Category Archives: Travel

Three Quarters In as MBA1

Three quarters of my first year MBA life is wrapping up and I finally can get a breather as I have completed summer internship recruiting! The past six months in business school have been challenging but also exhilarating. Thus, I want to take some time to reflect and share with you what I have learned.

#1 If you know what you want to pursue, go for it relentlessly and find the right resources to make it happen. I did it through changing job internally before business school and finding the right MBA program!

Prior to business school, I was working in corporate finance for a global chemical company. When I was working in the financial planning & analysis role, I realized I wanted to be closer to the customers and have more opportunities to solve problems creatively. When I shared my intention to pursue a business operation role, which would allow me to be a finance business partner to the sales team, some of my coworkers did not understand my motivation – “you are doing so well in this role. Why do you give up the foundations you have built for a role that requires very different skillset?” During my internal job search process, I also could sense concerns that I might not be able to work effectively with sales to instill the financial disciplines needed. Regardless of all these opinions, I held onto the blind faith that I knew about my skills and capabilities better than anyone else and stayed persistent with my pursuit. After killing it at my role and lots of networking, I successfully moved into the role I wanted. Boy, I loved it so much! Although it was not easy at the beginning to build the trust with the sales team who had years of experience selling products, I was able to bring my strengths to the table and eventually become their trusted advisor.

It was in this business operation role that I learned I truly enjoyed working on cross-functional teams and solving different problems. As a result of the job switch, I was encouraged that I can make the best career decision for myself. I then applied to business school to switch functions from finance to strategy and general management. In the Ross MBA program, I prioritized my curriculum and extracurricular to focus more on skills I did not have before. Not having a lot of opportunities to solve ambiguous business problems, I led a team project for the community consulting club and competed in the Amazon case competition. The “hypothesis first” consulting approach also helped me develop a good framework to tackle the problems before digging into the data.

Speaking of business school application, why I picked Ross for my MBA led me to the second reflection #2 personal fit is more important than any ranking. You should always choose based on what matters the most to you and not just rankings. For my MBA application, I interacted with students and alumni from at least half of the top 15 US MBA programs and felt the strongest connection with the Ross community. Ross students are fun, collaborative, and humble. Even though Ross is not the highest ranked MBA program (the program is ranked No.7 this year!), it is exactly what I need due to its reputation as a “career switcher” program. MAP and many action-based learning opportunities will help me convince future recruiters that I have mastered the right skillsets to excel in a position that is very different from the roles I held before MBA. Having gone through the internship recruiting process, I can definitely attest to the commonly shared observation that recruiters care a lot about the function and background that I come from (I have friends in the Top 5 MBA program who struggled with the switch). When I was ready to plan for the long haul and use my MAP (a strategy project with a global tech company) to make the case as a career switcher for full-time recruiting, I received a great offer for a non-finance role with a top Ross on-campus employer! I am so happy that I chose the perfect program to make it happen!

Another example of ranking does not matter as much is choosing which city to live. Minneapolis is repeatedly ranked as the Top 20 Cities for Young Professionals to Live while Houston does not often make the list. However, I still like Houston a little more than Minneapolis for its hospitality and diversity. These factors are what I value and outweigh the rest, but ranking does not take them into account. I always consider that ranking is for the average Joe. It is a good reference, but you need to know what is different between you and Joe.

I reconnected with a few good friends before business school after starting my MBA and they all consistently mentioned that I look even happier than before. I do feel happier, knowing that I am working towards my goals and surrounded by a group of smart and supportive classmates. This is what you get when you are in the right environment and right culture. This is #therossdifference!

