“Tet – the lunar new year” is knocking the door when I start writing this entry. This year we Vietnamese students welcome our traditional “Tet” in Ireland – a wonderland in my mind. Missing home so much, I know that I will miss this land evermore when I am back to Vietnam.
There are thousands of reasons that make me love this country. My first impression is Irish people, who are very warmhearted and friendly. You can easily get acquainted with people and talk with them, even on the buses or in the streets. I still remember a cold winter day, when I got lost on Moorehampton Road. Thank God, an old lady passed and asked if she could help. She took me to the nearest bus to get home and told me about Ireland in the past. Her stories conjured me up an old Ireland with family ties, catholic norms and community spirit. Above all, I feel the very human nature of Irish people when they communicate and do charity, as in a lyric of my favorite song: “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure, they steal your heart away”.
It’s the Friday of the fifth week of term 3 and as I wind up catching some sleep, the thoughts of the months gone by flash through my head. From my first day at Smurfit until today, there is a significant difference at the way I look at a situation in work scenario. Earlier, it was just limited to my team, my project and to my personal excellence. MBA has helped me develop a holistic view of the business arena. The curriculum design at Smurfit helped us in slowly but steadily developing this view.
The first term was focussed on building the foundation. It focussed on understanding the firm, introduction to general management, Financial Reporting and Operations. All this was very beneficial in bringing everyone from diverse backgrounds, to the same page. As mentioned in my previous blogs, the range of experience in the class is very impressive and term 1 gave us a chance to get familiar with it. Being the first term on the course, it all seemed like a mad rush and I was left wondering will I ever get to know people around! But the group assignments, class discussions and get-togethers all helped in binding us all together.
Then came term 2! I thought I was better prepared to handle this term, with my experience of term 1 to support me, but I was wrong. This term had a different approach. It focussed on looking into the market. Modules like business economics, marketing, financial markets and valuations broadened our perspective to look at the industry and how the firm fits in the industry. Not to mention the unending submissions and presentations!
After the speedy semester 1 (though I think the entire MBA course is pretty fast paced!), came the welcome winter break. Having known each other very well, spending time together was always much fun. The day exams ended, we all went out to celebrate. We exchanged Christmas presents, courtesy the Secret Santa game! It was a much needed break and we all made the most of the opportunity.
Semester 2 began in January and this time the focus of the modules was on building strategies. We also had a range of options to choose from, depending on our personal areas of interest. Corporate Finance, Negotiation Dynamics, Global Strategic Management, Strategy for Human Resources, all these modules take us a step further. We are not only learning the strategies but now are expected to apply them to situations.
Later in the course we shall be a part of a company project which will test our acquired skills in the real world scenario. I am hoping that will be a very enriching experience, especially for people wanting to switch industries. This is the last week of formal lectures for Semester 2 before we face the exams! The thought of the upcoming study trip to Brazil keeps coming to my head but I know I need to focus on studies for the next 2 weeks! And the Leitrim weekend trip after the spring break. Ok, I better focus! ;)
Thirsty for knowledge and further management development after several years working experiences, I tried to find an opportunity for MBA. Scholarship was the only feasible option for a candidate from an emerging country, like myself. And I found Smurfit and Irish Aid.
However, I was not that lucky to be selected for the scholarship. After several challenges and fierce struggles, I thought that I would give up. However, thanks to the encouragement of my fiancé, who is my husband now, I decided to go forward with the program without waiting for any other opportunities. I came to the school with mixed feelings where I felt both anxious and worried. Deep thoughts normally occupied my mind during the initial time. I only looked forward to gaining as much knowledge as possible to make up my efforts. My husband, and also my classmate ;), was the only place I could put all pressures on during those days.
Gradually, things have changed. Going along with the program, I get used to the culture and study load, I feel more comfortable now, not only in study but in social life as well. I have friends who I can talk with. Not only my husband, but I now also have Germany, US, Kyrgyzstan, Indian and Irish gals who have the same concerns with mine about the programs, life, etc. I started to approach lectures and program more softly. The presentation ways, communication methods, how to realize true facts from daily news, etc. are more valuable to me now. Besides studying, I go here and there to discover Ireland. I know more Irish and react better in specific situations both in and out the classroom ;). Especially, when Tet, the biggest event of Vietnamese, came, my Vietnamese friends and I had all classmates and lecturers to come to enjoy Tet atmostphere with special dishes and images prepared by ourselves. In Pillar Room with special smell of my mother land’s foods, we all shared the enthusiasm and I really felt I was home at that time. “All wishes may come true to all of us” was my prayer for a new year.
