It is a Sunday evening in late June when I cross the UCLA campus. The cinematographic “magic hour” has just started, making the Anderson School of Management appear golden against a dark-blue backdrop. I am on my way to the welcome drink that kicks off my exchange week at the U.S. business institution, remembering how the idea for my participation had occurred to me 18 months before.
At that time, I was new to the HEC Paris MBA and still felt a bit overwhelmed by all the new information, in and out of the classroom. The Academics Team presented us with the different options for the customized phase of our programs, which ranged from fieldwork projects to elective courses to several international exchange programs. The UCLA option immediately caught my attention: It offered the chance to experience a different teaching style and business mentality within the very convenient framework – one week per month – of the part-time modules. There and then I decided to make the UCLA experience the cherry on my “MBA cake,” even though the summer of 2016 still seemed so far away. Now, those one and a half years had passed and I was ready to see if the experience would match my expectations.
My first impression of UCLA does not let me down. I had always dreamt of visiting a U.S. college, and the park-like campus that comprises the different faculties and departments completely meets my expectations. Next to the business school, a large stadium houses daily American football training sessions, and the entire area has a sportive vibe. Even before entering a classroom, I am emerged in a different context.
Classes too vary from the approach and content at HEC Paris. I signed up for two courses that were a nice addition to the curriculum at my home university, expanding my knowledge of emerging markets as well as of branding. Classes take place every day from 2 to 10 p.m. and each one requires preparing several assignments as well as reading one or more cases and articles. As such, the exchange is also a useful exercise in efficiency and time management. As could be expected with such extensive preparations, class discussions of the cases play a central role in the teaching experience and take up most of the time. For me, this is a clear difference from the HEC Paris MBA, which focuses on a more equal combination of class interaction and classic teaching. At the same time, the discussions at the Anderson School of Management are more steered by the professor, leading to less animated debates among classmates and more anticipated outcomes.
My final motivation for doing the UCLA exchange was to expand my network with professionals from all parts of the world. I am thus very happy to see that UCLA also has a strong diversity of nationalities and professions, and I am able to connect with many interesting people during the five class days. A further plus is the participation of UCLA’s EMBA students. Their managerial experience leads to interesting discussions and creates a nice addition to what I am learning at the HEC MBA.
Stepping out of your comfort zone and encountering new challenges is useful for any kind of learning experience, not the least for an international MBA. Spending the week at the Anderson School of Management confirmed my initial motivations for the exchange: Getting to know a different teaching style and making new contacts with other international professionals. At the same time, the format allowed me to maintain my normal working rhythm at my company, showing the many possibilities available in the part-time program at HEC Paris.
Text by Thomas Vermeulen