MBA Diary: Eric Kho at IESE Business School, Barcelona

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Eric then joined a large IT consulting firm and worked there for a year before switching to a small project management firm, to design and build their Internet strategy.

This is his account of life at IESE so far.

When I told friends back home that I planned to attend the Barcelona based IESE Business School, I met with a blank, non-comprehending nod. The most common response usually entailed a bewildered &quotum, Ok..?&quot or a hesitant &quotWhat ís it called again?&quot. My parents tried to convince me to continue at a more renowned US university.

It ís unlikely I would have received these reactions if I proposed to go to some top US business school. But I believed that US B-schools focused too much on domestic issues and opportunities.

IESE offered an opportunity both to study at a reputable international institution and to satisfy my adventurous desires. Its General Management focus suited my tastes, since I don't come from a business background. I also felt that I could benefit more from a longer, 18-month program, especially to learn Spanish.

My inner voice also questioned: &quotDo schools A or B provide that much more benefit than school C, when C offers 300 days of sunshine per year vs. their 30 days?&quot Hmmm.

First term

Start date: Early October. Entering the campus, a visiting friend of mine asked: &quotAre you attending school or some kind of resort?&quot IESE tends carefully to its well-groomed facilities. Then again, this isn't very difficult, given its diminutive nature. The university also maintains a relatively conservative, professional atmosphere.

The program broke our incoming class of 210 hopefuls down into three sections of 70. The two international sections conduct classes in English, the third in Spanish.

Everyone is put into teams of eight or nine people, which discuss cases promptly at 8:30 AM, before classes begin, and deliver specific group assignments together. My eight rambunctious teammates hail from 6 different countries - Spain, Italy, Finland, Holland, Canada, and England.

During this first year, IESE kindly bombards us with about six different subjects per trimester - a carefully chosen, delectable assortment of business fundamentals including Finance, Strategy, Operations, Marketing, etc...

The program aims to educate the majority, which means that some students without a technical or numerical background may find it overwhelming, while others consider the material more elementary.

We attend three classes a day, between 9:45 and 3:15, pausing only for a short 'cafe con leche' break and for lunch. Two to three days a week, after classes end, apprentice Spanish speakers attend language lessons.

I have started to learn to cope with the toughest challenge of the MBA: self-control. This applies very specifically to the work/nightlife balance.

In the US, it ís common for clubs to stop serving happy beverages by 1am, with the clubs often shutting down by 2am. Here, I find it all too easy to slip into a lifestyle of dining at 11:00pm, going out for drinks at 1am, and finally hitting the clubs at about 3am (approximately the time they get interesting).

Second term

One of the biggest differences between the first and second term lies in the lack of holidays. National or local holidays often interrupted the first term, helping break up the daily tedium.

My team meets more infrequently now, only for specific projects and assignments. I've learned to control my time better prudence helps me cope with the sheer volume of class material.

As for Spanish classes - I find it rather challenging just to keep my eyelids from shutting completely, especially after a draining day of classes. It has become a tricky balancing act to attend Spanish class, prepare cases, interview for internships and still stay sane.

I believe the vaunted case method proffers solid learning benefits, applying theoretical concepts to real-life situations. It trains us to analyze and solve business problems in an efficient, structured manner.

But imagine holding a fruitful, productive discussion with 69 other strong-willed, sometimes insistent participants, during a mere hour and fifteen minutes of class. Usually the system works, but overall success directly depends upon the ability of the professor to lead a practical discussion.

I would prefer more lectures mixed into the program, with smaller, more cohesive group discussions.

I definitely miss the amenities that accompany more relaxed US-style campuses - gym with showers, no dress code and lounge areas. On the other hand, the food excels here, conveniently coinciding with the importance of lunch in this culture.

I also found it difficult adjusting to the weak IT infrastructure. Having worked and toyed with the latest technologies my entire life, I initially despaired at IESE's antiquated services. But, accepting that my expectations are too high, I have ceased to pine for notebook-friendly classrooms with high-speed Net access.

By this time, I feel that the separation between the Spanish and International sections creates an artificial barrier between the students. While the two International sections interact more frequently, it is harder to get to know the Spanish-speaking section.

I rank the student body as one of the most compelling reasons to attend the program. Both inside and outside IESE's borders, it is easy to gel with the diverse, sociably amiable IESE folk. In general, students create a respectful, cooperative atmosphere in the classroom. Outside, it only gets better -this crowd knows how to play as hard as they work.

At the beginning of the year, investment banks, consultancies and some industrial companies began their big recruiting push for full-time and internship positions. Recruiting events, both local and in London, became a common interruptive force. After a series of interviews with different banks, I opted for an internship this summer within Deutsche Bank's technology research department in London.

During the past few months, I have indulged in Barcelona's impressive nightlife offerings. I particularly enjoyed dining at various restaurants, which offer quality dishes and wines at reasonable prices.

If I had extra time, I'd like to participate in more of the school's clubs - the responsible business club, entrepreneurship, sailing, etc.

One of my most enjoyable experiences has been playing music with two other students, for organized school events. Although we rarely find time to practice, we still find it a good diversion.

Although I prefer the American style, I've also enjoyed playing in the fiercely competitive football league, which involves students and faculty every Friday evening.

Third term reflections

The beginning of the end. Spring Break (two weeks into the 3rd term) provided a refreshing treat. I ventured off to Chamonix with three classmates to ski-tour the French Alps. But bad weather drove us to the southern French mountains, which provided plenty of sun, crisp air, and nice spring skiing.

The atmosphere at school has become noticeably more relaxed, and not just because of the better weather. Now that the exchange program slots have been allotted, internal competition and aggression have decreased drastically.

IESE continues to bombard us with the usual smattering of courses, but I find this term's more strategic focus more stimulating. This is refreshing, considering the comparatively dry nature of the 2nd term's classes. I have also set aside more time to practice my Spanish.

Even after a gruelling day of classes, I enjoy running in the hills overlooking the city. On weekends I try to go rock-climbing or mountain biking. I've stopped going out at night as often, mostly because I pass my time training for the Madrid marathon.

On the job front, many students who didn't want to work for a bank or consultancy are still struggling to find a suitable summer fit. They want more exposure to a wider variety of industry employers, smaller companies or non-profit organizations.

When my 10-week internship ends at the end of August, I will return to the San Francisco Bay area to relax and to visit family and friends. I look forward to this break before starting my final year at IESE.