So yesterday and today were registration and orientation days for my MBA, which will start properly on Monday. The first thing I noticed when we all assembled was I was the oldest person there by roughly a decade, and a good twenty years older than most. I then realised I was mingling with undergrads which explained some, but not all, of the discrepancy. Alas, even once the MBA students had been filtered out, I was still the grandpa of the bunch. Some of them looked about fifteen.
You know when sometimes you wish you could go back in time and relive your younger days, only with the knowledge and wisdom you have now? Well, I felt a bit like I was doing that yesterday. The Dean of the school spoke to us – undergrads and postgrads together – and I nodded along thinking “yup, that’s about right”. I particularly liked the bit about having to get used to a new place and new culture. Interestingly, I probably listened more this time around than I did back in 1996. I’m not in the slightest bit concerned by what’s coming.
The business school is small, tiny in fact, and my MBA class only a handful of people. As such, I’ve already met pretty much all the staff and know half of them by name, including the Dean and his deputy. Contrast this with the University of Manchester which had thousands of students and a sprawling hierarchy between the Dean and the undergrads. Chatting with a few of the professors it seems they have considerable experience outside academia, which is a good sign. One thing they stressed is timekeeping: lectures start on time and the professors get annoyed if people are late. This is also a good sign. One of the reasons I chose Switzerland over France (which was cheaper) is I could imagine shelling out a load of money to find the lecturers unorganised, uninterested, and late which would annoy me no end. I don’t know if that’s what French business schools are like, but I didn’t want to risk it.
I heard a lot of Russian being spoken over the past two days, and I kept quiet that I could understand half of it. Quite a few of the school staff are Russian speakers, and we had Russians, Ukrainians, and Kazakhs in our group yesterday. As far as I could tell, I was the only Brit. In my MBA class I’m joined by two African ladies, a lady from Austria, a female NHS surgeon, a lady from Siberia, and a Thai chap who reckons it’s high time someone sorted his country out and the job should fall to him. Good on him, I say. We also have a bloke who speaks Russian and a Thai lady. While I am studying HR because nobody in that area of business understands engineering, projects, and operations the surgeon is doing an MBA because none of the managers in the NHS has a clue about medicine. Perhaps bridging yawning chasms in an increasingly managerial world is a well-paying niche? I hope so.
One thing I noticed is, like in France, young people in Switzerland an elsewhere in Europe spend an awful lot of their twenties doing a series of internships. Due to the labour laws, nobody wants to hire anyone young and experienced so they only offer them short-term internships. These seem very popular in Geneva. It appears jobs are thin on the ground in this city, especially for those with no experience. I’m hoping my experience will land me something once I graduate, but others are doing an MBA with almost no work experience because they have little other choice than to keep studying. This doesn’t sound like a very good state of affairs to me.
The school has pretty good industry connections and people who can advise how to land a job once you graduate. There are lots of company visits, guest speakers, and networking events which I intend to get the absolute maximum from. It seems having a chat with someone who likes the cut of your jib is a better way to get into a company than going through HR who, according to the person in charge of careers, are always useless. Who knew? However, I remarked that the names of the companies which flashed on the screen were giant corporations or supranational bodies, the type of which I wish to avoid and would be reluctant to hire a blogger who says mean things about polyamorists in an HR post. Google’s name was mentioned and everyone fell into an awed silence, whereas I thought I’d like to ask whoever shows up what he thinks of James Damore’s sacking, the board weeping over Hillary’s loss, allegations of trying to swing the election, and the inevitable antitrust suit that’s going to break the company up. I should probably learn to keep my trap shut on this course. Thankfully, the school and the professors also have connections with smaller companies, including a lot of start-ups.
We were also given some practical advice about Switzerland which gave me the impression it’s a serious country. For starters, you can’t do anything without a residency permit, and for that you need to demonstrate you have an address. They then post the permit to that address and if your name isn’t on the mailbox, they don’t deliver it. In fact, the Swiss postal service won’t deliver anything unless your name is on the mailbox. The person doing the presentation was almost apologetic about this, saying it was to make sure everyone who is claiming residency is living where they’re supposed to be. I thought it was a splendid policy, and if the UK had applied such common sense the authorities would have known who was in the Grenfell Tower and there wouldn’t have been the opportunity for wholesale fraud. We were also told that in Switzerland you pay your damned bills. If you don’t, you get one warning and a fine, then another, and after that you’re on some list which will make it impossible for you to rent or sign up to any new service for at least five years. Like I said, Switzerland is a serious country.
So on Monday I start: 5 evenings per week between 18:00 and 21:00 with a 16:30 start on Fridays. There will also be seminars twice a semester, plus other stuff I need to do. I was dismayed to find out I will have to write essays by hand under exam conditions because I simply cannot write any more: since graduation in 2000 I’ve had no reason to write block text, and the billion words I’ve written since then have all been done on a computer. So my first task is to practice handwriting again, writing two sides of A4 per day until I’m comfortable doing it again. I’d better get on with it.