Time flies. It has been almost three terms. I am now more confident with what I have gained from the program and eager to be back to my home country to apply to reality.
And finally, “no life with full of roses”, a Chinese sentence, meaning to live is to take both rewards (roses) and challenges. But on my own perspective, challenges are also “roses”. MBA and my peers are beautiful roses that I have enjoyed.
Time flies, and in 5-6 months we will finish our course… Actually we’ve got only 2 weeks of regular lectures left. And then exams, international trip, and we will all go in different directions – first for doing an individual company projects, and then back to “real life”.
As I realized how close we are to the finish line, a whole bunch of thoughts came into my mind. The following are the main ones “bothering” me.
These next few weeks are our last dash in regards of regular lectures and exams, and we need to be extremely concentrated and work on maximum capacity.
Company project is a chance to experiment. For example, if you are a boring banker, who is secretly passionate about music, you have a chance to make a project for a music company.
And finally, the biggest question is What am I going to do after finishing the course? I have described my thoughts on this issue in the previous blog. And now it becomes more and more important.
So, you can see how many thoughts are going at the same time in my mind. As a result I feel like have no right even for a short break. I have ambitiously registered for three option/elective courses instead of standard two. So my lecture schedule keeps me busy over the week. Group meetings are taking place almost every evening after the lectures. And weekends are devoted to preparing individual assignments. No wonder that I have less time for socializing… However, tomorrow I am going to a walking trip to Dublin Mountains, yay!
Reading the case study is not all the MBA is about if that’s what you’re thinking. In fact, that’s not even 25% of what we do in the MBA. Of course case studies play a major role in helping us understand the different strategies and theories that are part of the curriculum, but there’s just so much more than you can even think of.
For instance, if you just take the readings, apart from the case studies, you also have the Required or Essential Readings and then Further Readings. These are a set of other readings needed to be read in addition to the case, in preparation for the case study to be discussed in class the following day.
What I’ve mentioned here is the preparation required for just one class. The same is required for the two or three classes we have each day.
While everyone agrees that the readings alone take up a lot of time, if you’re willing to put in the hard work, there are definitely a few good rewards waiting for you. The case study-based classes are undoubtedly the best experiences of your MBA days. They’re so interesting that before you realise, they’re already gone – that much interesting that you don’t realise that time passes by so quickly. Thankfully, the Smurfit MBA has quite a few case-study based courses, which I think is extremely important for the MBA.
That’s not all that we MBAs do. Apart from preparing for and attending classes, we also have those much-dreaded assignments, and at least a few of them due for submission every week. Once again, thankfully, we have those life-saving study-group meetings where we have our share of fun, chit-chatting with group members while also taking help for the assignments and presentations. If time permits, we get the luxury of a few hours of sleep in the middle of all the chaos. Even with all of this, we’ve managed to have loads of fun and semester 1 has already gone by. I can’t believe that in a couple of months or even less, we will be on our international study tour, followed by the company projects.
When I did my undergraduate degree a few years ago, I remember the dread, panic, cramming, sleepless nights and energy drinks that became the norm in the week approaching the end of term exams. The difference with the MBA is that this state of feverish work prevails throughout each and every term.
I reckon that there are two primary reasons for this. The first is that the equivalent volume of information encountered over four years of an undergraduate degree is condensed into a year at Smurfit.
And so we’ve made it through the first three months with only a few scrapes and bruises, and one major surgery. Nobody’s been killed thank God. Well, not yet anyway.
We’ve the first term done and mostly forgotten and we’re now fully immersed in term 2. The Christmas break is only a week away and it will be our first real holiday of the year. Hanging over us rather ominously before we can relax for a few weeks, are umpteen assignments and, of course, the end of term exams. So near and yet so far…
For some reason this term seems to be more manageable than the first, even though I’m working just as hard. I don’t seem to be as snowed under -no pun intended given the recent weather! Officially, it’s because we’ve had fewer group presentations to prepare. The real reason is that you learn to be a little more cunning in selecting what needs to be done and manage your time accordingly. The Time Management gurus call it ‘prioritising’.
I spoke to an alumnus about this. He said in the first term you try to do everything, in the second you try to do most things and in the third you just do what’s required. As the year progresses your grades improve!
But I think this is part of the MBA learning experience – it’s as much about the process as much as it involves the module material. You learn to prioritise, juggle and even say no. You learn to pick your battles as well; which assignments to concentrate on; where a good mark is possible and which ones to do an adequate job on because of the Law of Diminishing Returns. That’s something from an Economics module that I picked up during the first term.