getting the study group together to accomplish certain tasks, and last but not least: seeing the beautiful Berlin. When I signed up to be one of the bloggers here, I told Claudia that I could write two or three times a week. Look at me now: writing my second post after 7 weeks of my first one. But this also means that life is getting better now. I am not sure whether the schedule is getting more relaxed or we simply got used to the schedule. Maybe the latter.

So now that I have a bit of time before Monday kicks in (I thought I only dread Mondays when I was working, but it haunts me now still!) I would like to narrate a little story of my first month in Berlin.

If you read my previous post, you would see how excited I was. I arrived in Berlin two days before the program started, which was 7th of September. It was 9am when I landed at Tegel, and I took a cab to a shared apartment that Bar (our awesome Israeli MIM) has found for me. I was to share with an Israeli lady of about 50, living alone in her two-room apartment. We agreed that I will stay for one month and see how it goes before deciding whether to continue my stay. So she welcomed me warmly to the reasonably cozy room with shared bathroom and kitchen of course. There was no living room so she made me tea and offered me cookies in her own room. She was kind and warm, in general. I did not really mind too when she told me I couldn’t have access to internet now because there was something wrong (in which she couldn’t explain) and that she will “borrow” the internet connection from the neighbor for me. I was still ok when she told me I am not supposed to use the washing machine without her there, because she was afraid it will break down. Even when she told me to make sure I don’t use warm water too much when washing my dishes because it will mean more electricity, or when she told me I was not supposed to cook a lot “because Berlin’s food is really cheap!”, I was still ok. After all, I already got the vibes that I should find a new place next month and for now just be nice and do whatever she says. She was pretty considerate though; she even offered to show me the nearest bahn station and the neighborhood. She said she felt like she was having a little daughter at home again.

So the next day after I slept off my jetlag, I went and give her the rental and deposit of 1000 euro. I changed all my money in Phnom Penh, my hometown, in a local currency exchange center that is supposed to be the most trustworthy among all in town. I did not have a bank account yet, so I gave her the money in cash. Then I was off to ESMT to meet Anne and was supposed to meet Bar later for the first time. While talking excitedly to Anne, I got a call from my landlady “Where are you? You need to come right now, your money is fake and the police is here. I don’t care where you are or what you are doing, just get here right now.” I was stunned. She gave me the address and hung up. I couldn’t even remember the address, being on my first day in Berlin and not speaking a word of German. I called her again and she started repeating the same dialogue before I managed to spell out the name of the street from her. I immediately hopped on a cab, not wasting even 1 minute. While on the cab, she called me two more times. It took only 15 minutes to get there, and the last call was when I was right in front of Deutsche Bank – where she was with two policemen nearby. I went to her, before she could say anything I said “I am really really sorry”. She replied “You better be, you better be. This is your last day in my apartment. I sensed the anger, so I turned instead to the policemen and ask what I could do. They informed me that one 100 euro note (not all) was fake. They needed my passport and information for record purposes and that was it.

However, my landlady kept repeating how embarrassing it is for her, and that it was her first time getting into such situation after 50 years of life, and that “she deal with bad people and bad money”. She kept repeating how well she welcomed me, how she thought I was a good person. No matter how many times I apologized, she just did not care. As a background information, she has German citizenship but does not speak German. So one banking staff was there to interpret what the policemen said to her. So now, the fake money issue is done but the policemen and the bank staff were busy explaining to her that this kind of case are pretty normal and they face it almost everyday. It’s not her fault, and it’s not my fault either because fake money is everywhere. They were arguing, somehow. I was there, watching the bank staff and policemen arguing with my landlady on my behalf. I felt really overwhelmed by her attitude and I already had watery eyes, almost crying out loud. Fortunately, Bar turned up on time and explained to her in their language. After a while, she calmed down a little and said I could stay with her as long as I need to get a new place. I politely said it’s ok, I do not want to bother her. She kept insisting until I said “You felt bad right? I also feel bad, so NO thank you!”.

