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Why I Swapped China For France For My MBA

Shanghai born and raised, Lishi Chen was keen to travel to Europe, study an MBA, and start a career


Mon Sep 30 2019

The skyline of the world’s biggest city, Shanghai, is a far cry from the traditional architecture of France. 

Despite the 5000 miles between them, China and France are remarkably close. The European Union, with France and President Macron at its center, is still China’s biggest trade partner, and France still remains the number one destination for Chinese tourists. 

As a talented pianist in her spare time, Lishi Chen experienced the rich cultural history of Europe, in particular France, through the music she was playing. She knew, one day, she'd end up there. 

When the decision came to leave China for her MBA, it was the prospect of diversity, of a new business environment, and of undiscovered culture that made France so appealing to Lishi as a place to study.

“What France offered was a melting pot which broadened my horizons in terms of culture, heritage, lifestyle, and mindset,” Lishi notes.

With a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and three years under her belt at General Electric in Shanghai, Lishi was keen for a fresh challenge. 

She knew exactly what she wanted— a multicultural environment, a work-life balance, and access to the European job market.

In the end, the MBA at EMLYON Business School in France offered a combination of all these. But what stood out most for her was the entrepreneurial emphasis, giving her a chance to explore new business ventures that she hadn’t previously explored in China. 

The Early Maker Hub set EMLYON aside from other programs in France, which looks to link business school students with communities and change-makers in various fields of science, technology, humanities, and arts. 

“It’s like a Google-style open space, which enables each initial idea into reality,” Lishi remembers.

“It gave me the skills necessary to launch projects within one day, then design a prototype from scratch within a week.”

Lishi was exposed to new, cutting edge technologies which she hadn’t explored before, such as 3D printers and laser-cutting machines, which allowed her to grasp modeling principles for new products. 

Beyond the entrepreneurial focus, EMLYON offered much that she would have struggled to find in China. 

Multiculturalism in the class was a particular highlight. While many top Chinese MBA programs have less than 50% international students, EMLYON’s class is 85% international. 

Aside from meeting people from around the world, this exposed her to an entirely new way—or several new ways—of thinking in a business scenario. Such was the diversity that it took Lishi some time to get to grips with this new way of working. 

“The international mix in group work was not easy at the beginning, because each culture shows their own special way of communicating.”

“Compared to what I knew as the Chinese listening learning model, my international cohort always spoke their ideas aloud, making others understand the points and putting themselves into others’ shoes.”

As an admirer of French culture and lifestyle, Lishi was keen to nail the work-life balance, something which isn’t always easy to find on a high pressure MBA. 

Given Lyon’s renowned status as a capital of gastronomy, food played a big part in this.

As well as sampling the exquisite local cuisine, LIshi took a culinary course taught by a Michelin-starred restaurant as part of her MBA, something which brought up her cooking knowledge from scratch. 

Food also played a big part of building connections and networks. Daily morning croissant breaks after class allowed Lishi to bond with her classmates and other alumni. 

“It was far more relaxed compared to formal networking in China. I had a chance to interact with everyone and discover their stories much more deeply,” she notes. 

In between croissant networking and gourmet cuisine, Lishi was still determined to focus on her initial aim—to kick-start a career in Europe. 

With little experience living or working in Europe before her MBA, EMLYON turned out to be the ideal stepping stone into a dynamic market, where Lishi quickly found employment. 

EMLYON’s smaller cohort on the MBA meant that Lishi had a dedicated career mentor to give her specific advice and resources on finding a job after graduation. 

There were also frequent alumni events at the career center, where Lishi and her classmates had the chance to meet professionals working a range of different industries. Thanks to this, Lishi landed a role as a project manager at Schneider Electric in Budapest, Hungary.

Her ambitions are global, propelled by her own fast-moving career. 

"I never thought I'd rotate at General Electric, and I never thought I'd end up in Budapest. What I've learnt is to cherish every moment and take every chance to improve my skills."

Europe, it seems, is the first of many steps on Lishi's global career. 

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