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I returned from my trip to Portugal—a much needed three-day vacation from school—on Nov. 11 in such good spirits that the Paris train strike that doubled my travel time home seemed comical. With a refreshed motivation and eye-sparkling memories of my travel adventures with some of my new friends, I returned to HEC Paris (HEC Paris Full-Time MBA Profile) and commenced my five-week countdown.
Before the semester's end at noon on Dec. 18, I faced seven exams, two presentations, and one project. On Dec. 17, with one exam to go and a HEC Paris campus blanketed in a breathtakingly beautiful layer of snow, I fought hard to stay focused. While the majority of my classmates and I reverted to age 10, ignored the fact that another final stood between us and our holidays, and launched into a full-blown snowball war, by 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 18 we did it. We all handed in our completed human resources finals, effectively bringing our first semester, one in which we constantly battled to balance our hectic school schedule with moments of personal relaxation, to a close.
Of course, we could not leave campus without a little celebration. Before boarding my 5 p.m. train for Amsterdam—I would spend my holidays in the Netherlands—I, against my better judgment, after a few sips of champagne and to the cheers of more rational, fully clothed spectators (including classmates and the MBA program's executive director), walked barefoot in the snow and jumped in HEC's freezing cold lake with several of my classmates in a celebratory "Polar Bear Dip."
Now after two weeks of vacation, holiday celebrating, marvelous home-cooked meals, and much needed hours of sleep, my slower pace has opened my mind to thoughts and reflections of my first four months of business school. I've pressed the pause button, enabling me to make my first observation about the HEC Paris MBA program—time flies. I know time always flies but at HEC Paris we keep ourselves so busy that sometimes at a day's end I feel like my morning's activities happened weeks prior.
In the end, I think I knowingly create much of the busy-ness I experience. The HEC Paris program encourages us to explore our talents, our interests, and build our skill sets by joining clubs of which we have our pick. HEC boasts several professional clubs like consulting, industry, finance, and entrepreneurship among others, as well as several regionally related clubs like the Asia Pacific Club and the Latin Club and the French Club.
While I would love to join almost all the clubs that HEC offers and have managed to join a few, I have decided to focus my energies on the Net Impact Club. Specifically I have signed on to help with the Seventh Annual HEC Social & Sustainable Business Conference that Net Impact helps coordinate. With this year's conference slated for May 28-29, my co-organizers Rahul and Brendan and I have much work to do in conjunction with our dean, professors, many dedicated and talented classmates, alumni, etc., to develop the conference theme, secure a rock-solid speaker lineup, spread the word, and manage to pull off an event that involves high-level speakers from all over the world and attracts an average 350 attendees. I chose to bury my head in this endeavor because I felt it would allow me to leverage some of my previous experience in conference planning and flex some of the knowledge I learned in class while exploring the potential businesses and business practices can have on society and social problems.
Planning the conference has also enabled me to have contact with a few students from the class above me. In fact, my club involvement has facilitated the majority of my contact with students in earlier intakes. As the HEC Paris campus sits just outside Paris's city limits, many students move off campus into Paris after two semesters. Even further with such a jaw-dropping multitude of wonderful exchange and joint-degree opportunities, the incentive to leave HEC Paris in the final semester to grow academically elsewhere is high. For these reasons, my interactions with the class above me have been limited, but have made an impression. Last year's two conference organizers, both of whom recently graduated in December, helped and continue to help my co-organizers and me as we plan this year's event.
While club and extracurricular activities at HEC Paris keep us busy, they offer us chances to learn experientially and act entrepreneurially. So after a semester, I muse that perhaps this busy conference-organizing, club-running environment that we join as HEC participants creates one of the program's greatest strengths. HEC provides a nearly risk-free setting for us to cut our teeth on real projects and further develop our interests. And as an added benefit, the clubs and their activities allow for interaction within and between different intakes, as well as between the student body and the school's staff. So, I hasten to add that I think the clubs work to strengthen the cohesiveness of the HEC MBA community.
Regarding my last four months, the ever-changing nature of our schedule—we would have accounting for three hours on a Monday one week and one-and-a-half hours on a Thursday the following week—strikes me as the only aspect that required adjustment on my part. A creature of habit, I find settling into a groove a little easier if my schedule does not change drastically from week to week; however, on the positive side, each week was different, adding a bit of freshness to my routine.
Now as I head into my second semester, which for me is my next-to-last semester since I will pursue a joint degree with Tufts, I almost feel a sense of mission as I have much to accomplish, including developing and finalizing my summer plans.
The HEC career management center keeps us students busy with information seminars on what to expect from different career tracks—finance, marketing, consulting, etc.—talks on how to choose a career best fit to your own unique skill set and interests, as well as countless company presentations from McKinsey & Co. to the International Finance Corp. and the GE Experienced Commercial Leadership Program. Between the internal self-assessment encouraged by our career center and the variety of talks it has organized, my head spins with new ideas about what I can do with my future.
Pursuing the joint degree with Tufts will allow me one more summer of practical professional exploration before I jump straight into the full-time professional world, so for better or worse, this summer I feel less constrained and am leaning toward pursuing less mainstream opportunities. Specifically this summer I aim to secure business-related project-based work in a developing country, something I have wanted to do for a while. HEC offers several options for the summer "personalized phase," such as the "Mission Action Project," which offers students a unique opportunity to gain field experience in a challenging environment under academic supervision. Because in the future I envision myself doing international economic development work in emerging and developing markets—likely for larger companies or foundations—I see tremendous value in pursuing such project-based experience now. In the coming months I hope to add structure to this plan and find an appropriate project that allows me to put my MBA to use.
In addition to the research I'll devote to finalizing my summer plans, I will also embark on a new semester with new classes, several of which, including management accounting and corporate finance, will be in French. I chose to come to HEC in part because I wanted to perfect my French, the only foreign language I have devoted ample time to learning. So four minutes before the deadline to choose between the bilingual or English section, when my neighbor Rob convinced me with his enthusiastic account of how much his French improved in the bilingual section, I decided to go for it.
In closing 2009, and with it my first semester at HEC Paris, I realize how much I have learned and how many new relationships I have formed. As I head into 2010 and my second semester at HEC Paris, I look forward to new challenges, opportunities, and relationships to form.