First Impressions: New MBAs At French Business Schools

New MBA students at French business schools spell out their first impressions of campus life and offer an honest opinion on their MBA programs so far.

In the first of a series, Isha Agarwal meets MBA students who have just started their degrees to gather their first impressions of business school. First up: France.

Business school campuses are springing back to life as a fresh intake of students start their MBA degrees. There is excitement in the air; nerves are on end. But there are also great expectations.

The most recent MBA students have entered a new phase – or should I say, have gone back to an old one: school – and some of their surroundings will be unfamiliar.

However despite a fear of the unknown, the students of France are generally quite pleased with their first few days of their MBA programs, and are deeply impressed with the diversity of their classmates.

“The first days are a mix of excitement for being a full-time student once again, and meeting very interesting and highly talented people. [But] you also feel... Nervous and stressed,” says Gladis Trejo, a new MBA student at HEC Paris, based just south of the French capital.

Gladis adds: "In less than one week your networking skills have unexpectedly shaped up [and] you have met everyone in the program."

Chahndra Dal Pont of Grenoble Ecole de Management agrees. She says: “I think we’re all a bit nervous not knowing what to expect. I was quickly charmed by my classmates’ warmth and intelligence – a very nice surprise. The team-building activity we did and wine tasting evening we had were great ways to get to know one another.”

The business schools as well as classmates have a huge part to play in helping students settle down. While dinners, drinks and club events do form a huge part of the student initiation experience, it is the specific team building activities organised by faculty that leave the greatest impact on students.

“Our leadership camp at St Cyr, [the] French military school, was definitely nothing like we had thought of,” says Saket S.Pandit from ESSEC Business School.

For Rahul Aggarwal, even the course structure at ESSEC helps establish a collaborative, dynamic and engaging atmosphere: “The course is well planned and structured for emerging business leaders. It’s only been three weeks and we have already tried our hands at venturing into [the] restaurant business, [and] planning strategies to build rafts and bridges at St Cyr.”

EMLYON Business School organised a boot-camp week that saw students working together in teams for the first time. It not only gave students a chance to display their teamworking skills, but also provided them with a chance to explore Lyon, the school’s base location, in small groups.

MBAs from each group shared their experiences with the other teams, according to Bozhidar Draganov and Julian Arias, both new MBA students. Bozhidar seemed impressed with his first few days at ESSEC: “I am also very impressed by the level of commitment by the university to help secure the right employment for us, even before graduation."

Part-time students are also benefitting from a supportive atmosphere. Jerome Ducasse, a part-time student at HEC Paris, arrived on campus in last January, but he still maintains active involvement with the community through participation in club activities and events.

He also advises new MBA students to do the same, regardless of the course. “Start networking now. Contact alumni, go to alumni events in Paris, gather information: all this takes a lot of time, [but] will be very useful to,,, Get a job at the end,” he says. “Do not hesitate to ask for help or advice [from] other students or HEC staff. Most are happy to help.”

Transitioning back to student life may not be plain sailing, but schools are doing what they can to help their students feel a sense of belonging from day one.

From networking events and activities that cater to everyone’s comfort zones to unparalleled careers support; these French business schools are trying to create a community. And it is this community that makes a business school what it is – a place to test one’s abilities, and to grow and develop in unparalleled ways.

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