REAL At Ross: Getting To Know Ann Arbor

Just like that, we are heading towards the end of the fall semester. What better way to head into winter break than to explore my favorite spots in Ann Arbor and share some tips?

Prior to Michigan Ross, I lived in New York City. For my MBA, I knew I wanted to attend a school in a college town so that I could focus on building friendships. I didn’t want to get distracted by big city offerings. Instead, I wanted access to a welcoming culture and good restaurant scene. Being close to an airport would help too. Ross and Ann Arbor fit the bill. Coming into my first year, I was most excited about three things:

Esther Chen, University of Michigan (Ross)

1) Vibrant sports scene
2) Quaint downtown that’s walkable
3) Variety of outdoor experiences

So far, Ann Arbor has delivered!


For undergrad, I attended a small liberal arts college and the sports culture wasn’t that enthusiastic. I was excited to attend a school where sports are a BIG DEAL, and Michigan sports definitely are. The University of Michigan is in the Big 10, one of the leading collegiate athletic conferences. The largest sport at Michigan is undoubtedly football at the famed Big House. The Big House seats over 100k spectators per game, which is pretty impressive considering the city population is around 120,000.

During football weekends, crowds gather to tailgate and watch the game, making Ann Arbor quite lively. Attending football games has been a way for me to wear all of my Michigan gear, feel connected to the sports culture of the greater University, and bask in glory when we win! Football games also let me see the Michigan marching band in action, learn the tune of “The Victors,” and sing “Mr. Brightside” more times than I ever thought I would.

Tip: “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers is definitely a song you will need to know if attending U-M in any capacity.

Michigan Stadium on game day.

Football aside, there are other amazing sports to be seen at U-M. I’ve attended some volleyball and basketball games. It’s a great way to unwind after a long week and feel that fighting spirit.


As a native New Yorker, having diverse food options was subtly part of my admissions decision. I was really thankful that there would be plenty of boba options near campus, as prior to my MBA it was one of my key sources of livelihood (and continues to be). As a Chinese-American, access to Asian grocery stores was also important, so I was glad that Ann Arbor offered different choices. Plus, e-commerce will deliver to most places, so my concerns of lack of food options was alleviated quickly.

Going into my MBA, I knew I was going to be busy – but I didn’t know that I was going to be that busy – so I do appreciate Ann Arbor’s smaller size. I live in the Hill Street area, where many other MBA graduate students are found. In my opinion, everything is less than a 20-minute walk away. Admittedly, during the winter months when it is windy and snowing, it could seem like the longest 20-minute walk of your life. Something remarkable I noticed was how quickly I acclimated. One of my favorite sayings is 5 degrees is the new 20 (or -15 Celsius is the new -6). The cold is all relative. Once you get used to it, it’s honestly not that bad. From where I live, Ross is about 12 minutes away and the downtown Main Street area is about 15 minutes away.

In the warmer months, there’s nothing I love more than strolling downtown Main Street. On the weekends, the street is closed and mainly restaurants set up outdoor dining. Some of my favorite places are HopCat for bar food, Blank Slate for ice cream, and The Seoul for Korean BBQ. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of options. One recent experience was a southeast Asian food popup with Blank Slate. I was glad to find friends who were as enthusiastic as I was for lining up for 40 minutes to get crab rangoon paired with Thai basil ice cream.

Esther Chen (back left) hanging out with friends at Blankslate

There are also unofficial Ross activities that help us get to know downtown such as Section Happy Hours! At Ross, students are divided into sections and every week my section hosts a Happy Hour. In the summer months, we try to maximize the weather by going to Bill’s Beer Garden. In the winter, we will retreat to a warmer indoor location such as the Brown Jug. These happy hours are a good time to catch up with section mates whom I haven’t seen in a while because of school work and recruiting. On the happier notes, we usually share where we’re planning to travel to for fall or spring break and learn quirky facts about other people. For example, I recently learned of a section mate who truly loves to eat fish and will have sardines for breakfast. On the other side, we’ll share the struggles of feeling completely lost in class (I’m looking at you, factor and cluster analysis) or recruiting fails. What I’ve found the most helpful in chatting with classmates is that feeling of “I’m not the only one.” Being able to share those feelings is not only good for mental health, but sharing vulnerabilities also enables me to build connection and friendships.