After the event, since Bar was there, we all went for a cup of tea nearby the bank. She kept repeating how nice she was to me, and now that she calmed down, she was saying nicer things. I offered to pay for the 2 nights that I have stayed, but she refused, and gave me back 900 Euro that were not fake. I moved out later that evening to Bar’s couch in her living room which felt so comfortable after such a dramatic day. For that, I can’t thank Bar enough for her rescue. Bar later explained to me that the reason why it was such a hassle was because the landlady did not carry an identification with her, while claiming to be legal German citizen but does not speak German. The policemen also told Bar to help to try to calm her down because she was too emotional about it.

Ending: I stayed at Bar’s couch for a week, then found a pretty room (but expensive) to stay for 3 weeks, then moved to another place for one month, and now I’m blogging from my “permanent” room. I still remember the email she sent to Bar wishing her to “have a nice life” after we parted.

So that was my crazy start in Berlin. What’s your story?

MiMs – Gladiators in Suits


6 weeks have whizzed past since the inaugural MiM programme took off on the 9th of September 2014 at the ESMT. Time certainly flies when you’re having fun!

We’ve crunched through Statistics, Decision Theory, Operational Behaviour and Business Economics. Starting next week, we’ll be taking on Financial Accounting and Decision Making.
I just did the math, and it turns out that in the last 44 days, we have done 9 handed-in assignments, 13 case studies, 3 exams and 3 presentations (not forgetting the 2 photo shoots :-).

As Olivia Pope would say in my favourite TV series, Scandal,
“We’re gladiators; gladiators in suits.”
The MiM programme is definitely not for the feint-hearted. Coming from a purely, maybe even dryly, technical background, the MiM has had a demanding and rigorous start.
The midnight oil has certainly been burnt on many a night in the past weeks. So feeling like a zombie in the morning is now somewhat normal. The other day I jokingly said,
“I’ll probably walk onto the graduation podium to the Thriller soundtrack in the background in June 2016- dance moves and all.”
I must take my hat off though to my fellow MiMs who are generally a very jolly lot. So even on days when we’re groggy and could do with extra sleep, we can still afford to laugh and at least be happy zombies.

34 students, 19 nations, 5 continents – that’s our MiM class.
Being in a class of people who hail from all corners of the world and bring different experiences, perspectives and flavours to the table has made for a very rich learning experience.
[Side-bar: I must add that I am particularly impressed that nobody has asked me if I speak ‘African’ - that's always a good sign.]

‘Til the next blog entry:
So long, gladiators!


What I did not expect in MIM

Hello Europe!

Hello Germany!

Hello Berlin!

Hello ESMT!

Helloooooo MIMs!

MIM Outdoor Day

Excited MIMs ready to start their outdoor day – 18 September 2014

I could not put into a few words or sentences how excited I was to be coming to ESMT. It is my first time in Europe, Germany, and Berlin. I was in the sky when I got the email from Admissions saying I am a successful candidate. I still remember how I was jumping up and down in my small room in Kuala Lumpur in the middle of the night, trying to find someone to tell of the good news. I still remember how I couldn’t keep my mouth close the next few days simply because I was so happy. “Sopha, I think you’ve been smiling too much”, one of my friends told me. Whatever. “You have no idea”, I told him.

That was roughly seven weeks ago. I did whatever it takes to get to Berlin on time to start the orientation with my fellow classmates that I was looking forward to meeting so much. 34 students of 19 nationalities from all over the world come together to form the most amazing class ever! This is not, however, what I did not expect in MIM program. Our awesome school had us all linked up in a platform called ConnectTo and we got in touch weeks before school starts. It was still exciting to finally get to meet everyone in real, though. Everyone has a story to tell, an awesome experience to share, and everyone brings in different flavor to the class. This is still NOT what I did not expect from MIM though.

