From the monthly archives:

March 2012

Since I came from my Study Abroad week in France 10 days ago, I have been on a mission. The mission is directly coming out from my Most Valuable Lesson Learned in France: I have been making a conscious effort to meet with people in informal settings over a meal or a drink, just to talk and learn more about each other.

Last Friday I managed to get the people in my office out for lunch. Not that we have not had lunches together before, but the pattern and participation rate are very spotty and inconsistent. This time I got the highest participation in about two months. I also scored a few “thank you” emails from colleagues after the lunch for taking the initiative and promoting it. So much about “leading without formal authority”.

I mentioned in my last post that three of us in my Business Communication class agreed to go out to the neighborhood bar on campus to have a drink and just chat after class this week. As I planned, I sent invitation to the whole class to join us. We ended up getting one RSVP confirming coming, who bailed out at the last moment. But another guy joined us at the last moment. So there were four of us, we had some good conversations, beer and light food. It was not too long either, somewhere around an hour and a half. But for me it was well worth it.

So here is the invitation (with minor redactions) I sent to my classmates, and now I am sending the message to you:

Guys,
As part-time students most of us do not have enough time to learn about our classmates outside the classrooms, to have fun, and just get a shot at fostering lasting meaningful personal/business relationships that could continue after we graduate.

Part of it is our actual busy-ness due to juggling job, school, (family). Another part is due to the cultural predisposition to individualism, social apathy, laziness, and may be even fear of interactions with other people outside the formal prescribed frameworks.

In an attempt to at least somewhat overcome these constraints three of us: M, R, and Vit agreed to come out to Tonic (so masterfully praised by M in his impromptu speech in the first session) after class this Tuesday.

We want to extend this invitation to the rest of the class. It could be a good opportunity just to have fellowship and a few drinks, to learn more about each other in informal way.

We understand this is a short notice to adjust the schedule, and especially to undo the years of cultural baggage, but here it is – everyone is invited. If you have trouble justifying this time spent on socializing with your classmates, give it more business-like label – networking. Either way, we’ll be glad to see you there.

You may RSVP or decide at the last moment to join us – it’s OK as we don’t make special reservations and our class is quite small anyways.

Cheers!

One of the guys at the bar told me afterwards that the email was a bit harsh and could have turned off some people. But there was another response from my classmate that I would like to quote:

Thank you for sending this out!  I have been thinking this way since I got to DC and wonder why none of the students want to go out after class.
I would have joined you tonight, but I have a little bit of a cold… If you decide to grab drinks on another night, please let me know, I would love to join you!
Thanks again for being brave enough [emphasized by me] to send this.

I was glad to receive this kind of encouragement and confirmation that I am not completely nuts after all, at least not the only one ;-) But what amazes me most is that you have to be “brave enough” to ask your classmates out after class. Something must be fundamentally wrong with the culture where simple joys of fellowship and camaraderie require extra courage.

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I have planned at least three more posts with reflections on my Study Abroad in Nantes, France trip. Among those posts I hope I will have one on the formal part of the  Corporate Social Responsibility course, as there were quite a few eye-openers during the classes and company visits. But for me personally the more important discoveries and epiphanies were outside the classroom, especially through the fellowship and conversations with the students from Audencia Nantes School of Management.

I may or may not come around to writing those posts, depending on the time constraints and waning enthusiasm. But I am going to share the most important lesson I took home from France: the value of the communal life.

I really appreciated witnessing how easily and how often people get together to share the meal and a drink (OK, more than one of those) with their friends, colleagues, classmates. I understand that I need to make adjustment for age, life cycle stage, and other incidentals. But the fact remains true – in France, most of Europe, and probably most of the world outside the US, people do make time for living their lives, meeting friends, sharing the joys of fellowship over a meal and drink.

During our stay in Nantes we were exposed to two groups of students: the equivalent of our undergrads (18-23 y.o.) and International MBAs (mean age probably slightly above 30).  The undergrad students meet in big groups, around ten or more people, at least 3-4 times a week. The MBAs have more intense schedule, as they have to cram the equivalent of two-year US MBA curriculum in just 12 straight months. Nevertheless the class of 25, mostly international students, make time to go out to a different restaurant at least once a week with at least 70% participation.

When I learned this, I compared it with the realities of my life back home in the USA. Admittedly, I am not a very collectivist animal in general, but neither are most of the people I know of in my neighborhood, at work, or Business School. I also realize that my individualistic nature was exacerbated in the last three years by double pressure of full-time job and part-time MBA studies.  Still, overall we are too busy in this country with our jobs, commute, family obligations, and other stuff, mostly really insignificant, so we don’t have time to regularly meet with our friends.

