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From China to Canada: Reflections of an MBA graduate

SOURCE: Source: ROBYN BECK/AFP
An MBA isn’t without its challenges, as highlighted by one Chinese MBA graduate who studied in Canada.


By Yasmin 

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An MBA is often seen as a golden ticket to better job prospects and higher earnings, but it pays to get some insights from an MBA graduate prior to enrolling in a programme in preparation for the journey ahead.

Clark Tang hadn’t planned on studying business in Canada, but when he couldn’t find a university that was offering a graduate programme that was related to his undergraduate degree in marine technology, he decided to pivot and study business instead. 

Today, the MBA graduate has no regrets. Looking back, the journey had proven to be a voyage of personal and professional growth for the 27-year-old when he took the plunge to study abroad. 

With the help of an agent in China, who helped narrow down his options for universities based on his preferences, Tang decided to enrol in Trinity Western University’s (TWU) MBA with an International Business specialisation programme. 

MBA graduate: More than a paper chase

MBA
MBA graduate Clark Tang studied at TWU. Source: Clark Tang

Tang – who hails from the city of Dalian in Liaoning Province – spent his first year in Canada studying English, his second language, before progressing with his MBA, which took 18 months to complete. 

No MBA journey is the same as everyone has their unique strengths and weaknesses. International students might have additional challenges to overcome, including grasping the language and cultural nous of the country, in addition to handling the rigours of the programme.

For instance, some courses – especially quantitative ones – can serve as a major hurdle for some students while those less work experience than their older coursemates may find that they are handicapped when it comes to applying MBA concepts taught during the course.

Finance and accounting are among the toughest courses in an MBA programme, but Tang, who has a strong background in math, found that he excelled at those subjects, scoring an A+ and A respectively despite no prior exposure to these courses. Conversely, marketing, a course which some students dubbed less challenging, proved the contrary for him.

Tang opined that students’ interest in their subjects can play a role in how well they perform.

He added that many of his older classmates who had more formal working experience were quick to understand concepts discussed in the classroom when compared to their less experienced peers who have less context to draw from.

“When our professor mentions a concept or certain scenario, they understand it quicker than us [younger students with less work experience],” he said, adding that it took them more time to figure things out. 

Soak up new experiences like sponges

MBA
A view of the headquarters of German carmaker BMW in Munich. Source: Christof Stache/AFP

One of his most memorable experiences during his MBA programme was spending 17 days in Europe visiting factories of renowned automotive and transportation companies, including BMW and Bombardier, with his coursemates. 

During his travel study stint, he gained insights into how large organisations are managed and practice cost-control, to name a few, which proved to be a highly rewarding experience. 

Networking is also an important part of the MBA graduate’s journey, something Tang can personally attest to after having benefited from forming close relationships with his professors who helped him secure a part-time job with a food production company during his studies, as well as a full-time job upon graduation.

He highlighted that many students in his programme were at varying stages of their lives – some had little work experience while others were running successful businesses and enjoying thriving careers – and that this served as an opportune time to connect with others from different backgrounds.

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Learn from your past mistakes

Working abroad can pose new challenges for students who come from different cultural backgrounds. Factors such as communication styles and different ways of showing respect may sound inconsequential to some, but these are essential skills to master in our increasingly globalised economy where people from different backgrounds often come together to work.

This was something Tang learned the hard way when working as a sales associate for a local company. Despite working hard, he had butted heads with his supervisor and was eventually fired from the job.

He opined that a differences in culture played a role in his termination, but has learned from the experience and highlighted the importance of adapting to the local culture when studying and working abroad.

“I think [getting an] MBA really changed my personality, self-interests and values,” said Tang.

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It gave him a better understanding of the role that business plays in the economy, and helped him step out of his comfort zone and network with more people.

Having gone through the wringer, what would this MBA graduate’s advice be to prospective b-school students?

“I would give three [pieces of] advice: the first one is to study hard,” he said, primarily because many students who pursue an MBA may not have a business background. “They might think an MBA is really, really boring because there are so many concepts at the beginning. And if you don’t understand the concept, you’re done,” he said. 

So be patient and put in the hardwork necessary to help you get up to speed in class. Once you’ve passed this obstacle, you might even find it interesting to dissect case studies and the like in class.

He also stressed the importance for international students to adapt to the local culture. He added that finding a part-time job or even an internship will prove beneficial to understand different work cultures and put theory into practice.

Lastly, don’t forget to network. This means not only with your professors, but also with your classmates who may come from all corners of the world. Keep an eye out for events or activities where there are also opportunities to meet new people, including students from other universities, to expand your network as you’ll never know when your connection can turn into a business opportunity.