Ladies & Gentlemen, let me present to you two things I did not expect when I signed up for the MIM Program:

  1. How well-structured the program is: well, you could say I have not much experience in professional business schools in Europe whatsoever, but I am telling you – this is the best pioneer program I’ve experienced in my life. I am amazed that even if this the first time MIM is launched, it feels as if everyone has been doing this their whole lives. Credit goes to the MIM team who have been doing a great job so far and we could not be happier to be a part of all these.
  2. Now comes the sour part: How intense the program is. If I were to run a poll on this topic, I believe 100% of my fellow MIM classmates will agree with me. Most of us come from engineering background, and even those who are from business and economic background also were expecting a more “relaxing” program. Most of us knew that MBA Program is intense, and we thought MIM would be less intense because it’s a 22-month program. WRONG. We are now in Week 3 of the course and we barely have any time to go around Berlin yet. Some of us even have to spend the weekend at school, and that explains a LOT.

I hope we will get used to this exciting and busy life very soon. I need to complete my Decision Theory homework now, so enjoy your Sunday everybody!

ESMT Responsible Leaders Fellowship Program: A motivation letter by Javier Guzmán de Baya

My name is Javier Guzmán de Baya, an ESMT MBA graduated in 2013. Through this letter, I would like to explain the reasons and motivations for my decision to be part of the RLF; fellowship program between ESMT and Tsiba. Besides, I would like to describe the different programs and activities in which I am involved.

Firstly, I will explain how I got involved on the ESMT fellowship program; when Professor Dr. Wulff Plinke, ESMT Founding Dean, explained the fellowship program to our MBA class last year, I got immediately excited with the idea on participating on that. The possibility for me to work again in social field, especially on the appealing project at Tsiba, where I could apply the knowledge and experience accumulated in my career, and also where I would like to keep developing my professional career, was an irresistible opportunity that I could not miss.

I am an economist with a second bachelor´s degree in Marketing Business and Market Research with background in Multilateral Financial Institutions, International Trade and Investment, Public Administrations and Regional Cooperation for Development. My work experience at the Trade Promotion Agency of Andalusia (EXTENDA), and also my experience as EU Project Technical Expert in Spain focused on Regional Development and Cooperation Program in Latin America are being especially helpful for me when carrying out my activities at TSiBA in South Africa.

My motivations are exclusively related to my passions. I am especially passionate about working for projects related to Social Entrepreneurship, and Sustainability Projects as well as for projects within the Corporate Social Responsibility or Public Institutions. My special sensitivity when working with local communities; my experience with project approach and assessment when looking for solutions, and passion when achieving goals together with people, make me to be really interested in keeping working on the social field. I would be very enthusiastic on having the possibility to apply all of that on future similar projects.

Following, I would like to introduce TSiBA Education in order to have a better understanding of my activities in this Institution:

TSiBA Education is a non-profit private higher education institution based in South Africa, for disadvantaged students who would not otherwise be able to afford a university education.

Tsiba, apart from its academic vision with more than 500 students, provides different entrepreneurial services to an important number of local enterprises; TSiBA Ignition Centre is a hub dedicated to extending TSiBA’s mission of “Igniting Opportunity” to reach beyond our students into the communities that they come from. Most of the projects are focused on Enterprise Development, Community Training and Leadership Development.

I started working at TSiBA in January, where I was assigned to the Ignition Center (Business Incubator and Social Entrepreneurship) due to my professional background, but the lack of human and financial resources have caused that I am also involved on the academic side of the Institution by lecturing different courses, what it is also being an amazing experience for me.

Description of activities

The TSiBA Ignition Center, with the purpose to offer its services, is permanently searching for enterprises, most of them just survival businesses, in the community. We are permanently tracing new potential beneficiaries. It means that we make interviews, create business profiles, classify, and based on their needs and challenges assign these enterprises to the appropriate program.

As any NGO, TSiBA can implement its programs basically through sponsorship agreements. One example is the program that we are running with Sanlam, one of the biggest Insurance Company in South Africa. In this program, we offer training, individual mentorship and professional network, to the enterprises that we previously selected for participating on the program. Sanlam is not only interested on sponsoring this program because its Corporate Social Responsibility but also because the participant enterprises on the program will be included on the Sanlam´s supply chain program and generate synergies with other companies that already operated with Sanlam and other clients.

