Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: Rewind, Review, Reflect

It's that time of year... the time when I take a moment to write a highly self-indulgent blog post to ponder a year gone by and anticipate the year ahead.

While I thought that 2008 was a year filled with travel, 2009 raised the bar and gave me many new opportunities and new places. In total, I took 10 flights in 2008, but 12 in 2009.

The first set of flights in the year were to Dulles airport in Washington DC, going down to my Darden interview in Charlottesville. At the time, Charlottesville was a horribly foreign place, a place that I had reconciled myself with living in, should I get the opportunity to attend the Darden Graduate School of Business.

At the end of January, I got the phone call that changed the direction of my life... the phone call from a nice lady in admissions at Darden informing me that I had been accepted. I spent the next few months planning for a cross-country move, wrapping things up with my job, and spending as much time as possible with friends, and enjoying Edmonton.

Between finishing work, flying to Sioux City, Iowa for a wedding, and leaving for Charlottesville, I had exactly a week to pack up my life, say goodbye to everyone, and fit in a final camping trip out to the Rockies. There was definitely some stress that week, but being in the mountains for a few times was a good relaxer, and one of the highs of the year was standing on the top of a mountain that I had worked hard to climb. I had a big birthday/goodbye party, and on August 1, my sisters and I took off on a five day road trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, stopping to visit family and friends along the way.

And then Darden began. Since I've spent many, many blog posts discussing the details of my life at Darden, I'll try to sum it up quickly here. I feel like I've lived a year in the few months that I've already spent there. It's crazy how much an experience can help you change and grow, but I definitely feel that way about the last few months. I've already made good friends (who I miss being home for Christmas!), felt new things, experienced challenges I've never faced, and stretched myself to the limits.

During American Thanksgiving, I made my first cross-Atlantic trek, and visited the final of my three new places for the year: Munich, Germany. It was great to discover that all those years of high-school German were not in vain. I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in the culture, and having my very own tour guide: my sister. It was a great first trip to Europe, and I'm already in the midst of planning my second, so I anticipate this is a new trend in my life.

Fast forward to winter break, where I flew to Toronto for a week, then back to Edmonton. Add up all the flights and connections, and you get twelve, a new record for me. Being in Edmonton is a nice bookend for the year, but I am finding that five weeks off from classes is too many, and I am itching to get back at everything.

What does 2010 hold? Well... I am taking a week-long "global business experience" in Spain over spring break. I'll finish up first year at Darden, and then start the new year in the spring, but what the summer holds I do not yet know. Although I have a few interviews lined up for internships, it is impossible to determine how it will all shake out. Perhaps those interviews and that internship will determine the remaining two of the new places I need to visit in 2010. I hope to continue learning and growing, and checking a few more things off my bucket list.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas, Darden Style

It's the Eve of Christmas Eve. I am home in snowy Edmonton, reunited with my family after nearly five months apart.

My agenda for the day: clean up after last night's Gingerbread House Making extravaganza, research companies that are interviewing me (yes, I am in demand! Yay!), prep for case interviews (which will include training my family on how to deliver case interviews) and finish off with decorating sugar cookies.

My total case interview tally to date is eight. Before heading back to school in January, I hope to have completed 30 to 40, so I have a long way to go. Also on the agenda before leaving Edmonton: write the last of the cover letters, look into a few more off-grounds opportunities and prep the behavioural portion of the interview.

I was talking to a good friend from Darden the other night, and we were dreaming of everything we will be doing next Christmas, once we have full-time offers in hand. Not that I can complain, but it would be so nice to just sit back and RELAX for four weeks!

Monday, December 14, 2009

I have no words...

Tonight the worst kind of email went out to the Darden student body. It's never a good sign to see an email from the Dean that contains the name of a friend and fellow student, but as I digested the contents of the email my worst fears were realized: he had passed away.

