Study Abroad in France – Most Valuable Lesson

March 21, 2012

in Corporate Social Responsibility,MBA experience,Study Abroad,Travel

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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