We are running similar programs to the one described with Sanlam, in which local institutions and corporates support different programs that offer individual mentorship and training to our enterprises.

What it is very unique at Tsiba, is the extremely close relationship of the students with the community and especially with the businesses that operate in the community. Most of our enterprises know from TSiBA through our students. After this first contact, enterprises come to the Ignition Center where we explain them our activities and different support tools.

In line with that, we are also running a program in collaboration with the Northeastern University’s Social Enterprise Institute. In this program around 50 American students together with TSiBA students will support local enterprises by providing managerial support according to their challenges and needs. For this program, what we do first is contact our enterprises, we interview them and create a business profile in which we highlight their main needs and challenges. After that, we allocate students with skills and profiles that can bw helpful for overcoming the challenges of the businesses participating on the program.

On the academic side, I am lecturing last year students. The course is called innovation and we are implementing a very practical program that encourages the students to create their own businesses. At the end of the program, they have to generate income with their businesses. Here, there is also an important field to come up with new collaborations and ways of implementing the program: Business incubator, social entrepreneurship and allocation of our students to corporates for consulting projects.

I am also mentoring students for the Entrepreneurship Course. Proffesor Dr, Plinke had the opportunity to attend to one of my sessions during his visit to the TSiBA Campus.

The final purpose of this document is to raise awareness of the multiple collaboration possibilities that can be developed in South Africa and especially related to Social Entrepreneurship and CSR. The social impact of the activities carried out by institutions as TSiBA is impressive but can be multiplied with additional support especially from corporate world. There are many different ways to collaborate and develop new potential programs in South Africa.

As I explained in the beginning of this document, I am really interested on continuing working on the social field, especially in Social Entrepreneurship. During my experience at Tsiba, different ideas and possibilities for future collaboration programs are arising. I would love to share them with you if you are interested.

I am totally convinced that Social Entrepreneurship is a powerful way to alleviate poverty in the developing world.

ESMT Responsible Leaders Fellowship Program: Evyatar Epstein in Cape Town, South Africa

I was given the opportunity to be a lecturer at TSiBA Education, in Cape-Town.

Evy teaching at TSiBA 3TSiba is a college that educates for a Business Administration degree. The college provides full scholarship for all of its students. Its main goal is to recruit talented high-school graduates who have the potential to become well educated and successful adults, but do not have the financial means to do so. In the broader sense of South-Afriac`s complex political and social environment- TSiBA is trying to help bridging the huge gap between the under-privileged people- namely the black and the colored population- and the privileged ones.

My business school- ESMT- is aiming to use the knowledge and experience gained by its graduates to contribute to a knowledge-thirsty institution such as TSiBA. ESMT is doing it by offering its graduates the opportunity to spend a semester in South-Africa, in which they will volunteer as teachers and mentors at TSiBA.

Evy at TSiBAAfter arriving to TSiBA, I was asked to be responsible of a managerial-accounting course. This responsibility included preparing lectures and tutorials for a class of 60 students, as well as checking the students` work, preparing their final exam and grading them.

I found a very special kind challenge and satisfaction in doing this work, something I must admit I have never experienced before. The students are great- youngsters in their late teens to early twenties who are truly ambitious to gain knowledge and knowledge-recognition, and to find their way out of the poverty cycle. Most of them are truly grateful for the opportunity they were given and are determine not to miss it. Moreover, the students are excited from having a foreigner lecturer- a person who came from a different country, different background, and have proven experience from which they can benefit a lot.

I had great connection with my student and I truly feel I was able to contribute to them, not only with my professional knowledge but also with my life experiences in other areas.

Overall it was an amazing experience for me. I believe that this initiative of ESMT is a truly noble one and I wish that other business schools can find similar ways to contribute to society and “pay it forward”, as TSiBA`s slogan says.