As the only MBA journal writer based in Asia, I fear it may seem frivolous to report about anything other than the Japanese earthquake and nuclear crisis. I am writing this post on Mar. 21, the traditional Japanese holiday to celebrate the Vernal Equinox, which sadly will not be celebrated this year because of the tragedy. The entire community of MBA students, faculty, and staff at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai is shocked by the situation in the neighboring nation. Led by our two Japanese students and the Community and Outreach Inclusion (COIN) club, the school has engaged in fundraising since the early hours of the disaster, and it continues to provide support and information about what's happening. Fortunately, no one has been affected directly, and despite initial concerns, there is little chance of radiation getting to Shanghai.
Although our eyes are glued to the television in the hope that we'll hear better news from our neighbors, life goes on at CEIBS. The lengthy Chinese New Year break has passed, and the end of Term Two is only two weeks away. Unlike during Term One, courses are not at the top of students' minds. Now, the Integrated Strategy Project (ISP), internship, and international exchange are of utmost importance. Occurring during the upcoming spring, summer, and autumn, these three pillars of the MBA experience have emerged as the topic of nearly every conversation.
ISP was introduced at CEIBS last year, but it has already become the highlight of the program. Groups of five students team up to undertake a confidential strategic consulting project with major companies that operate in Mainland China. Deciding which project each of the 38 teams would be assigned to was difficult, because many students have common interests in such industries as finance. My team suffered a last-minute amendment we did not count on: One of our members got transferred to a team that was short on Chinese speakers. On the other hand, we were one of the lucky teams to be assigned to our first-choice company: German specialty chemical giant Evonik. This project will have us working more than 500 hours until July. Spring in Shanghai is absolutely gorgeous. To my dismay, we may have to spend it running between the client and the university.
International exchange slots were assigned at practically the same time as the ISPs. I mentioned that the competition to allocate the ISPs was fierce, but that was nothing compared with the competition to allocate the exchange slots. Slots are assigned to students strictly according to Term One GPA and a three-page application essay, which are weighted equally. As many as half the students go on exchange every year at CEIBS, mostly because many local students have not had the chance to travel outside greater China, and they see this as the ideal opportunity.
Although Europe is a major supporter of CEIBS—to the point that it is part of the name—the U.S. is always the preferred destination. Except this year: Arguably because of my fellow Spanish students' marketing endeavors, both the big business schools in Barcelona—IESE (IESE Full-Time MBA Profile) and ESADE (ESADE Full-Time MBA Profile)—have also been extremely popular.They stand alongside the usual suspects, Wharton (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile), Kellogg (Kellogg Full-Time MBA Profile), and London Business School (London Full-Time MBA Profile), one of whose eight exchange slots I managed to snag. I have chosen to spend a couple of months in London, the city I used to call home, to extend my network there and to take a few specific hedge-fund related electives. Although CEIBS issues degrees with a finance or marketing concentration, these are not majors; it is essentially a generalist program. For this reason, the school carefully nurses exchange relationships so students can study specific electives somewhere else. With China being such a hot topic nowadays, plenty of students at those other programs want to check out what's happening at CEIBS.
Competing for Internships
Finally, after the ISP but before the exchange, people are still vying for internships. Although a few students may get the chance to complete their internships with their ISP sponsors, this will generally not be the case. There are six weeks or fewer, depending on exchange destination, free in the summer for internships. For those who do not find an appealing internship, CEIBS also offers summer electives, the chance to take a holiday or to enroll in an external intensive Mandarin course.
My personal perception is that career switchers should do an internship in their target industry at all costs. Career enhancers, on the other hand, can keep their options open. Career services is using the usual artillery: résumé-tuning sessions, mock interviews, sharing and networking events, and daily company presentations. At the same time, internship offers pour into the careers website weekly. Disappointingly, some internships are in Mainland China and require native or fluent Mandarin skills. For this reason, international students like me are making use of CEIBS's resources but also trying elsewhere. I am glad to say that for a change, the climate among students regarding internships is not competitive. Students generally support each other and are genuinely happy when their peers succeed and get a position. I sent an e-mail to a few students asking for a small translating favor, and I was overwhelmed with a myriad of offers of unconditional help.
Internship recruiting, together with ISP and electives, will be the core of the upcoming Term Three. After that, I will be able to offer you a clear picture of the first year in CEIBS. In business school, they teach us that you learn the most when you are out of your comfort zone. If I blogged initially about cultural clashes and adaptations, I can say now I am feeling very comfortable in Asia. When I write my May post, I sincerely hope Japan is also in the news for the speediest of possible recoveries.