It is the winter break and I have three weeks until classes start. Before starting my MBA, Taiwan was an opportunity to study the GMAT, visit relatives and friends, learn more about Asian culture and improve my Mandarin. I would then return to the US to begin business school. As I reflect on this time, it always gives me pause for thought because that was when I began my MBA journey, not when I began my first day of classes.
In Taiwan, I learned about Asian culture and my identity, some childhood years in Taiwan but growing up in America. I frequented the sites and poured over guidebooks and online forums. I dined with Taiwanese business people and academics alike. I took part in cultural ceremonies in countryside temples. I savoured delicacies from night-markets. Questions such as, “You must be an ABC!” (American-born Chinese). “What are you doing in Taiwan?” came at me daily. My Mandarin gradually improved and I made many new friends.
During my studies, I took advantage of the geographic distance and booked the cheapest flights to nearby Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh. These little excursions became a separate education in themselves. I learned more by talking to friends and businessmen there then I could have ever learned from books.
However, the GMAT was a struggle for me, far more than so than I’d ever imagined and the preparation left little room for anything else. It was a way of thinking, managing and living. The sunshine drenching outdoors made me grouchy as I was stuck indoors, busily preparing the for crucial GMAT exam. I was tired and apprehensive. I wanted rain.
At Thunderbird, I listened to other students’ pre-MBA stories. I’ve learned that other students’ paths were straightforward, zigzagged, or circuitous. There was no ideal state of ease and success.
My direct experience in Taiwan has given me many transferable skills in preparation for business school. Meeting new people in foreign places and the new experiences have given me a deeper knowledge of the way the world works. Learning to ask the right people for help gave me the necessary experience to connect with people when navigating group work.
In a new and challenging environment, I struggled with my fears and limitations and learned whatever I could. Living in a different culture forced me to understand the complex interplay between culture and communication styles, which is highly relevant to multicultural group work at Thunderbird because its student body consist of 45 per cent international students.
My pre-MBA journey was not always comfortable, but it was always invigorating.