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My exchange experience in London has come to an end and it is time to return to Shanghai for a final term at CEIBS. My time at London Business School has exceeded my expectations, though the economic woes in the ‘old continent’ never end and inevitably diminish the mood on campus. Despite the lack of optimism, I think the new colleagues I leave behind in Europe will do well. Their skills and experience have impressed me.
Some rankings rate LBS among the best in the world, in part for the quality of its students and professors. These ingredients alone seem to be enough to guarantee academic success. I was bewildered when one of the full-time students explained that LBS issues MBA degrees while intentionally avoiding any disclosure regarding grades or GPAs. It is a pure pass-or-fail system. This is not the case at CEIBS. In Chinese culture, grades are of great importance and although CEIBS doesn’t place great emphasis on them, they partially determine exchange positions, concentration awards, and spots on the coveted Dean’s List. I thought the lack of grades would lower the quality of courses at LBS. These suspicions were unfounded: Students still prepare for classes and make brilliant contributions. Conversely, professors make sure students learn their subjects. Make-up exams are not unusual at LBS—another shocker to me because failing an exam is taboo at CEIBS.
In any event, make-up exams apply only to core courses and in this term, I have taken only electives. Electives are more fun, but the perception that electives are easier is mostly wrong. What happens in reality is because electives are something you choose, you are either really good at whatever skills are being taught or the subject is something in which you have great interest. These conditions make electives easier to approach than requirements. I was busy most of the term with a course that only a geek would choose to attend: derivatives. I really loved it. The professor was able to explain the highly quantitative content of the course without neglecting the analytics, giving it all a very practical focus and framing it within the latest financial news and market developments. She was able to conduct interesting and engaging lectures, something worthy of praise if you take into account that the course was taught in 5 1/2-hour sessions—on Saturdays.
The workload in year two is generally lighter, allowing extra time for the things that really matter at LBS: clubs, social life, and career possibilities. Clubs are probably the star of the program. People are professional, committed, and really put in much time and effort. There is never enough time to attend as many events as one wishes to attend. I missed far too many, which is my greatest regret about my exchange experience.
While clubs and the night life are intriguing, B-schoolers are earning degrees to get jobs. Things are more difficult than in the pre-crisis years, so LBS career-services staffers approach the MBA job hunt a little differently. They work hard but are also realistic about managing the expectations of students. They realize that personal networking is vital to landing a good job in a solid company. Despite the efforts, help, and professionalism offered by career services, some students in LBS are still struggling to find their dream job. I am sure they eventually will do so.
My colleagues on the other side of the world in Shanghai are much happier about their job prospects. CEIBS is welcoming more companies with exceptional reputations than in any prior year, and students are finding more and better-paid jobs than their predecessors did. In these ever-more-uncertain times, I would advise readers considering an MBA to be extra-careful about its timing, location, and economics.
Things in Europe, as we all know, still look pretty grim. My native Spain is struggling immensely, as are most of our neighbors. The U.K., while trying to protect the autonomy of the City of London, has caused a major stir in the already fragile unity of the EU. In this year of the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the mood in London has not been that cheerful. The eyes of the world are looking at Europe for hope of a better tomorrow. For the sake of my friends at LBS, I hope things improve. I will soon be starting my final term at CEIBS, but my eyes will be fixed on Europe. My hope is that by the time I write my last post, the silly crisis will no longer taint my words.