Justin was the most talented guy I knew. He would wow me with his salsa dancing skills (and impress me with his patience as he tried to teach me) and then I would discover that he was fluent in Spanish and had climbed mountains. He was this amazing griller, which is the best kind of talent to have in a neighbour. And my neighbour he was, living directly below me. He also gave amazing hugs, one of which I could really use right now.

We went to church together, too. I remember sitting beside him as he tried to balance his Bible and his journal on his knee. We always had amazing conversations about faith and God and worship, and perhaps one of the only silver linings in this whole situation is that I have faith that I will see him again.

To my Darden family, I wish I had more words. I wish I could say more than, "I don't know what to say." But that's all I've got for now. If anyone needs to talk, please call or shoot me an email or Facebook message.

Second Coldest Place on Earth

Right now, my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is the second coldest place on earth, with a temperature of -46C, though at that point, Celcius and Fahrenheit are fairly comparable.

It sure makes me glad that I decided to make my first stop in Canada a visit to Toronto for some job trekking. It's raining here today, suggesting that the temperature is hovering pleasantly around 0 (or 32 for all you Americans out there). The temperature for Edmonton on Friday, when I arrive, is forecasted to be somewhere between 0 and 2.

It's great to be back in Canada. There's nothing really tangible to point to that makes me love being back here, but even though I haven't spent a lot of time in Toronto previously, there's still something about the French on the signs and the colourful money that makes me feel like I'm back at home. Although it's slightly too cold for an iced cappucino, it makes me happy to see Tim Horton's around here. I feel a huge surge of pride when I see Canadian flags or maple leafs at random places in the street.

Friday, December 11, 2009

And That's a Wrap!

This surreal feeling is settling around me right now.

I've turned in my final exam for the week, officially concluding my first semester at Darden. All that stands between me and my vacation is figuring out what needs to go into my suitcase before I take off tomorrow!

My roommate left town about half an hour ago. I find it funny how in such a short time span, we've gone from stranger-showing-up-on-the-doorstep to sharing everything we've shared all semester. It's weird that I won't see her for a month! On the same vein, I am finding it weird to reflect on the amazing friendships that have developed with people who I coordinated U2 tickets with prior to Darden, people who showed up my first day here offering to help move my furniture across the very large apartment complex and people who came up and say hi because they also liked road trips.

Anyway, I could reflect on all that, but we'll all be back together for more adventures next semester. For now, I get to look forward to hanging out with old friends and family. Sisters who I shared a cross-country adventure with just four months ago, a friend who I was randomly assigned to the same project with in undergrad, and friends that I've known so long I can't even remember how we met.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hello Hurricane, You're Not Enough

Hello Hurricane, You're not enough
Hello Hurricane, You can't silence my love
I've got doors and windows boarded up
All your dead end fury is not enough
You can't silence my love

Everything I have I count as loss
Everything I have is stripped away
But before I started building
I counted up these costs
Ain't nothing left for you to take away

- Taken from the song "Hello Hurricane" from the latest Switchfoot album of the same name

Over the twelve years that I've been listening to Switchfoot, my life has taken some very different paths. I've worked for not-for-profits, built houses in foreign countries and spent my summers working at camps with inner-city children. To someone looking at my life, it may seem a mystery that now I've ended up at one of the top MBA programs recruiting for corporate jobs.

With all this in mind, I find it ironic that one of my favourite Switchfoot songs is Company Car. As I drove back from the concert last night with a friend who also has a strong not-for-profit background, we discussed what it truly means to live a sold-out life, rather than being sell-outs. My cell phone ring for the past several years has been "we were meant to live for so much more... have we lost ourselves?"

What does it mean to live a life that is beyond myself? How do I get past the lure of company cars and Prada handbags to living a life that brings lasting value to the rest of the world? Without running down the resume list of things I'm involved with at Darden that go beyond myself, I'll say that I am still giving back to the community. But is that really what life's about? Doing what you need to for your career, and then doing some charity on the side?

