ISM insight: Life as an ISM student

The ISM Student Blog provides insight into life at ISM. Bloggers are current students and recent alumni who are excited about sharing their diverse learning experiences in ISM’s programs. Explore this blog to learn more about life at ISM, and how the program benefits students in the long run. You may also want to follow ISM on Facebook or join the conversation on Twitter.

Riding the Wave of a New Adventure

It’s Tuesday, approximately 10:30 AM. The parting of this morning’s hazy clouds reveals a warm sunbeam to those of us floating on our surfboards at La Côte des Basques, a popular beach in southwest France. As someone accustomed to the tropical waters of South Florida, the sharp, icy water of the Basque coast is quite a shock to me, but I know what I had signed up for when I moved here approximately three months ago.

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This has been my typical daily routine since I landed in Biarritz, France. I wake up, check the waves, come back inside to work on my courses, go out for a surf, and then come back to have a quick lunch before heading to my coworking spot for an evening of remote work.

Coursework and surfing may get swapped around depending on the tides and how the waves look when I wake up. After all, good surf waits for no one! My thoughts are interrupted by a small set of waves coming in, and I paddle into one that swiftly guides me toward the mountain range in front of me.

Time-Zone Shifts

One of the most common questions I get asked is how I manage a workday while being 6 hours ahead of most of my coworkers. Luckily, I got used to the time difference pretty quickly. I actually prefer having the mornings free to work on my coursework – long before anyone in Eastern Standard Time has woken up.

Studying on the Move

Having most of my coursework online has allowed me to work at my own pace, and the flexibility is a huge plus when juggling so many other things between work and leisure. I have taken my class assignments with me to several cafes as I discover my new town and even on France’s high-speed trains on the way to other cities to visit friends.

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After all, being an international student is more than just studying in another country. It is about exploring your new surroundings and immersing yourself in a new culture. Thanks to my flexible classes, I have been able to balance these worlds beautifully.

Strengthening my Language Skills

In fact, one of the reasons I chose to live in Biarritz (besides surfing) was because of the increased chances of language immersion. In the three months I’ve been here, I’ve noticed a lot fewer people are likely to switch to English compared to bigger cities like Paris. This helps a lot when trying to master the French language because I am forced to speak and communicate in French. This was especially apparent when communicating with my landlord, bank, and electricity and water companies, all of whom really put my language abilities to the test!

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This, however, is the reason why I love this little corner of France so much, not in spite of it. It is a melting pot of French, Spanish, and Basque languages and dialects – all of which I interact with to some extent daily.

Networking While Attending a Hybrid MBA Program

With Paris just a few hours away by train, I am still close enough to ISM’s main campus that I can pop in for student networking events if I please. The networking events and in-person courses that I have joined so far have allowed me to make strong connections with some of my fellow students, with whom I periodically check in to see how courses are going. This has been a great way to maintain a support group when I don’t see my peers on a daily or even monthly basis.

Encouragement for Prospective Online MBA Students

What I’d say to prospective degree-seekers curious about this nomadic lifestyle is that this way of life is perfect for someone who loves continuously learning, exploring new languages, and is good at time management. Although it may seem like all fun and games sometimes, I must still keep up with my responsibilities with my job back home, as well as maintain my studies within my MBA program.

It is a lot to juggle, but with determination and organizational skills, the benefits of experiencing new places as a nomadic student make all the setbacks worthwhile.

Switching Tides

The tide has now dropped to a still low, meaning my morning surf session has come to an end. I shiver as I collect my leash and board and start making my way up the winding path to my flat, offering a couple of Bonjours to passing joggers along the way.

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If there is one thing that is sure to keep me motivated between working a full-time job and managing MBA coursework, it’s a slap of icy Atlantic seawater to the face every morning. And when the water is too cold for me to brave, a fresh baguette will have to suffice!

The Historical Evolution of Business Education

The roots of traditional graduate-level business education can be traced back to the early 1800s in Europe. Originally meant to teach skills in management and other various competencies in business administration, business schools have kept their reputation throughout most of history as being seen as the “golden ticket,” the key source of career advancement.

Of course, nothing has ever prospered without the challenges of a rapidly changing world. The needs and desires of students in 1819 are much different than the ones of professionals in today’s landscape, and with the business world becoming increasingly globalized, business schools have had to learn to adapt to these needs.

Let’s look at some of the ways the world of business schools is changing.

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How often have you started a graduate school course by being asked to describe the current quality of your mind?

This was the question I was asked, along with twelve other students, at the beginning of a three-day leadership retreat hosted by the International School of Management.

About a two-hour drive from Paris, we entered Champignelles in the northern Burgundy (a.k.a. Bourgogne) region of France – a stark contrast from the bustling beauty that is Paris. The bus zipped past 19th-century homes and fields of green and eventually brought us to Campus MaNa.

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2020 was an interesting (for lack of a better word) year. No two years are ever the same, but most of us would certainly agree that the last year of the previous decade has turned our lives upside down on many accounts. Personal lives have been greatly affected with millions of people mourning the passing of loved ones due to the deadly Covid-19. Lockdowns imposed in many countries across the world have tested – and continue to test – our resilience and mental health. Professionally, things have taken a dramatic and, perhaps, permanent turn for most industries.

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I joined ISM’s IMBA program in July 2020, intending to move to Paris in January 2021, start classes in person, and have the robust MBA experience abroad that I’d always imagined. However, COVID-19 had other plans for me as the second wave started in France and classes remained online through winter 2021 and beyond. I was torn and not sure if I should bite the bullet and head over to France anyway, or if I should spend some more time in the United States and wait for the vaccine.

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During this difficult time living through a pandemic on an unprecedented scale, everyone is facing day-to-day issues with handling everyday life, getting tasks done, and preventing procrastination. The motivation that usually comes from the anticipation of certain things like meeting with friends for dinner in a restaurant or weekend trips is impossible in the current situation. Even watching your favorite club's soccer game, a date in a bar, vacation planning, or strolling through shops in the city center, which used to be a festive highlight in weekly planning, are hardly possible. Habits and regular daily routines can often become obstacles in adapting to changes and new things. 

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It’s hard to believe that I came to France one year ago, in September 2017, to start my studies at ISM. So many incredible changes have happened since then, many because of my experience as an IMBA student at ISM. The most rewarding experience has been the friends I have made and the people I have met in my year here.

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When I tell people I studied in France, one of the first questions they ask is, “How was it living there?” And that is a valid question, as it’s extremely different living in Paris as a student than traveling there for vacation or visiting as a tourist. I would say the experience of living in Paris is far better than just coming to visit for a week or two.

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