To share a bit on my recruiting journey, I present you the final reflection #3 Push your physical and mental capacity and you can be surprised of what you are capable of. I was reading a WSJ article on how the mental state can affect the performance of long-distance runner. As someone who trained diligently for 10ks and half marathon before, I can 100% relate and draw a connection between running and my time as an MBA1. When I was running the 10k or half-marathon race, especially towards the finish line, I would constantly cheer myself up with “You can do this!” “You are stronger than you think!” I did the same as an MBA1. Almost everyone who started the MBA program heard about the three-legged chair – social, academic, and recruiting. Usually, we can only pick two out of the three to focus on but even two can be hard to manage. Thus, whenever I felt I could not take on any more work, I thought about my race moments and pushed through harder. I traded sleep for a couple of extra hours to prepare for interviews, traded in-flight movies for industry knowledge index cards on the flight to consulting interviews, … When the thought of “my MBA life is so stressful and challenging” surfaced, I simply put that idea aside and followed through. After the challenging recruiting season, I am amazed at what my mental and physical capacities are. I feel more confident about what I can handle.

At the Michigan Design and Business Conference this year, the keynote speaker Emily Tsiang from Stanford Life Design Lab shared with us how to “Design Your Life”. All the attendees were required to fill out an odyssey journey on “how might you explore, engage or learn about the multiple great lives within you?”. I wrote down three lives that I want to engage more, as “a creative problem solver”, “a writer”, and “a mentor”. To explore each of these lives in the short-term, I want to understand my strengths more through the summer internship, come back to updating the blog regularly (still want to follow the “once a month update” commitment set in 2017!), and apply to be an MBA peer career coach at Ross.

I know I always have you, my blog readers, to hold me accountable. Thank you as always for being a part of my journey!

P.S. Shown is a picture taken in Horseshoe Bend during my spring break trip. Visits to Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks reminded me how much I love nature and miss spending quality outdoor till my body (especially my legs!) gives out. I can’t wait to hit the trails on the Pacific Northwest this summer! #getoutside

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New Beginnings

Hello friends! Guess what – as much as I love Houston, I am back in the Midwest again! This time I am in Ann Arbor, Michigan for my full-time MBA! So much has happened over the last six months – I bid farewell to friends and delicious food in Houston, went back to China for 1.5 months’ vacation, and started my MBA orientation this past week.

Although my parents visited me in the US over the past five years, I have not set foot in China for that long! I was extremely happy to meet up with high school and college friends who I have not seen for years. I traveled with my parents to northwestern China (Xinjiang and Qinghai) and experienced culture a lot different from where I grew up.

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I just finished my MBA orientation this past week and it was a lot of fun! The keynote speaker was Jia Jiang, who shared with us the lessons he learned from 100 days of Rejection. You might have watched his Krispy Kreme donut youtube video before. His TEDx talk was almost as good as his keynote speech at orientation, 😉

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As part of the Orientation, I participated in the Reflected Best Self Workshop, where I read stories written by friends, coworkers, and managers on when they have seen me at my best. The intention of the workshop is to use the feedback to incorporate my best self into my work and my life. I want to say thank you to all those who invested time in writing the stories for me. I am blown away by the amount of details they remembered, some of which I could not even recall. Reading these stories is so empowering and even moves me to tears. Happy tears, :).

Next week I will be competing in Ross Impact Challenge with my MBA classmates and traveling to Eastern Europe for 10 days afterwards. The first semester of my MBA starts after the Labor Day, so I will be back to school and recruiting again! I cannot guarantee frequent update, but I will try to share some great links of resources if I come across any.

Lastly, if you are interested in attending Ross and becoming my future classmates, feel free to look for Ross admission events around the world. I have the link set up for you already! Go Blue!

If You Were to Visit Minneapolis…

After moving down to Houston, I have been asked frequently “Which city do you like more, Houston or Minneapolis?” I don’t think I have explored Houston enough to reach a conclusion, but I could assure you that Minneapolis is a great city to live in. It is such a hidden gem, often buried inches deep down by at least four months of snow.