I want my contribution to the world to be deeper than that. I'm not sure it means that I don't pursue my career as it is. But deep down, I'm hoping to eventually be able to use the skills and abilities and connections that I've developed to accomplish something bigger than mergers and acquisitions or growth strategies or operational efficiencies or branding. I've been talking to a few companies that show some promise with CSR, and hoping that as my career grows I will have more opportunities to contribute to companies in ways that do more to enhance the bottom line and allow them to contribute to the broader global community.

At the same time, I am challenged to hold loosely to the blessings, especially material ones, that I have been given. It's hard to figure out what a life "with nothing left to lose" looks like. Pondering these Switchfoot lyrics after being on Maximillian Strasse (the most expensive street in Europe - think Jimmy Choos, Prada, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, etc.) last week has definitely got me thinking. There was part of me that dreamed of Burberry handbags once I am finished school, but as I turned over the price tag on a scarf last week - 250 Euros - I realized that it's shallow and empty. I want my investments in life to be bigger than a brand name stamped on a, albeit high quality, handbag.

But there's a big range of materialism between pauper on the streets and obsessed with Jimmy Choo shoes. I'm trying to figure out where the best place is on the range and what it means to hold loosely to what I have.

Just some lighthearted thoughts for a Sunday afternoon. ;-)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Here's to Section B!

Today is a sad day at Darden.

Section B sat in on its last class together this morning.

It's funny, because it doesn't seem like it was all that long ago that I was reading the Excel spreadsheet to find out who was in Section B in the first place. There was a balance of names that I recognized, and names that were unfamiliar.

Just over three months later, those names are all familiar, and Section B has developed a life of its own, greater than the sum of all its parts. Section B raised more than double what any other section raised for the Building Goodness in April auction. Section B still leads at Darden Cup, as far as I can tell. In sum, Section B is definitely the best section. (And if you don't believe me, just as the rest of the bloggers... I guarantee more than half will agree!)

We finished off the semester on a great note today. One of the guys in Section B did impersonations of the profs and many of the students. They were astutely accurate, and laugh on the floor funny.

Oh Section B, I will miss you!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


It is far too easy for us to get wrapped up in our own lives. In fact, even as I sit down to write this, I am more tempted to just start whining about the mountain of cover letters I should be writing.

But being in Munich this past weekend reminded me that while I have been insanely blessed, there are people around the world who are suffering and have suffered. Before I get further into this post, though, I do want to highlight that Munich has nearly nine centuries of beautiful, fascinating history. It is, however, impossible to ignore the years that came around 1920 to 1945 when exploring the city.

The picture above is a sign posted discreetly on a wall on a building in downtown Munich. It translates to something along the lines of "Here stood, until the year 1938, the department store owned by the Uhlfelder family." As you can imagine, the Uhlfelder family was Jewish, and their business was destroyed as part of the Holocaust.

The more I ponder this reality, the more teared-up I get. Here I am, working hard at establishing myself as a businessperson. I have invested large sums of capital and time into developing my skills. On the same vein, the Uhlfelder family did the same with their department store. Then, one day, a man, a charismatic man feeding on the desperate plight of a nation overwhelmed by hyperinflation, decided that the Uhlfelder family didn't deserve to own their business anymore simply because of their heritage.

The whole thing gives me chills. I wish that we could point to the Holocaust as a one-time event, but history has repeated itself. Genocide has occurred in Rwanda and Sudan.

I wish I knew what we could do about it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Can We Have a Real Break?

If you are following my blog on a regular basis, you may know that I am in Munich. For five short days, I get to experience a new country and hang out with my sister.

And work on cases and cover letters.

While I have been able to afford quite some time to visit Christmas markets and shop at Marienplatz, I wanted to balance that with coming back to an insanely busy week and not feeling overwhelmed.

On the plus side, I've whittled down MOST of the actual work required for next week, which should afford me time to finish cover letters and get a jump on studying.

