Break a Leg. No Really, it Helps.

The Class of 2015 getting started at orientation

I don’t quite know when I decided that I wanted to do an MBA. I always thought I’d be an inventor or an architect and finally when I finished high school I chose the engineering track. I did the typical 4-year mechanical engineering undergrad coursework and entered the railway industry after graduation. Never in that time did I think “I want to get an MBA.” But somewhere along the line, the idea got implanted in my mind and it never let go.

I kept telling myself I’d do it. I started going to fairs, asking for information, talking to admissions advisors and accumulating endless piles of brochures on my desk. But the whole application process just seemed like so much work. Granted, the mere fact that I thought the application process was too work-intensive is a good sign that I wasn’t ready to start an actual program. But in the end, I really just needed a final push to get the process going. The push came in the form of a broken foot. My best piece of advice to any future MBA applicants: if you want to score well on the GMAT, do not to sign up for a course or get a tutor. Break a limb, and preferably a lower extremity. It’s cheaper AND more effective than tutoring. Honestly what else can one do with a broken foot besides sit around and study for the GMAT?

So there it was. I had taken the GMAT and now needed to do the toughest part: figure out where to apply. Considering that my criteria was a top-10 school, world-renowned faculty, a program for working professionals but not exclusively high-level executives and a format that was feasible without moving away from Switzerland, there was really just one perfect fit: Duke’s Cross Continent MBA (CCMBA). So I went through the entire application process which turned out to be a lot of fun, and was elated the day I got the call confirming my admission.

When you tell people you are starting an MBA program where you continue to work full time, you receive two recurring comments. First are the warnings about the time requirements. “Expect to spend at least 20 hours a week studying and doing team work,” most people say. I’m just getting started, so I’ll elect to wait a few months before I confirm or deny those comments. Second, people tell you the friends you make in the program will be your friends for life. That one, I can comment on.

One true genius in the class decided to create a WhatsApp group to help us exchange mobile messages. This was first come, first served, up to the maximum group size of 50. We call ourselves the WhatsAppFifty. The WhatsApp group alone consumed a good 8 hours per week of my precious time leading up to the start of the program. This precious time–as you will one day find out if you attend the CCMBA–should have been spent getting as far ahead as possible in Financial Accounting. A second true genius made a word cloud of our WhatsApp conversation, which by the way, involves several thousand lines of text. If you don’t know how a word cloud works, the bigger the word, the more often it has been used. Here’s a view of what our word cloud looked like 3 days before the program started (and in case you’re wondering “Banger” refers to a blow-out party as they are supposedly called in some parts of Ohio):

Coralie_word cloud 1

So there I was, three days before the start of classes, and I could not have been more stressed, nervous and excited all at the same time. What made it better though is that through these conversations, I felt like I knew my classmates so well already. I knew who plays basketball, who likes to climb, who did and did not earn a letterman jacket in high school and I knew who overuses smiley emoticons. I knew who wants to found their own company, who hopes to one day have a biography written about them and who will likely be our social chair for the next 16 months. Nicknames had been handed out, word clouds had been created and bromances had formed. At that point I hadn’t even started the program nor seen my classmates’ faces, yet I could already tell that I’d made friends for life.

I won’t know for a few more weeks how accurate the recurring time commitment warnings were. But I can confirm to you today that this group of friends will live on for many more years to come. And I suspect the WhatsApp word cloud will evolve into something like this over the next few months as the program continues:

Coralie_word cloud 2

And I hope it will end up looking like this in a decade or so:

Coralie_word cloud 3My MBA journey has now begun. Wish me luck!


Coralie Lannelongue

Cross Continent MBA, Class of 2015

I've lived in Belgium, Germany, the US, Austria and now in Switzerland. I started as an engineer at Bombardier Transportation and since have moved into a sales role. I love cheese and chocolate and burn off those calories by running, biking and swimming.

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