Having recently returned from an exchange semester that proved to be one of the most exciting chapters of my life, I want to share my thoughts on the experience and talk about how my exchange stacked up against my biggest fears: surviving the 601, finding a job while abroad, and missing out on all things Schulich for a full semester.
While the idea of going on exchange had always been appealing to me, my decision to go was initially not an easy one. At the time that I applied to go on exchange, I was a part-time Schulich student with a fulltime job. From a rational perspective, leaving my job to pursue fulltime studies and live in another country was difficult to justify and left me with a number of doubts – Would I be able to learn as much at another institution? How would I get a job? How could I possibly do a 601 while out of the country? … (And to a lesser extent): Do I really want to miss out on Schulympics?
Reflecting back on my decision to go, I’m so glad I let go of these doubts. My exchange semester was without question one of the most incredible and defining experiences of my life. It gave me a chance to broaden my perspectives both academically and personally and left me with so many amazing memories and meaningful friendships with people from all over the world.
While it is difficult to miss out on a term at Schulich (and all the culture crawls, socials, and networking events that come with it), the exchange opportunity will give you a chance to supplement your education with a term at another exceptional and internationally recognized MBA program. I have personally found this diverse academic perspective to be an asset in my job search. This will help set you apart from your fellow classmates and will also broaden your global professional networks. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to go to ESADE Business School in Barcelona, one of the top MBA programs in Europe. I was truly amazed by the caliber and diversity of both the fulltime students and the exchange students. There were 38 different countries represented in the fulltime student class and my fellow exchange students came from some of the top MBA programs in the world such as Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, and NYU Stern. I also got a lot out of the European and international cases that were used as part of the curriculum and I felt that this allowed me to develop a truly global business perspective. This was also helped by the fact that the school made use of many visiting Professors from top international institutions such as London Business School and numerous guest speakers from global companies such as Google, Booking.com, and Hailo. Guest lecturers seem to be a mainstay of European business education and I was really amazed with how many speakers were integrated into the curriculum.
Beyond the solid academic standards you can expect from your exchange institution, the opportunities for personal growth are amazing. You will have the chance to broaden your perspectives by deeply immersing yourself in another culture for 4 months and by travelling extensively with your fellow classmates.
Job hunting while abroad
My biggest pause about going on exchange was about how this would impact my job search. Of course, you can still apply for positions while abroad and do interviews over skype, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would be at a disadvantage by missing the chance to personally build up a rapport with recruiters during on-campus networking sessions and recruitment events. While these are valid concerns, keep in mind that you typically have about 8 months’ notice before you leave for your exchange semester. This leaves you with a lot of time to network and make connections with potential employers ahead of your departure. Instead of waiting for the career fair, get proactive and create your own opportunities ahead of your departure – job shadow, go to industry mixers, leverage your network and make the connections you need at your companies of interest.
Be sure to also get a sense of the recruitment cycle for your industry of interest before you apply to go on exchange. If being on campus for recruitment is important to you, keep in mind that there are exchange options available for fall, winter, and summer semesters so you can structure your exchange around the recruitment timing for your sector of interest.
Don’t forget that the school you will be attending will have its own career week and you can use this as a great opportunity to connect with top international organizations that you may not encounter at Schulich. Some schools feature the companies that tend to recruit from their MBA program right in their brochures so take a look at this to get a sense of which organizations you could expect to connect with.
Surviving the 601
My second biggest fear about the exchange was completing a 601 while out of the country. If you are going on exchange, you have 3 options with respect to how to approach your 601: 1) Finish the 601 before your exchange semester; 2) Start and finish your 601 after your return; or 3) Do an “Exchange 601”, which essentially entails completing part of your 601 while abroad. In order to do an exchange 601, your team has to be composed of three students who will be on exchange and three students who will stay back at Schulich.
I did an exchange 601. While there are certainly added challenges for the exchange 601, it is absolutely manageable given careful planning and an early start. When forming your group, try to team up with exchange students that are roughly in the same time zone. It is already an added challenge to be in two different time zones so any further drastic time zone differences may amplify these difficulties. Most importantly, once you have a group, start early! Since you will be out of the country for 4 months, make sure you build a rapport with the client and access as much of the internal company data you will need ahead of your departure. A heavier part of the workload during the exchange semester may fall on the local group members as they will be doing all of the client visits while you are abroad. In order to balance this, I would recommend taking on a heavier workload in Phase 0 and Phase 1. This will also ensure that you develop more in depth knowledge about your client site before you go. Once you’re abroad, try to have a team of one local and one exchange group member working together on each functional research category so that each exchange student stays connected to the internal company research. Finally, be sure to schedule regular weekly meetings. Our group scheduled meetings at the same time each week to ensure that we were all on the same page.
Looking back on these challenges and the benefits I received from the program, I have no regrets. I have made friendships with students from all over the world, experienced what it’s like to live in an exciting and diverse city, and I strongly believe that I got more out of my business education by adding this different perspective. If an exchange semester is of interest to you, my advice is to address the hesitations you have with careful planning to ensure that you will be able to get the most out of the 601 and your job search while abroad. It is not often we get the opportunity to so completely change our surroundings and immerse ourselves in a different culture and country. Given this opportunity at Schulich, I would advise you to take it.