I think I speak for most of Darden when I say that 3 p.m. next Friday couldn't come soon enough!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A German-Canadian American Thanksgiving

Two days ago, I left the Darden bubble to venture across the ocean to Munich, Germany, where my sister is living. Although I must admit that I DID work on cases today, it has been nice to be out of the bubble where all the jokes seem to centre around some sort of Darden class or business process.

When my sister's roommates discovered that, being Canadian, we don't typically celebrate Thanksgiving at this time of year, they were quite disappointed. However, since we'd both mostly missed Canadian Thanksgiving (second weekend in October), we figured we would share the traditions of a typical North American Thanksgiving meal... at least as well as we could with German ingredients and a small preparation time frame.

We substituted the traditional turkey for chickens (bought fresh from the grocery today, since there was no time to thaw anything!), and cooked mashed potatoes and gravy and added a pumpkin dish instead of pumpkin pie. (While we would have loved to cook pumpkin pie, it seems Pillsbury has not made it's mark here, and Mom was 8 hours behind and fast asleep and couldn't talk us through the pie-crust-making logistics.) For dessert, given that pie was not an option, we made banana loaf from the frozen bananas in my sister's freezer. It turned out that her roommates, unfamiliar with the concept of banana bread, were quite disturbed by the old bananas in the freezer. They were, however, quite pleased with the finished product and wondered how it could be called "bread" or "loaf," given how sweet it was.

Before beginning our feast, everyone went around and said what they were thankful for. Then we clinked our wine glasses together and said both "Cheers" and "Prosit!"

As for me... I'm thankful for the opportunity to be in a new country, interacting with new people. I didn't have much time to research the sights of Munich, but have been so glad for the opportunity to be living in a house with Germans, experiencing their culture. If I don't see the Hofbrauhaus, I will still feel like I got a good sense of Bavaria because of the opportunity to just be here with these people. They have been gracious enough to speak English as often as they remember, and smile politely as I attempt to brush off my high school German.

That said, the rest of this weekend will be filled with Marianplatz tours and visits to Dachau and the Hofbrauhaus and, most importantly, the Christmas markets. And hopefully some cover letter writing...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Could that be a light?

At the end of the tunnel, that is...

Black November has been everything it was promised to be. It isn't the case load for me. School is challenging, but in a way that makes me thrive and excited about solving the challenges.

It's everything else on top of school. The resume drop deadling is quickly approaching: December 4. Despite my best intents, my cover letter still lies in its first draft form on my desk. There are networking calls and emails that need to be done, and plans for the job trek I am leading to Toronto are taking a long time to take shape.

There are three things that are keeping me going right now. First, I have amazing support. There's the first wave of friends who are here and struggling as much as me. We all have different strengths, and help each other in whatever way we can. While I may be sitting down with someone to talk through accounting concepts, someone else will be taking the time to help me find a contact or run through practice case interviews. And on top of all that, I have great people here who will talk me through whatever I am struggling with. The friendships I have developed are open and honest. And, on top of that, I've got good support back home, with friends and family who are not going through all this and are cheering from the sidelines.

Second, I know that every second year student I have talked to has made it through this time. And every alum who went before them. Yes, Darden is tough, but everyone survives and comes out a better person for going going through it.

And finally... perhaps most importantly... I realized yesterday that in just three weeks, I'll be in Toronto. Resumes will have been dropped, Q2 exams will have been written. I'll see one of my best friends and spend a week talking to companies on the Toronto Job Trek. And in four weeks, I'll be home, with nothing to stress about but interview prep and trying to fit everything in. From the looks of Facebook, there is snow back home, too!

So, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But in the meantime, I have my Thanksgiving trip to look forward to. It's a testament to the craziness of Darden that I haven't mentioned or even really thought about the fact that I'm flying to Munich, Germany, to see my sister in just two short days! And when I get back, it will be right at the end of Black November.

And I will join the ranks of those who have survived.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Opportunity Consultants, Inc.

