When I decided to do my MBA at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business, I was excited and naturally a bit apprehensive to leave my comfortable life in Wisconsin to move across the Atlantic to a completely new country. The transition to Ireland was a lot easier than I could’ve imagined. I have moved countries once before and it was much more difficult. Maybe it is easier because I have done it once before, but I think it has more to do with the exceedingly nice Irish people. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming and inviting. To me, the people make all the difference, and this experience has proved that to be true.
The structure of the program also helps with meeting everyone in the program. Foundation week has a lot of events that get everyone involved and the Leadership Development Program gets everyone working in various small groups and as one large group so everyone really gets to know each other. Also, the group work that is involved with the various assignments starts very early on which forces interaction with the other members of the program.
The group work is very rewarding and helps with developing the best ideas possible through discussion in a small group. It is not without its challenges, but the various workshops assist in team dynamic development. The group work was difficult in the beginning getting used to all the different work styles of the various members of the program, but it definitely does improve drastically and quickly over time if it is worked on and the rewards from efficient group work is worth all the effort.
UCD Smurfit Rugby Team has brought home the MBA World Cup Trophy for 10 out of 11 years – well, the men’s team has. This year will be the second year in a row that the MBA program will also send a women’s team to the USA for the world cup, a feat that has only happened a handful of times before. As an American in Ireland, I had never even really watched rugby on the television let alone played a match in my life. And yet here I am, six months later, heading up the UCD Women’s Rugby Team (with a good friend, also a Smurfit MBA, who has extensive rugby experience). This year, we have one goal, which is to bring home a MBA Rugby World Cup, not only for the Men, but for the Women’s team also, which would be a first for Smurfit!
When asked to write an entry for our MBA Blog, it took me quite a while to come up with an experience to write about. Everything has happened so fast and intensely that it was a little overwhelming to come up with something to write about, since there seems to be so much going on in my head at one time! However, since Rugby has lately taken over my Tuesday and Friday nights, along with my Saturday and Sunday afternoons (we will call Saturdays and Sundays as studying up on the sport of Rugby by watching the “professionals” play in the 6 Nations).
Upon starting the MBA, the different representatives of all the MBA clubs (there are a lot of them) were paraded in front of us, where they told us about the opportunities offered by the different interest areas. Of course, when the Rugby Club came up, ears perked up, mainly because Smurfit has been the team to not only compete, but win the championship cup for so many years. Of course, it’s “great craic” as our friendly speaker insisted, but he also talked about the opportunities it opened as far as networking with other top MBA programs and the friendships and camaraderie you get as being part of an athletic team with other Masters students in the Smurfit School of Business.
Today, about one month away from our trip to the states, I can say that my experience has not been a disappointment! I have met great guys and girls while participating on the team, and have also been able to achieve another of my personal goals in coming to Ireland, which was to learn more about a different culture, and learning about rugby (not only how to watch, but how to play) has given me an experience in Ireland. I am happy (albeit surprised) to say that I am the only non-Irish person on the women’s team (our coach playfully refers to me as the American rugby spy), and being a member of this team has given me a deeper and more real look into a pastime that is very important in the country. Almost like someone learning and getting understand the teams and the game of American Football if they go to the states. In class, I learn about business in both Ireland and other areas of the world (from an Irish perspective), and from my classmates I learn about the social norms of Ireland and Irish culture, but never can you truly be immersed in the culture until you take it on yourself to truly become involved in something that is of that country, outside of the contrived state of the classroom. I think I have done that with not only joining the Smurfit Rugby Club, but in being part of its leadership committee. I can’t wait until where the next month takes us as a team, and me individually, but I look forward to it and can’t wait to write a second entry in one month’s time detailing how we won!!
As part of the MBA we did a course in Negotiations where we learned about expanding the pie and creating ‘win win’ situations. As a final gesture towards the meeting of minds and cultures, the MBA women of 2011 translated this idea into the ritual of creating a dish and sharing it together at the table.
Thirteen may be considered unlucky, but in this context we are thirteen extremely skilled and confident women who have just qualified with an MBA. We certainly feel lucky to be in this position and with the world at our fingertips.
For us, this small but unique microcosm represents the world and it’s differences. The table acts as a common ground no matter what our religions or nationalities. For each of us, the act and art of making food gave us an opportunity to represent who we are and where we’ve come from and we did this with pride. Our menu ranged from Vietnamese fried spring rolls and chicken fried rice, Kyrgyz beef noodle, American brie in pastry and macaroni cheese, German potato salad, Haitian Curry, and Irish apple tart.
The ‘table’ represents the symbol of engaged exchange. In the future we will gather around different tables dotted around the world developing strategies, designing products, managing teams and deciding our own future. Although we will be in different contexts, we will continue to bring the same enthusiasm and creativity to our future challenges as we brought to this table.
As a unique group of Smurfit MBA graduates, we recognise our differences but also realise our future experiences will be similar, dealing with the challenges as young woman in business. These will range from our family expectations, stereotyping of our roles, how we fall in love and how we fulfil our dreams. We will also need to balance how society dictates how we should live, how we should behave, what our remuneration should be as business women, and how we will cope with raising children and doing the work that drives us to be successful.
We have promised each other we will meet again at another table in ten years’ time. But before we re-unite with our stories of work and life, it would be great to keep the idea of the metaphysical table intact, where we could advise and support each other as we meet our individual challenges. As we look to the future we hope to bring the same enthusiasm and engagement to our future tables, as we brought to sharing this last meal together as Smurfit 2011 MBA students.
Irish hospitality is the stuff legends are made of! Indeed, one of the highlights for an international student on the Smurfit MBA is the opportunity to experience Ireland alongside a group of remarkably welcoming Irish nationals, coming from what seems to be every square inch of the island. This aspect of the program would naturally be missing from the Smurfit brochures, but I can assure you that myself and the other international students – comprising 50% of our overall group and coming from the US, Canada, India, The Netherlands, Germany, Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan – have been so grateful for the way our Irish counterparts have received us.
An example of this legendary hospitality came over the winter holiday when my wife and I were invited to spend Christmas in the west of Ireland with my classmate and fellow blogger, Christopher Kitchin, on his family’s sheep farm!
In order to appreciate the uniqueness of this experience, it’s imperative that I mention how I’ve often been described as ‘the epitome of an urbanite.’ Christmas on the farm provided me with the opportunity to break away from this description as I set aside my affinity for cement and tall buildings to feed sheep, ride a Quad bike, collect firewood, picnic on the beach, and sleep in a house that was built over 100 years before my state was founded (how’s that for history?!)! More important to the experience than any of those details was the opportunity to spend Christmas with a group of remarkable people, and the graciousness with which our hosts welcomed us into their home and traditions. Needless to say, Christmas with the Kitchin family was a one of a kind experience for a city boy from the States!
My name is Patrick Hillis but all of my new classmates here at the Smurfit MBA have taken to calling me, “Paddy” (affectionately, I think). I come from the Pacific Northwest region of the United States — home of the space needle, Starbucks and fine folks like my good friend Billy Gates (not exactly, but I did come within a mile of his house on a boat once).