Section Happy Hour


Let’s start with Ann Arbor fall. Yes, I know, fall is a season. In Ann Arbor, fall is also an activity and undoubtedly, the best time. According to the City of Ann Arbor, there are 1.5 million trees in town! As the color changes during the season, it brings me a lot of joy. Fall usually inspires fun group activities, such as visits to local orchards or cider mills. There are a few within a 30-minute drive, and this fall I went to the Dexter Cider Mill with a few friends.


And then there are the Ann Arbor squirrels. If you enjoy people-watching, you’ll probably enjoy squirrel-watching. There have been so many times I’ve walked through campus close to the university Diag and saw squirrels looking for nuts, chasing each other, and people-watching. Some squirrels in Michigan seem to have a “Maize” or blonde color in their tails, which seems fitting. I believe they are fox squirrels. You’d be surprised at the number of times I’ve seen people stopped in their tracks just watching the squirrels, and I have even started a few conversations observing their behavior.

An Ann Arbor Squirrel


One of my favorite pleasant weather activities is biking, and this year I joined the Ross Cycling Club. In the Midwest, you never know what the weather will be. Fortunately, the fates have been on our side this year. It’s now early November and biking has still been permissible. My favorite parts about these rides are being in nature, enjoying warm weather, and multitasking. What better way to take in new sights, catch up with classmates, and get in a workout – especially as an MBA student where time is limited? Some recent trips took us on 15-mile rides to nearby towns such as Dixboro and Ypsilanti. We biked through outdoor spots like the Arb and Gallup Park. It’s nice to have uninterrupted riding, see more locals in their element, and enjoy the calm of the Huron River. At the midpoint of the ride, we’ll usually grab a snack and have some good conversation before heading back.

Cycling Club

​While not directly in Ann Arbor, no residence in Ann Arbor would be complete without visiting the Upper Peninsula (UP) and Traverse City at least once. This year, with the Ross Outdoors Club, I, along with 12 other MBA students (1st and 2nd year), went to the UP and tried our hand at camping. A large motivation for coming to business school was to meet new people. It can feel like a big commitment sometimes when you go on a trip and don’t know people well. However, it has been an amazing way to bond with classmates through cooking together, having conversations during hikes, practicing teamwork by setting up tents, and figuring out crisis management when it starts to rain and you lose power on the campsite. I really appreciated how flexible everyone was, low ego, and down to have a good time in the sun, rain, and yes — snow.

Last year, Ross also hosted its first Winter Wonderland Trip to Traverse City. About 250 people attended and it was a great way to reconnect with classmates after a stressful recruitment season. Along with some friends, I tried our best luck at snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. As a downhill skier, it was my first time trying cross-country, which is really quite different. Some of my friends are from warmer climate and had never skied at all, so we all got a few chuckles out of losing control on the skis and falling on the snow.

Ross students camping


While Ann Arbor probably has everything you will need in two years’ time, there are also many great options to explore outside of Ann Arbor.

As someone with perpetual wanderlust, I’ve explored some neighboring towns and have liked how quaint they are. Closer to you (10 – 30 minutes), there is Ypsilanti and Saline. Further on (30 – 60 minutes), you’ll find Detroit, Madison Heights, Novi, and Dearborn to name a few. For non-Michigan adventures that are still relatively close (4 to 5 hours), I’ve visited Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Chicago.  Niagara Falls and Toronto were great weekend trips. Perhaps it’s that feeling of being in a different country. It can be a bit of an escape from the Ann Arbor Ross bubble where I can forget about the stresses of school, even just for a little bit.

And just like that, I can’t believe that I am essentially three-quarters of the way through my MBA. Ann Arbor has been a great place to call home for the past year, but I will think back fondly on the memories I’ve made here. Go Blue!

Bio: Esther was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and attended Bryn Mawr College (Anassa Kata!) for undergrad where she studied mathematics. Following graduation, Esther worked in investment management in both institutional and private wealth and completed her CFA charter. Working in financial services, Esther realized that she wanted to be closer to the business side of things and was inspired to pursue an industry role in consumer retail, which led her to pursue an MBA at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business (Go Blue!). At Ross, she is involved with the Business Beyond Usual PodcastRetail & Luxury Goods Club, and Ross Open Road. She is excited to share her passion for the community and her experiences at Ross with Poets&Quants. Outside of school and work, Esther loves drinking bubble tea, biking, and rock climbing.

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