Today, I took a rare opportunity to get out of the Darden bubble in the middle of a weekday to go and meet with a client for Opportunity Consultants, Inc. (OCI)

OCI is a Darden-run organization that puts groups of volunteer students together to help small businesses and not-for-profits with small consulting projects.

Sitting around the boardroom table today, talking with the executive director of a program that runs programs for children and youth, felt good. It was nice to get out of the me-focussed-space and think about what I could do to help this organization develop the best possible program mix for its new center. Though we won't really dig into the project until next semester, I'm looking forward to applying my business skills in the not-for-profit sector. My background consists of a lot of not-for-profit work and there's always a sense of familiarity and nostalgia when I visit offices of social sector organizations, despite the fact that I only know a little about the organization and I'm in a new city.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Black November

The sun outside is shining, and the fall foliage remains brilliant. From all outward signs, no one would suspect that here at Darden, it is Black November.

Yes, the sun is shining, but I am enjoying it only as the view outside the window of my office as I scramble to prepare tomorrow's cases so I can get a jump on my cover letter and case interview preparations. This afternoon, I turned down a Section B potluck in order to get everything done, and that makes me sad.

As I ponder the rest of this month, the line from the song "Circle of Life" from The Lion King flows through my mind... "more to do than can ever be done..."

In completely different news, I want to give a shout out to my favourite CFL (Canadian Football Leage) team, the Edmonton Eskimos. They are playing the Calgary Stampeders in the Western Semi-Finals this afternoon. Maybe the game will be aired on TSN... ha ha ha.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


In Flander's Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset's glow,
Loved and were loved, But now we lie
In Flander's Field.

Take up our quarrel with the foe.
To you, from flailing hands we throw,
The torch; be yours, to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep. Though poppies grow
In Flander's Field.
- John McCrae

It surprised me this morning when I asked one of my classmates whether Americans ever wore poppies, and he gave me a quizzical look.

The poem above is a Canadian classic. Every November 11, we pause to remember those who fought for our freedom. At 11:00 a.m., we observe a moment of silence to reflect on their sacrifice.

The poppy is a symbol of remembrance. Every November, small change donations to the veteran's societies will get you a small poppy to wear on your lapel. We wear them with pride as we remember those who have gone before us.

Although I will be in the middle of a session on case interviews tomorrow during the moment of silence, as I've met more people who have served their country here than I ever met at home, the reality of the sacrifice hits home more. My roommate's boyfriend has served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I have seen how war affects both those who serve and the family and loved ones they leave behind. Even though he serves in the US military, I figure we've been on the same side since 1813 anyway. ;-)

So, although I am miles away from my fellow Canadians, tomorrow I will remember with you, as well as with those who have served right beside us for so many years.

Friday, November 06, 2009


Since moving to the US, I have rekindled an old flame: Pandora. It's amazing to log into a website that will play me new music that I love!

The best thing is the Pandora app on my iPhone that allows me to listen to Pandora on the go. Since there are no decent radio stations in Charlottesville, Pandora more than makes up for it.

I don't know if I can live in Canada again...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Learning Team

There are three different types of learning teams at Darden.

1) Teams that all love each other and plan to name their babies after one another.
2) Teams that fight, and may have even broken up by now.

and then there is the category that my learning team falls under:

3) Teams who know how to work efficiently and effectively with one another.

Of course, don't get me wrong. While we may not be sappily close to one another, we get along really well and always make a point of eating dinner together on Sunday evenings - at someone's house, rather than the learning team room. I am always grateful for the support and understanding we have for one another. With all of us having different backgrounds, we mesh well and serve different functions. When I was sick last week, my team was gracious enough to tell me to just stay home and sent me the notes from the team meeting.

Learning teams are an integral part of the learning system at Darden. While there are times that I long for free evenings, I learn SO much from my group that I can't imagine learning half as much without them.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wolf T-shirt

Since starting school in August, we have done a number of cases related to shirts. First, there was George's T-shirts, which introduced us to the magic of Crystal Ball and the Flaw of Averages. Then, just this week, we tried to figure out whether it would be more cost effective and operationally appropriate to outsource Surfing Santa shirts from Hong Kong.

