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A Londoner’s MBA: Angst & Achievement On Orientation Week

London Business School students working on a project.

Nikki Gupta, originally from India, grew up in Saudi Arabia and London before starting her MBA at London Business School. She is a new recruit into the 2020 class and will be sharing snippets of her day to day on what it’s like to have a London MBA experience.

Orientation week at LBS started with nerves and ended with a sense of belonging. That belonging came from learning that there are hundreds of other equally nervous students.

This week has been all about operational details, figuring out what all the acronyms for the different buildings on campus are, finding cheap places to grab a bite, and (above all) meeting fellow students. There has been a sense of pride and awe given the impressive breakdown of students and nationalities. 65 countries and 488 students – the largest cohort yet.

After several sessions at the RCOG building (The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) and the SOC (Sammy Ofer Centre), all 488 of us had been briefed on exam practices (how not to fail), attendance policies (again, how not to fail), and plagiarism concerns (how not to get kicked out). This certainly set a tone that the school expects us to actually work hard during these two years!

On day one, large swarms of us wearing crisp sharp suits with perfectly knotted ties and mirror like shiny shoes made our way to Old Billingsgate Market (confusingly not actually a market), an old ex warehouse and now beautiful conference centre, to kick off a series of presentations by the Dean, the Admissions Director and the MBA program director. The message was simple – this is our MBA. Dean Francois phrased the next two years as our ‘engagement’ with LBS. The wedding date is set to the 20th of July 2020, when we go on stage, shake his hand and leave to be LBS MBAs in the real world. This message filled me with warm fuzzy feelings of being part of a community of alumni for the rest of my life.

In spite of the British side of me wanting to hold back, I found myself extending a hand and introducing myself to complete strangers and they reciprocated! LBS makes this feel less awkward somehow. I met a student from Georgia (near Turkey) who talked about how he funded his MBA by selling a car to buy a flat and then selling the flat! I met a doctor from Singapore who was struggling to figure out how exactly setting up internet access in her flat works in London (a common frustration in the UK). I even met a lady who just had a baby two weeks ago (I am still amazed at her courage).

Then came our away day. It was 6.30 a.m. and I sat on a bus in gym clothes to go to a secret remote place where we were to engage in team building activities. It was pouring with rain (a common feature of England). Here, I had to climb to high places in a forest and jump off (in a harness) in order to bond with my study group and push myself out of my comfort zone. I was wet, my knees were shaking from fear of heights, and I did indeed cry. This is when the initially intimidating-seeming Israeli man in my study group had wonderfully supportive words of encouragement for me and the Georgian guy was the first to give me a huge hug when I came off the harness. We were past the awkward introductions and we were now a unit. This was one hell of an ice breaker!

My flatmates and I have gotten used to the 17 minute commute to school that comes with all the wonders of London rush hour. It gets packed and sweaty and we have learnt that smiling can often make rush hour Londoners crankier. Living with fellow MBAs has meant that our flat has become a safe zone to discuss life at LBS. We complain about the timetabling chaos together and share our mini panics over some obscure piece of reading we were apparently meant to do and had forgotten about!

It has been an exhausting week and I still do not have a mattress – Amazon in London can be particularly difficult with deliveries. My key learnings from the week have been about people. I came to LBS thinking everyone would be super accomplished and perhaps somewhat intimidating. I was conscious that my small scale and atypical background would not fit in and I would be deemed ‘odd’. Instead, I have felt welcome and valuable. I look at the ex-military guy in my study group with immense respect for his time as a commander. When he told me, he found my entrepreneurial background ‘inspiring’, I was humbled. I have learnt that we see in others what we wish we had in ourselves. I’m not saying I will join the army or become a doctor, but leadership and empathy may well rub off on me from studying with these remarkable people.

Nikki is a former Math tutor and startup founder who is currently starting the MBA program at London Business School. Her startup was in Education Technology and after four tumultuous years, she wants to use the MBA gain some big business perspective. Having been self employed her whole life, she wants to work as a Product Manager in EdTech post MBA. 

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