10 years ago, I set myself a goal to one day attend Kellogg School of Management.
I had fallen in love with the Marketing discipline and how brands could be a force for good if a company pushes a meaningful purpose. This idea of brand activism was something that Philip Kotler advocates as well, and he was the S. C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at Kellogg. Add the fact that the lecturer of my favourite business course, Product & Brand Management, was also from Kellogg, and you can begin to imagine how incredible I found this school to be.
Actually attending Kellogg was always a dream somewhere down the road though, blurry and out there in the future. Until it wasn’t. Left to my own devices, I would have chosen a safe, local MBA that would have allowed me to satisfy my intellectual curiosity at a nearer and cheaper university.
It wasn’t until someone close to me asked me, “If it is your dream, why not chase after it?” that something in realised that I should just go for it. The rest, as they say, is history.
I still can’t believe I made it!
An MBA of the Coronavirus era
Fast forward to today, I have just completed the virtual orientation week called CIM (Complete Immersion in Management), and am at the start of a virtual quarter. I would have loved to attend orientation and lessons in person, but such are the times we live in. The coronavirus is definitely not going to stop me from attending the school of my dreams.
In an ironic way, doing a virtual quarter in Singapore helped remove some of my earlier hesitation about being away from loved ones. Having taught Design Thinking via Zoom in the Zoo, I am also definitely less worried about technical issues that might come with the platform. The wide variety of online communication channels also help to close the distance between being in Evanston and being in Singapore.
Many have asked why I decided to go ahead with an MBA at such a difficult time, especially when my course requires travel to the United States. Well, I figured that there will never be an ideal time, and the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic would offer a rare context in which to receive an education in management. I hope that what I learn can be used to help fuel the next stage of growth when the pandemic blows over.
CIM emphasised reflection and introspection. I realised I hadn’t had time to sit down and think for quite a while now, and the room to think helped me to understand myself better. Here were two questions that were raised during CIM:
“What is your cultural identity?”
It was fascinating to listen to my course-mates and hear their perspectives. As an international student, my American course-mates’ sharing provided some insight into life in the United States, their heritage, and what they identified with.
I also became quite aware of how I had never had to think too deeply about my cultural identity, being from the majority race in Singapore. My privilege confronted me. When asked to find an item that best represents my cultural heritage, I chose the Hainanese Kaya (Coconut Jam). Equally Hainanese and Singaporean, a representation of Singapore’s reputation for being a food paradise and quite frankly, a symbol of my love for Kaya Butter Toast.
Our short sharing showed a difference in where each of us came from, but also showed that underneath that cultural difference lie very similar themes of love for our families, pride for where we came from, and goals for the future.
“Who are you as a leader? What are your values and what experiences informed those values?”
We had to think back on significant moments in our lives that served as crucibles that transformed our thinking or values.
“Extraordinary leaders find meaning in— and learn from—the most negative events. They emerge from adversity stronger, more confident in themselves and their purpose, and more committed to their work.”Crucibles of Leadership, Bennis & Thomas, Harvard Business Review
It was a difficult exercise. I had to confront thoughts that I’d much rather push to the back of my mind. Yet at the same time, it affirmed my values and my belief in our own power to change the world for someone else.
I am starting to think that this MBA will be more fruitful that I had initially imagined. I only pray that the coronavirus situation would improve so that I would get the opportunity to make it down for Fall.
Here’s to more amazing experiences at Kellogg!