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Going back to a new home

“So, have you looked into any MBA schools?” my friend asked. It was December 2016 and we were having a brunch in Amsterdam’s charming city centre.

“I’ve looked at INSEAD and NUS, but I’ve always wanted to go to China,” I answered.

“Maybe you should check out CEIBS,” she said. “I have some friends who did their MBA there. It will suit your background and your goal of going back to China.”

There it was, the first time that CEIBS has been seeded in my mind.

The reason behind coming to CEIBS for my MBA is two-fold. First of all, I wanted to change the direction of my career. After graduating with a Master’s in Accounting from Erasmus University Rotterdam, I worked for KPMG as an auditor and a business controller at Danone. Though I enjoyed my work and the corporate environment, I had this feeling of wanting something else. Being a working professional in the Netherlands, I enjoyed the perfect work-life balance and a steady, but perhaps slower, career progression. There is something unsettling about this European way of life, especially for me, a first-generation immigrant from China who came here at the age of 11. In my teenage years, I visited China during school holidays and I witnessed the country changing before my eyes. Hence, when I was looking for an MBA programme, going to China was the only option I really seriously considered. Secondly, I wanted to reconnect with my Chinese heritage. When I tell people that I have been living in the Netherlands since I was 11, most of them say that I am basically a European – which is only partially true. At the same time, it is hard to define my identity in terms of only nationality and language. CEIBS, being the best MBA school in Asia and being located in the most international city in China, was the perfect school for me reconnect my Chinese roots.

The MBA programme kicked off in August 2019. Since then, everything has been on a fast track highway. The sheer excitement of being part of this big family was simply amazing. Much of the first month was spent getting to know my peers and being fascinated by their experiences.

At the same time, I got a taste of a busy MBA student life filled with classes, assignments, and events. But the real MBA learning goes much more beyond the classroom. Personally, the overseas programmes, the student clubs and participating in various competitions have truly added value to my learning.

 

Explore

The Netherlands is a country with excellent education and a developed society; however, there is also a limit to how much you can be exposed to the rapid growth happening elsewhere. If it is not for my regular family visits to China, I would not have been able to observe the changes happening in Asia. With that curiosity in mind, I aimed to take the MBA as an opportunity to explore. Luckily, there are plenty of occasions to do so at CEIBS. In October, as one of the student leaders for our career trek, we went to Singapore with about 15 of our fellow MBA mates. A career trek is a student-led trip which, together with support from the CEIBS Career Development Center, we need to organise ourselves. The trip turned out to be truly amazing. We visited Apple, Mondelez, DHL Consulting, Grab, Capitaland and Restaurant Brands International. Each company gave us a different perspective on the professional landscape in Singapore. Take Mondelez and Apple, for example. They are big companies, with a well-established career growth path for employees, and not much different from the corporate world I knew back in Europe. But then there are Grab and Restaurant Brands International, both of which are agile and which operate in fast-growing environments. At Restaurant Brands International, their APAC President spoke with such passion and excitement that I could almost feel the energy he radiated. I remember feeling incredibly pumped after the session. Seeing people doing what they genuinely love to do is contagious. Additionally, spending time with fellow classmates in a new city and sharing experiences beyond the classroom has been crucial to building long-lasting relationships.


With fellow MBA classmates in Singapore during our career trek

As the first overseas experience hit a home run for me, I was excited to participate in other similar programmes. In December, I went to Israel and India, two countries that have been on my list for a long time. As it is part of our MBA curriculum, the classes and company visits in these countries really add value to the whole experience. Engaging with local entrepreneurs and professors is how I got to understand these countries. Each place is different and successful in its own way. Moreover, as our classmates are from around the world, when we were in India, our Indian classmates hosted us with their heart-warming hospitality. They showed us around their cities and even invited us to an Indian wedding. I ended up spending all of December traveling and got to experience so many new things that I would not have been able to if it were not for the MBA programme.


Being interviewed in India at a sports match

Following these travels, I began reflecting on my own experiences in Europe and China, incorporating elements of these new places and what I have learned during classes. In a way, many puzzles started to fall into their places. It might be an MBA curse, but I have started to see the world through an MBA lens. Suddenly, Ikea or Netflix are not just brands or products; they are a web of management decisions from strategy to supply chain. The frameworks from class, despite how awful they might be during exams and how one can argue about their practical application, do provide a structured thinking process and that is very valuable. 

 

Club leadership

Coming from an accounting and finance background, I saw an MBA as a platform from which to redirect my career. When I was applying for an MBA, I understood there were many active student clubs. The technology club, in particular, caught my eye. At my previous work, we spent excessive time doing manual work generating management information. I was convinced that there were smarter digital solutions out there to improve our efficiency. However, technology seemed like a big mystery and no one around me knew how to tackle the digitalisation of our finance operations. Once I had been accepted into the MBA programme, I quit my job and joined a coding boot camp to learn the basics of building a tech product. Learning to code from zero was probably the most challenging thing I have ever done. However, one mystery started to reveal itself; specifically, that technology is built by people and it is intended to solve our problems.


My partners in crime: The Tech Club leadership team

It was then, prior to starting the MBA programme, that one of my soon-to-be-classmates reached out to me to form the leadership team for the Technology Club. We managed to form the required three-person team before school started. After the programme kicked off in August, we didn’t waste any time. Since then, we have organised and assisted in six different events. During these events, my fellow leadership member Paul has shared his expertise on blockchain and 5G and we have invited seniors from the previous MBA batch to tell us about their internship experiences at Google. I have also invited a coding boot camp, where I learned how to build a tech product, to join us on campus to give a workshop about tech product management. We are also assisting with the internal selection for the annual INNOVATEChina competition, where teams from MBA schools around the world join us in Shanghai to pitch their business plans.


A full house at our Tech Product Management workshop

As much as we enjoy running the club, it is our classmates who keep showing up at our events and who give us positive feedback that have kept me going. CEIBS has provided us with a great platform to practice different skill-sets and this is our way of giving back to the CEIBS community. 

 

Competitions

As if the overseas module, career treks, and running student club were not enough, I have also participated in two MBA competitions. One of them is the Venture Capital case competition (for which we pulled a few late nights doing research and preparing an investment proposal) and the second one is the Roland Berger consultancy case competition (for which we had an exactly 24 hours to prepare for a consultancy project proposal). The two competitions actually took place within the same week before our finals, so to say it was hectic would be an understatement. However, as a result, I learned more in one week’s time about how to do a consultancy project and how to approach a venture capital deal than any course that could have taught me. Moreover, it was also such a great opportunity to work with different classmates. Teamwork under time pressure has really brought out the best of us. The best part? Our Roland Berger team was selected to represent CEIBS in the global case competition in Barcelona!


The CEIBS team selected to represent CEIBS at the finals of the Roland Berger competition

 

Looking ahead

The amount of learning and the experiences during the last six months at CEIBS have exceeded my wildest imagination! Going on this CEIBS adventure is electrifying, daunting and even intimidating at times. But I also believe that we strive the most when we feel most uncomfortable. Looking ahead, I am just excited about the adventures to come.