For example, with one of my friends I planned to have their family over at my place for dinner twice in the last year. Both times it took about two months in advance scheduling, and it was cancelled at the last moment due to unforeseen circumstances on their side – who can possibly foresee  those so long in advance?! I also planned to meet for a drink with a few of my MBA classmates since the beginning of the Fall Term. Our schedules so far have prevented us from getting together. If we actually want to meet before graduation in May, we need to make a conscious, and possibly forceful effort.

In America we invented and exported around the world, along with Coca Cola and other superficial artifacts of our culture, such a phenomenon as Networking. It has to be a planned-in-advance, organized and, most likely, formal event for people to get together, meet each other, and  to talk, of all things, about business. Networking should have a niche for very specific circumstances when the people are of very diverse locations/backgrounds, so they cannot  naturally meet. But for us it became one of a few places where we actually meet our colleagues, partners, or even friends, because we don’t find the time to do it naturally in the course of life.

Even better, we have not just invented LinkedIn, which I personally consider a great networking tool to stay in touch with people from your professional realm  or learn some facts about them that don’t naturally surface in regular fellowship, as I wrote about this in my other post. But we came to believe that just having a connection there (or Facebook for that matter) is a sufficient substitute for really seeing those people once in a while.

Enough rambling. In my first class of the second module, which started this week, I met a couple of guys who I had had classes with before. We ARE meeting together for beer after class next week. We’ll invite others in class to join, though I can anticipate the response rate already ;-( . By the way, one of the guys is from Italy, the other – from India. The “real Americans” would probably be too busy or feeling awkward about such unsolicited advances for informal fellowship.

So, this was my most important and valuable “graduate level” MBA lesson from France – make space for meeting with friends, pals, buddies, classmates, colleagues, strangers. It is doable , they do it all around the world, why cannot we?

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Today I arrived in France and will share briefly while it’s all fresh. This is my first trip to France and, as a matter of fact, to any country in Western Europe. Long ago I had opportunities to travel quite a bit around the Eastern Europe, but that was it.

So after arriving to Charles de Gaulle airport I took a TGV (speed train) to Nantes. One of the things I noticed while looking out the window of the train was lots of graffiti on the fences around the rail. I thought this was specific to the rail system and other industrial facilities, as around DC you can also find some of that under the bridges and occasional other structures.

But when I arrived to Nantes and took a walking tour around the city, I also saw quite a bit of graffiti all other the place. Apparently it is a form of national artistic self-expression in France. And the artists are very prolific, if not pervasive. Take a look at this somewhat lengthy video I shoot on the train and see for yourself the amount of graffiti. Mind you, my goal was not to video the graffiti, but the views of the country.
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Hotel De La Duchesse Anne, Nantes, France

Hotel De La Duchesse Anne, Nantes, France

When I was walking around Nantes, I took a picture of this hotel, apparently under reconstruction. It is right across the street from the historical centerpiece of the city – Duchesse Anne Chateau. After that I was almost expecting the walls of Chateau itself to be covered with the art. And when I did not see any graffiti, on outside walls at least, I was almost disappointed ;-) .Here is the picture of the hotel. Admittedly, most of the graffiti is on the temporary boards, and the hotel is not functional at this time, but still peculiar.

Overall I enjoyed my first day. I took almost a four hour walk around the city center and acted like a classic tourist – soaking up the atmosphere and taking pictures incessantly. At times I thought of myself as a google mobile, – the one that drives through the streets taking panoramic video continuously for google’s street view feature, – only on foot :-).

That’s enough for the day. I still have to read the case for my classes, which was thoughtfully left in my name at the hotel front desk in the welcome package from the Audencia Nantes School of Management.

Stay tuned for more reporting and pictures.

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About a month ago I was approached via email by Sarah from Accepted.com with invitation to be interviewed for their website in the MBA blogger category for their own blog. It took me a few days to get around and answer the questions of the interview, but finally the interview was published today: Blogger Interview: Vit’s Journey.

The questions I answered in that interview were:

  • Where are you from, where did you go to college and when did you graduate; and what prior degrees do you hold?
  • How did you choose George Washington University School of Business? Why did you feel it was the best school for you?
  • Did you only consider part-time programs? Why?
  • What’s your favorite class so far?
  • Are there any things in particular you did before starting b-school that made the transition back to student life easier?
  • How do you like living in D.C.? How does it contribute to your b-school experience?
  • Do you have any advice you’d like to bestow on our current MBA applicants?
  • Why did you decide to blog about your experience?

Obviously, I am not going to repeat all those answers here again, but if you are interested to learn more, check out the complete interview at accepted.com .

 

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International Exchange Programs at GW MBA

March 8, 2012

About a month ago I did something what I could only dream about in my part-time MBA program at GWSB: I signed up for a short study abroad exchange program. The GWU School of Business has a rather strong push for international exchanges/residencies. The University is offering these programs all around the world, from South […]

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