Probably the first thing you notice, going from August in the middle east to September in western Europe, is the gentle, fresh, sense of burn in your nostrils after breathing in cold air. That’s the smell of Europe for me.
I have great expectations from the MBA. The best way to title those expectations, I think, would be “looking to brainstorm”. You might say an MBA is a very costly brainstorming opportunity, and you would be correct. I am pretty sure there are better ways to do it but I felt I had to get away and I needed the break. I felt somewhat emotionally drained and I couldn’t find passion in any of the roads that laid ahead. A friend I highly value suggested this, probably as a joke, and when I realized this suggestion actually got me excited, I decided to go for it.
So now I’m in France. I live in a village that’s the size of one and a half streets in my beloved Tel Aviv. The university is called “HEC Paris” — the “Paris” part could only be described as a not-very-sophisticated internet scam because this is not Paris. But it’s a prestigious institute and the looks you get from French people upon mentioning the name can certainly rub your ego the right way.
The second thing I noticed is the enormous selection of wine and cheese in the most basic supermarkets. The big ones have a wine department that can host a summer camp. I am now officially addicted and I had red wine in all of my last 6 or 7 dinners. Sausage, beef, other meats, bread, and cheese again, are common in a ridiculous way. It sometimes seems like the French people bake things and cover them in cheese as a pastime activity. I tried to fight it at first, following my failed but persistent attempts to reduce flour and meat at home. I quickly gave up and just canceled out breakfasts altogether. I find that I eat whatever I want and do not feel heavy at all. sorry for the TMI.
The third thing I noticed was the composition of the MBA group.
This is going to be hard to describe: my cohort has ~170 students, from 55 countries. In terms of professional background, ethnic origin, language, learning habits — this group is as diverse as one group can be. You can find everything from a treasurer at Aramco, to a silicon manufacturer, to a dance teacher. Many bankers and financial experts obviously.
On the other hand, there are aspects in which I find this group to be incredibly homogeneous: people that got here are smart, educated, traveled a lot, and are comfortable with cross-cultural experiences. I have to assume all are members of elite groups in their home country.
I struggle to phrase this thread of thought. My sense is that great differences do exist between my peers from China, India, Chile, Canada, Lebanon, Senegal, France. But, those differences do not cancel out some similarities that steam from the social status of all the students here. 100% of the MBA students at HEC take it as a given that they are fit to manage other people, they qualify for senior roles, they can do big things, they can take on risks. I am not going to say no one here had to fight or struggled in life but I will guess that no one here views themselves as underprivileged.
This concept has both advantages and disadvantages, of course. I would say it is very pleasant to know you don’t have to argue basic concepts like why vaccines are a good thing or if climate change is real.
What you make of your MBA experience is quite customizable. Many of the students see it as a well-defined path to senior corporate positions, often in financial organizations or in consulting firms. Others see it as an opportunity to drive a change in their career (different geography, title bump, change industries). Some people see it as a hack to penetrate desired European job markets.
I definitely noticed there is more than enough room to act on your own wishes. I learned yesterday it might be too much room for some. There are countless students societies and professional clubs, and the university’s involvement in your career path is rather disappointing. A good friend shared with me his perspective — he was expecting the university to actually provide him with quality job opportunities. I see it completely reversed.
The MBA is also to improve your business skills and “job opportunities for all” sounds a bit like communism to me. If you have business skills, or if you can work on them, you should prefer having that as an actionable open issue. Logically, if you are above average in your space and among your competition, you should benefit from the lack of a common platform. If you are below average you benefit from a common pool of opportunities but it would be somewhat hypocritical to apply to a top MBA program and then argue against workplace competition. Anyway, and without pissing too many people off, I do believe there are benefits to leaving networking completely optional or up for grabs. There are so many things people can get involved in and it’s 99% up to you how deep you dive.
In this paper, I will not refer to class content at all because I haven’t heard anything special so far. Professors are good overall and the subjects are relevant. I hope the level of content will surprise me but I’ll survive if it doesn’t.
On the learning front, I downloaded Instagram and TikTok. Everything I know about addictive UI comes from Facebook and Twitter, and it’s time to refresh my knowledge. I am very intrigued by how those apps work, but I don’t think I get it quite yet. I also got heavily into French history podcasts, Louis XIV and Napoleon in particular — fascinating stuff. It almost feels magical to walk through the gardens of Versailles and listen to stories about the Sun King on your earphones. Highly recommended.
I have a few more undercooked thoughts but I’ll leave for next time. I hope you found it interesting and if you do, please share.