After doing several weeks of Management Communications classes with presentations on, I was introduced to yet another great t-shirt story: the story of the 3 wolf t-shirt.

Apparently the 3-wolf t-shirt was not a popular seller until one day, when someone decided to write a review on his experiences with the shirt. Since then, there have been over a thousand reviews added, and the t-shirt has spiked in popularity. Rather than telling you the rest of the story, you can just read it here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beautiful Day

Today I finally got to go hiking!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Apple Picking

Do you ever have one of those weeks where it seems NOTHING can go right?

For me, that's been the last two weeks. The streak of bad luck started almost two weeks ago when I was rear-ended. This whole past week has been just brutal at school (I think it's the combination of new classes and a million company briefings). Then this morning, my iPhone, which I've had for less than three months, suddenly decided to stop working. I took it in to AT&T only to discover that I will either have to drive to Richmond to get a replacement or mail it in. In the meantime, they have given me a loaner phone. Which would be awesome if the microphone actually worked in it. I used this loaner "phone" to call Apple to see about getting a replacement phone only to discover that they can't hear me at all when I speak.

So yes, it's been one of those weeks. (And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Trust me... it's been a bad week.)

BUT, after classes ended today, my friend Legal MBAyhem and I took off for the apple orchard. Once there, we did wine tasting and apple picking and apple cider donut eating. It was great to get out of the Darden bubble and actually get to take in the spectacular fall colours!

Growing up in Western Canada, apple picking was not a regular fall occasion. In fact, to be honest, there aren't any fall traditions since it lasts a grand total of about three weeks. (Seriously... I've heard jokes about kids designing their Halloween costumes to fit over a snow suit for trick or treating and it's true!) So it was great fun to be schooled in this New England tradition. I enjoyed picking apples right off the tree and eating them. It doesn't get much fresher than that, eh?

Fall has always been my favourite season, and it seems that here in Virginia, it actually consists of a full season, taking it's fair share of the year. So after a really long, brutal week, it was most pleasant to get away and take it all in. I think I will have to go apple picking again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fall in VA

It is a gorgeous, warm sunny afternoon here in Virginia, and I am inside working on cases. *sigh* For the last two months since arriving, I have attempted three times to go hiking on Saturdays, and every single time, it rains. In light of the great weather this afternoon, I texted a few friends to see if anyone could just blow off case work for the afternoon and go for a hike with me this afternoon, but alas, with company briefings and business plan concept competitions and meetings with career coaches, no one was free.

I would use this as leverage for looking forward to the weekend, but guess what the forecast is for Friday and Saturday?

You guessed it... rain.

So I ask any long-term residents of Virginia: do we EVER get nice weather on the weekends?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blog News!

It's not very often that a little, personal blog like mine has news. In fact, this may very well be the only time that I have blog news. After all, I'm not supporting a book, nor will I begin selling t-shirts. There are very few, if any, awards for personal blogs.

But today I have news.

My blog has been selected as a Darden Student Blog, meaning that it will serve as a glimpse into life at Darden for prospective and incoming students.

I'm very excited about my fellow incoming bloggers, but will wait until they are officially announced to introduce them to you.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


One-eighth of my MBA education was officially completed on Friday and commemorated with the well-renowned 100 Case Party (think: bunch of late-20/early-30-somethings completely decked out in 80s gear and add a LOT of beer). It seems that it wasn't enough to celebrate with that, and I have found myself out ALL weekend with various fun activities: flag football Saturday afternoon, dinner with a friend Saturday evening followed by Riesling tasting with another friend and then on to a Section B potluck after church this morning.

Thoughout all of these activities, I was in serious denial about what came this afternoon: three intense cases for tomorrow's classes.

This quarter, we switch out DA (decision analysis - an Excel-based class) and LO (leading organizations - the soft class) for finance and economics. Given that I really love Excel and frequently fell asleep during undergrad finance, this change is not particularly welcome.