Now that summer is almost over (the best season in Minneapolis and the worst in Houston), I decided on a last minute getaway to Minneapolis this weekend. The author of “My Open Love Letter to Minneapolis” has already done a great job summarizing the essence of the city, but I would like to add a more personal flavor and share some of my favorite places. Note that I am going to talk about St Paul and Minneapolis altogether. Since the two biggest cities of Minnesota are only ten miles away, people usually see two as one, hence the name “Twin Cities”.

  • Parks within a Hand’s Reach

A hand’s reach is exaggerating, but based on rankings conducted by the Trust for Public Land, Minneapolis has “a park within a 10-minute walk of most homes”. Since Minneapolis is blessed with natural landscapes such as lakes and rivers, a lot of parks or trails are built around the beautiful sceneries. When I decided to run regularly in the summer of 2013, it was the trees, green grass, and flowing water along the trails that motivated me to go further for more “eye therapies”.

Top Spots:

Chain of Lakes – home to Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, etc

Stone Arch Bridge – a pedestrian bridge that runs over the Mississippi River and a good spot to see Minneapolis downtown skyline

West/East River Parkway –the trail along the Mississippi is perfect for a long run and some hill running

Minnehaha Falls – never had the opportunity to go, but heard it’s great to see fall colors without the hassle of leaving the city

Recommended Activities:

Kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, biking, running, roller blading/skating, etc

*I used to buy Groupons from Wheel Fun Rentals every summer to check out their kayaks and canoes by the Chain of Lakes.

*NiceRide is a great public bike rental system that has convenient docking stations around the Cities.

  • Art and Cultural Events

If you are into art, you can’t miss Minneapolis Institute of Art. It not only carries great permanent collections, but also well-known temporary exhibits, those of which I have been to include Rembrandt, Terra Cotta Warriors, and Matisse. The cherry on top is free admission! Besides the Impressionism paintings, my favorites are Chinese art, some of which donated by Ruth and Bruce Dayton. Ruth Dayton convinced her then husband (part of the Dayton family that owns Target Corporation) to acquire more than 700 objects from China. According to New York Times, “the museum’s Chinese art collection is now considered one of the finest and most comprehensive in the country”.

If you ever listen to NPR over the weekend, you might be familiar with the town where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average”. It is Lake Wobegon, from A Prairie Home Companion, a radio show originated from the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown of St Paul, Minnesota. As a friend of mine put it, “it shows the quintessential Minnesota culture”. I am a big fan of the program, partly because I could catch all the jokes on Minnesota. I regret not going to the Theater to watch Garrison Keillor live and wish I could have the opportunity before he retires in 2016.

Recommended Activities:

Visit Minneapolis Institute of Art now for the 100th year celebration and in spring for annual Art in Bloom 

Catch a show in any performing center – Gutherie, Orpheum, Ordway, Minnesota Orchestra, St Paul Chamber of Orchestra, etc

Watch a movie or music performance in the park during the summer time 

Attend a festival – Uptown Art Fair, Grand Old Day, Minnesota State Fair, Stone Arch Bridge Festival, Northern Spark, etc

  • Walkable Neighborhoods

The Twin Cities have a lot of neighborhoods that are pedestrian-friendly and filled with restaurants and shops, such as the Northeast Minneapolis, Uptown, Selby and Cathedral Hill, and Grand Avenue. You could drink, dine, and shop all on one trip, without the constant worry of finding the next parking spot. These neighborhoods abut single family homes and are usually away from the noisy traffic. I always feel a peace of mind walking in these neighborhoods.

Favorite coffee shops:

Nina’s Coffee Café

Dunn Brothers on 3rd Avenue and 1st Street, next to Stone Arch Bridge

Rustica Bakery

Nature, Arts, and Culture, these are what I like the most about the Twin Cities. When you live in a place for a while, the culture and values of that city slowly rub on you. Six years of living in the Twin Cities definitely led me to become more fitness-conscious and more cultural, which will always stay as part of me. Now that I am living in Houston, I having been exploring and peeling off the concrete layers of this urban sprawl. Give me some time and I will write an article on Houston too!