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!

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?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My First Month at ESMT Berlin

By Jack (Wen-Jui) Liu

I was adding to-do lists to my calendar when I realized that I moved to Berlin almost 3 months ago. Time flies and there are a lot of new things going on in my life. Before sharing my story with you, I would like to tell you why I chose to study at ESMT Berlin .

Why ESMT Berlin?

ESMT Berlin

Location

I have always been a city person. Compared to the other places: TIAS in Utrecht and ESSEC in Cergy-Pontoise, Berlin seems like a better fit for me. On top of that, as a person who does not speak any other European language apart from English, Berlin is a very international city where English is understood everywhere so that I would not have many difficulties living there.

Diversity Backgrounds of Fellow Students

According to the information I got from the school brochure and the interviewer, there are more than 30 nationalities in the program and they all come from different academic backgrounds. Due to previous experiences, I know that many sparks can be created in this kind of multicultural environment.

Chances to Gain Practical Experiences

At ESMT, we have to do at least 4 months of internship and one social impact project. Compared to other business schools, which are more academic oriented, I believe that I can gain more business knowledge connected to the real world.

Life at ESMT

After a very busy first month, I have noticed many differences from my undergraduate studies and I am very happy that I made the choice to come here.

A LOT OF Readings

In order to finish most of the courses before doing an internship, ESMT’s schedule can be intense sometimes. You might have to read 30 to 60 pages in preparation for the class. I am not going to sugarcoat this part. Sometimes you might feel stressed out and that you are not able to finish everything in time or you feel like you are studying all the time. However, after a month you will get the hang of it and realize that there is still some time left for you to enjoy your life in this amazing city.

Multicultural Hub

This is one of the main reasons I chose ESMT and so far, this is my favorite part of the program. We have 89 people with 39 nationalities in our class. Every time we are discussing something during the class or within the study group, I am amazed by how different our perspectives can be because of our different cultural and academic backgrounds. In the meantime, I am learning a lot from this environment and I am on the way to gaining a more international mindset.

Oktoberfest

Interactive Course

The professors at ESMT use very interactive teaching methods. Students are encouraged to communicate their own ideas during the course. As a student from Taiwan, I still remember the shock that I felt seeing 50 hands in the air after the professor asked a question. If you are not used to speaking in front of so many people, you might need some time to adjust, as I had to. At first, it was quite hard to force myself to raise my hand in class, but now I have managed to share my opinions a few times already.

Life in Berlin

Berlin is one of the biggest cities in Europe. It is a beautiful city with a very interesting historical background. Most importantly, you feel the vibes of the city and live like a Berliner.

Public Transportation or Bike

Cycling in Berlin

The Berlin public transportation system is convenient and very well connected. Even on weekdays, you can still catch some night bus to get home at 2am in the morning. Just remember to download an app called BVG Fahrinfo, where you can find all available connections, so you get to where you need to be. The other common transportation that Berliners commonly use is the bike. Berlin has one of the most well planned bicycle lanes in the world. You just need to observe carefully the traffic signals for the bikers and you will be fine.

Accommodation

Finding an apartment in Berlin can be quite dreadful, especially if you do not speak German. The housing market is short in supply, so you have to compete with many other applicants. Alternatively, you can try out some international student resident housing for a start. Most of them have contacts who speak English. They might be a little overpriced, but if you want to save some troubles, it is a good option.

Night Life

I wouldn’t call myself a party animal but it is always good to go partying after a long week at school. Berlin is one of the biggest party cities in Europe. Besides, if you are a big techno fan you will feel like you are in heaven. If you are more of a hip-hop or pop music person like me, you can still find some places to go.  If you are not keen on clubbing, there are plenty of bars everywhere. The best part is the price of alcohol in Berlin, which is very affordable compared to London or Paris.

BE WHO YOU ARE

I think this is the most important thing I love about Berlin. No matter who you are, you can always find a place in this city and just be yourself. You might see people with more than 30 piercings or dressed up exceptionally on the U-Bahn, but nobody will give them a weird look. People mostly don’t care whether you are heterosexual or homosexual. You can just be who you are and feel totally comfortable.

I am very glad that I came to ESMT in Berlin. Although sometimes I still miss home and there are always some difficulties in life, which you have to deal with, so far, I am still very happy about my choice. I am 95% sure that I will still feel the same way after I complete these two years at ESMT.

 

Senegal: A cultural paradox

After staying in Senegal for four months I have grown accustomed to the question – What do you think of Senegal? I always ask the other person to be a little more specific because I have a mixed bag of YES and NO’s in my repository of experiences. If you ask me whether I like people, culture and life in general? Then, it’s a yes to all three questions. Do you think that the economy is in good shape and poised to grow? Then the answer is NO.

People in Senegal are extremely warm and welcoming. This is reflected in their day-to-day lives, community functions, work place and even clothes. Unlike India, which is also undergoing economic transformation, people in Senegal are patient, content and easy going. A dinner in a restaurant can easily extend beyond an hour because most people delve into conversations while the staff takes 20-minutes to bring the menu. It takes another 20-minutes to order and then another 30 minutes finishing the food. Sometimes my urgency in placing the order and eating food surprises the staff at the restaurants and cafés. Senegal is so easy-going and laid back that if you don’t ask for the check it never arrives. Similarly, confrontations in the society are resolved by arguing politely about the issues and sometime involves several volunteers that listen to the parties and help them reach a settlement. For e.g. if one cars slightly rubs off another car on the road then there is small exchange of words by pulling cars aside or some honking. If the damage is serious then settlement is immediately reached by involving the curios bystanders to assess the damage. That’s it! I have never seen people getting into heated arguments, heckling or brawls. I’m sure it happens but is not so visible in regular life.

