Learning to Transform: An Educator's GMBA Student Journey
June 27, 2017
One of my first and most vivid memories of Tsinghua is as a teacher, not as a student. When I set foot on campus in June 2012 to teach summer classes for rising Tsinghua sophomores, I was aware of the school’s strong reputation in China and abroad, but I still found myself mesmerized by the resourcefulness and contagious individual drive that seemed to be a common thread running throughout the student body. For two summers, this was my consistent observation, and when the time came to pursue an MBA, I wanted something different from my prior American education experiences. Given my prior exposure and my long-term inclination towards entrepreneurship in international education with a particular bent towards U.S.-China engagement, Tsinghua seemed an obvious choice.
In my Global MBA cohort, I’ve found a diverse international family of sorts. The 94 of us come from 18 different countries/regions, and I can honestly say that I have a meaningfully close relationship with almost every member of my class. We’ve been down in the trenches together for nearly 23 months now, wrestling with cases, trying to analyze and solve both large and small problems together, bonding together over many late nights, and periodically shocking each other by revealing new layers and skills … or in my case, an utter lack of (dancing) skill. Fortunately, I got that revelation out of the way during orientation, and when my classmates whole-heartedly embraced me anyway, I knew I’d found the perfect home.
I certainly expect this community to endure well beyond graduation, regardless of separation by time and distance. I’ve often heard the familiar refrain that one of the most important benefits of a reputable MBA program is its network. For me, the group with which I’ve run this race for the past two years is incomparable in what it has given me, and I know of no other B-School experience in the world for which I would trade this one.
Naturally, there have been other benefits besides the community and the opportunity to simply return to Tsinghua’s vibrant campus environment. I had hoped to build a stronger grasp of specifically China-related business contexts and practices, scale up my skills in international entrepreneurship, and (given my particular focus on education) more deeply experience the Chinese education system from a student perspective. As expected, I’ve gained all this and more.
Of course, there have been a few pain points along the way. For starters, my limited language skills have periodically placed me in challenging local contexts. The Chinese business context also has many nuances that differ from those in the U.S. and have periodically posed unfamiliar headaches. Additionally, with an approximately 20-year history, our Global MBA program is still a young one relative to much of its global competition.
In some respects, though, those pain points are precisely why I chose the Global MBA program. I didn’t want a completely “comfortable” MBA experience. If I were to sink two committed years into B-School, I wanted it to be a place where I would have to grow. I also viewed the youth of the program as a positive rather than a negative, in that my entrepreneurial wiring is heavily oriented towards a lean startup culture. A program that was still itself in emerging growth stages was very attractive, as it signaled an opportunity to play some active and meaningful role in the program’s forward progress. In contrast, I might not have had the same opportunity in a more established Western MBA program with, for example, a 100-year history and a cohort of 900. Meanwhile, the fact that the Global MBA program is already positioned as one of the most reputable Chinese MBA programs at one of the most storied Chinese universities gave me the confidence of catching a rising tide in multiple respects.
As I near graduation, my exit plans are a culmination of my incoming goals and the experiences I’ve had in the past two years. I recently formed a small startup company in the international education space and will be investing much of my summer in its development with the intention of scaling it up gradually in the next couple of years in conjunction with related career commitments in international education. The returns from my two years at Tsinghua have been immense and have directly linked with my next steps, and as I reflect on my time here and wonder how two years could ever have passed so quickly, it is bittersweet to move on so soon. Still, I rest in the assurance that I am now well equipped to do so, and I am thankful that I have a community at my side with which I take that step together.
(by Tim Hesler, GMBA2015)