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Get Involved Outside the Classroom to Thrive

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Sandra Smith

Sandra discusses the pros and cons of being involved in extracurricular activities.

Sandra Smith, China Europe International Business School, Full-time MBA

I am the third daughter in a family of five children (in Korea, the third daughter has special significance). This means, from childhood I have learned how to survive in a competitive environment. I thank my parents for raising us in a family that has always thought “outside of the box.” My mother emigrated to the U.S. after marrying my father and so I have always felt that I never fit into any one category and that demographics were just rules waiting to be broken. I didn’t realize I was different from other students until college when I became known for asking the “international” questions.

Flash forward: After having worked for five years in culture and language training, a visit to the Philippines provides a “eureka” moment. I realize that I have a responsibility to use the education and skills I have gained to help those from southern countries without similar access. My plan is to do this one of two ways: start my own business or reach a position in a company that might have the power to influence change. Either way, I knew I needed more skills and contacts and an MBA (as advised from a few of my executive students) was an attractive answer.  

Dream career: Managing my own social entrepreneurial enterprise in which every step of the value chain contributes to social good. I have several projects in the making, so please stay tuned!

Why Business School? I wanted to change my industry and function entirely. Education has promising prospects (especially in Asia), but I sought to discover what other talents I possess and to learn about a new market outside of Asia and the U.S.

Best GMAT study tip? Learn how to train. What do I mean by “train”? After you have taken several practice tests, you will realize what tends to hold you up. Formulate quick strategies to answer these questions that take up your precious test time.

Before business school, I was: Complacent and frustrated. That might sound contradictory, but at the time I had a steady salary with no lack of future projects; however, my work was no longer challenging. I longed to be pushed, to compete, and to do something meaningful. I wanted to see what I else was capable of and how I compared to other young professionals.  

When I’m not in class, you’ll find me: Teaching someone something (dance, English, pick-up lines). I just can’t escape my past career.

Advice for anyone thinking about b-school? Don’t consider; just apply! I have found that my classmates come from a plethora of backgrounds with countless goals, but each has found something meaningful from the MBA, whether it has been practical knowledge, skill sets, or contacts. There is just one thing to remember: you should have a clear idea of what you want to gain from your MBA so as to make the best decision as to which program is appropriate for you and what you should focus on during your MBA studies.

My remedy for pre-test nerves: Easy-listening music (I like jazz) and a strong coffee (to help get you focused)

On the day before your exam, you should: Review your strategies and get a good workout in if you can. I couldn’t sleep before my (first) exam, which definitely contributed to why I took it again. Exercising will help to calm you down and if you are like me, put you to sleep. Don’t be nervous! Although it is “the real deal,” try to treat it like one of the dozen other practice tests you have taken before.

How did you fit studying for the GMAT exam into your busy schedule? I studied late at night and all day on the weekends. For me, large chunks of time were necessary to hone in on key skills.

How well-prepared for business school do you feel, after studying for the GMAT exam? The GMAT gave me some insight as to general skills necessary in all core classes. The most recent version of the GMAT is also better equipped to judge strategic and analytical thinking, which are key success factors for any MBA program. 


Get Involved Outside the Classroom to Thrive in Business School

"Don’t put aside your interests while doing your MBA because they may be more valuable than some of your courses."

Full transcript

"Coming out of the American educational system, I’ve always found myself as involved with extracurricular activities as with academic courses. Since coming to CEIBS I’ve been involved with the Women in Leadership Club, the Dance Club and the Cedar Volunteer English Program. Although my parents have told me time and again that these take up way too much of my time, each of these activities have been gateways to other opportunities and to expanding my network in China. So, I have to stress how important it is to pursue your interests while doing your MBA. Like my parents, I began to think that dance was taking up too much of my time, but it’s been through this venue that I’ve been able to build relationships with school administration, faculty and staff, allowing me the rare chance to have one-on-one conversations about school policies and to build rapport with influential figures. So, I hope that you don’t put aside your interests while doing your MBA because they may be more valuable than some of your courses."

Should You Go Abroad for Your MBA? Consider These Factors.

"While some programs might be easier or more affordable overseas there will be greater restrictions on working visas or even getting paid internships."

Full transcript

"So you’re thinking about doing your MBA overseas. Well, I have three somewhat pessimistic things for you to consider when making this big decision. So warning: these are just the toughest parts about doing an MBA internationally. So first of all if you’re a native speaker English is not enough. Even if your program is in English not learning the local language will greatly inhibit you from learning about the local market and local business practices, and also being able to network. Secondly, if you’re seeking to change your industry or function this will be twice as hard overseas. So be prepared to put in the effort. But I’m sure you can do it. And lastly financials, our favorite topic. While some programs might be easier or more affordable overseas there will be greater restrictions on working visas or even getting paid internships. So please take all these into consideration as you select to do your MBA overseas or domestically."

Take Advantage of the Opportunities Available

"The evolution of technology and educational systems are making more options available for people from different backgrounds."

Full transcript

"As a founder of our Women in Leadership Club, I try to encourage all women to take on tasks which may seem daunting, including the MBA. Many women do not consider doing an MBA or hesitate because of family obligations. Although I'm not married, the women in my class who are married or may have children have become true inspirations, not just to me but to all of our classmates. If you are considering doing an MBA you know that you have to do 18- to 20-hour days and you have different expectations for faculty and teammates. But then add to the mix a husband and children and someone who is able to do all of these things, is really capable of any challenge. So Gladys is one of my, Gladys Li is one of my classmates and I cannot express my amazement after hearing her story. She started doing, she studied for the MBA while she’s pregnant, took the exam while she was eight months pregnant and then later had her interview for our course just five days before she gave birth. Gladys tells me that she decided to do this because she wanted to be a true role model to her daughter not just through words but through actions. So if you are a woman considering an MBA, but feel it may be too much pressure on your family don’t let that be the reason that stops you from strengthening yourself professionally. Many programs work with students to accommodate their family needs and there are many online or satellite programs available for potential candidates. The evolution of technology and educational systems are making more options available for people from different backgrounds. And I hope that you will take advantage of these opportunities and be a true role model to your children and to the women in your community."

Why I Chose to Move from the U.S. to China for My MBA

"I became kind of an ambassador, a cultural ambassador for the US."

Full transcript

"Going to school in China, what’s it like? I think for many people China is a real mystery. Different pictures have been painted by different media sources and so we really don’t have a clear idea of what it’s like to be in China. But for me personally it was very exciting when I started to consider studying here. But I was still a bit hesitant because of the things that I’ve heard and I wasn’t sure how foreign or friendly the country was. So I decided to take a trip and test the waters to see. And when I came here what I found happily a surprise to me there’s, at least in Shanghai, there is a substantial Ex Pat community, so it’s easy for people to find a niche and to find somewhere that might make you feel a little closer to home. Not only that, as I was curious about what China was like, my classmates and the people I’ve met here are also curious to know about the US. And so unknowingly I became kind of an ambassador, cultural ambassador for the US. And so I think that if you are thinking about studying in China one tip that I want to give you is to really be comfortable with the uncomfortable and to know that while you might have some stereotypes about one culture they also have stereotypes about you. So be ready to pivot and to adjust to different situations. But I hope that you’ll push yourself and try a new opportunity."