This sense of calm and satisfaction is also observed at work. People show up early but morning discussions are important and small talk takes priority. If something goes wrong with the equipment at a convention or an event then you don’t see people running helter-skelter to fix it. Usually a person is sent out to find the person who can fix the problem. While the technician takes 5 minutes to arrive and fix the issue, the crowd breaks down in chatter as if it was expected. The speaker/ organizers stay calm as if this were a part of the show. This is how most things work here. In the beginning I had reached a pre-mature conclusion that people were lazy and productivity at work was extremely low. This is the point where I was completely wrong. For I had assumed that people didn’t do enough. In the process I missed the point the people don’t want to do more.

Understanding culture and people takes time, observation, and interaction. People in Senegal are deeply rooted in their culture. The culture of Senegal is defined by four words namely – Kersa (respect for others), Tegin (good manners), Terranga (hospitality) and Thiossane that stands for history, tradition and culture. These four tenets of Senegalese life pretty much define how they conduct and live their lives. It took me four months to understand this aspect of life and accept it. In the process I learned that people were more happy, content and in harmony with each other. This is contrary to the life of modern societies, in which materialistic wealth is seen as an important factor for achieving happiness but we are always short or looking for it. From the western perspective output at work may seem inadequate but from the Senegalese perspective it’s adequate as long as someone is working on it. Relationships and people are given priority over work and its often more important to preserve those rather than getting the work done. I have now come accept this way of life and it raises a profound question in my mind – We live to work or work to live? I’m glad that I experienced this and I hope that I would take these values back with me.

Although these ideals are a good way to lead a life, they cannot exist without a stable/economically developed society. Ignoring the fact that economic development and good quality life are not mutually exclusive is like ignoring the very peaceful existence Senegal has enjoyed till now and the factors responsible for it. Thus it becomes all the more important for Senegalese people to be economically stable, which will ensure survival of this culture and values. An economically unstable society cannot thrive on good conduct and culture. This is where most people in Senegal disagree with me and firmly believe that they are better off given the prevailing economic environment, simply blaming the government for all shortcomings. Most Senegalese are oblivious to the fact that the country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and it is this constant influx of capital that it has managed to avoid wars, coups, and economic collapse that most of it neighbors have experienced in recent history.

Majority Senegalese believe that low agricultural productivity and underdeveloped infrastructure is an outcome of bad government policies. They also think that its entirely government’s responsibility to take care of agriculture and infrastructure industries. Although it is true to some extent, it would be wrong to just blame the government. Most millennial, start-up founders and businessmen have jumped onto the bandwagon of digitization/ ICT and ignored the opportunities in these foundational industries. They see digital businesses and service industry as the key to change the economic landscape. Universities, business schools and research centers also echo similar outlook with hardly any investment in R&D of agriculture, infrastructure and primary industries. It is only the foreign countries that see the opportunity and are thus investing heavily by leasing large swaths of land, building highways and investing in medical services amongst other industries. Senegalese people have nil or very little investment in these businesses. In my opinion agriculture forms the basis of a strong economy. All modern economies were built on agrarian societies, whose first goal was to become self sufficient in terms of food. Only when there is enough food for everyone, the governments and society can think of progressing into industrialized economy. It is very hard to find a country that was entirely able to skip this crucial step in transitioning from a developing country to a developed country. China and India are prime example of this transformation. Many young people are oblivious to this fact and strongly believe that recent growth in the ICT sector is the answer to end this dependency on foreign aids.

Even if we are to assume that ICT holds the key for economic transformation in Senegal there are other factors that pose as a major challenge. Some of these challenges are:

  1. Language – Today’s businesses are global and the primary medium of communication is English. People hardly speak English in this part of the world and this limits their reach and access to information.
  2. Limited natural resources –Senegal is not so rich in natural resources. For e.g. the entire energy requirement of Senegal is fulfilled by producing energy from imported oil. There is no hydro electricity or other forms of energy production. Surprisingly no one here in investing in renewable energy production given the high incidence of wind and sun all year long.
  3. Poor banking infrastructure and weak policies – BCEAO is the sole central bank for eight West African countries and the French treasury is the only guarantor. The French treasury sets the exchange rate between countries and the CFA is pegged to the Euro at a fixed rate. The French treasury also plays a big role in defining the policies that govern the BCEAO. Need I say more?
  4. Interference of international politics – Every government decision is heavily influenced by their French or American counterparts. I guess that’s the price you pay for This interference is noted not only in politics but also in the economic sphere. Most telecommunication companies, tourism businesses, and other important industries have international organizations holding majority stake.
  5. Dysfunctional relationship with neighbors – Senegal’s relationship with its immediate and extended neighbors is dysfunctional. One day they are friends and the next day you have a trade embargo that jeopardizes all the past efforts.
  6. Lack of R&D in agricultural, indigenous industries and life sciences – I met a lot of students, professionals and government officials but none seem to focus on mentioned areas. Other indigenous industries such as fishing, which is one of the biggest employers, are rapidly deteriorating and no investment is being done to improve its performance.

So going back to the original question – what do I think of Senegal – I have to say that I have mixed feelings. Most debates that start with that question somehow end with the preceding context. Although I am able to convince some people and my counter arguments raise a doubt in their minds it does not deter their belief in the Senegalese way of life. At one business event a similar conversation had captivated about 5 people and there seemed to be no end to it when one gentleman, who after patiently listening to all the arguments, turned to me and said – “You may be right but life goes on. The dinner is served and its time to eat. Everything else can wait but food should not!” For a moment I was stumped but I knew that he meant to say that with all the respect and warmth in his heart. Although the western values and way of life slowly creep into the Senegalese culture, I am hopeful that Senegal will continue to carry on the traditions and build upon that a progressive and sustainable country that will serve as an example for other West African nations.

Till then JerraJef !