Although Q1 passed quickly in hindsight, I quickly became comfortable with my seat, profs and classes. Tomorrow brings new professors, new neighbours and a new seat that is NOT in the back row. (But I can't complain... it's in the second last row)

Anyway, I have one last case to prep before learning team tonight, and the one thing that makes me happy is that I get to stick with LT15. Though we do have a new room...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Exam Week

It used to be that exam week elicited no small sense of high stress and tension. After shutting yourself in the library for a solid week, you would get up early (especially since I rarely had classes starting before 10 in undergrad), drive in to school, find the appropriate gym, find your exam's row, lay out all your pens, calculator and ID, and then proceed to write the exam in an artificially quiet room as proctors and professors roamed the aisles watching for suspicious behaviour.

Exams at Darden started this week. While I definitely did my fair share of locking myself in a room going over notes, because the exam was open book, there was no memorization required. I set my alarm for 9:30 this morning, since the absolutely latest I could start was 10, and ended up waking up around 7:56. I got up, ate a leisurely breakfast, and strolled over to my computer to download the exam around 8:30. I finished and took a break so I could clear my head before checking over the answers. Then I put on some sweat pants and walked over to the school to turn it in.

Since tomorrow's exam is open book and I have already spent hours studying for it, there wasn't anything school related to do this afternoon. So I took my car in to get an estimate on the repair (I was rear-ended yesterday), had some friends over for pie, actually cooked dinner with my roommate for the second night in a row and am taking care of the huge list of things that have been neglected over the past few weeks.

I had heard the rumour that exam week was the easiest week at Darden, and it is proving to be true.

In other news, Happy Thanksgiving to all the Canadians out there! After drooling over the mental image of my mom's pumpkin and apple pies, I decided to summon my domestic streak and made my own pies. One of my friends took pictures and has blogged about them.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Airport Tests

Over the past few days, I have spent a lot of time talking to consultants, learning about consulting and figuring out how to prepare for the consulting interviews.

One of the key aspects of the consulting interview is the airport test. Basically, the interviewer needs to feel confident that if stuck in an airport with you for several hours, they won't want to resort to listening to their iPod or reading the Wall Street Journal.

A while back, I blogged about my frustrations with the recruiting process. And indeed, as I started talking to my career consultant this week to go over my resume, the question of networking came up. But I discovered something this week that I think will help with the rest of the recruiting process: I don't have to fit into any sort of mould to network. Previously, I had visions of sliding into a conversation, smoothly delivering my story, asking intelligent but canned questions and listening politely to the answers. While there's nothing wrong with any of those things, it just seems like a stuffy way to spend several evenings in a row.

Instead, I have discovered that networking can be fun, after all. In the past week, I have discussed being stranded in small Saskatchewan airports, Monster Truck rallies, sore feet, how many times you can hit "Snooze" before getting out of bed to catch a plane, and the stealing of the Section B bird. One of the shining moments of the week for me was when I was asked to give a fun fact, talked about how I love road trips and had driven down from Canada and had one consultant say, "you just wanted to slip in that you are from Canada," to which I replied, "well, being from Canada isn't much of a novelty for me." To which the other consultant replied, "THAT is a great line" and repeated it back.

Anyway, what I am discovering is that the nice thing about the people I am meeting in my career progression, especially the Darden alum (though I have had some good conversations with people from other schools), is that they are fun people. There is no need to put on my serious face and figure out how to ask serious questions. These people have all passed the airport test and thus are actually fun to talk to!

Monday, October 05, 2009


After a long day of classes, a headache, case prep (3 cases worth and a billion pages of reading), a company briefing that went way too long, a hurriedly scarfed down supper and then learning team, I came home to print something off and walked back to school. My hope was that the piano room would be empty, leaving me the opportunity to do something that completely refreshes me - make music. As luck (or splendid planning!) would have it, the room was empty. I guess that's probably a safe guess for 10:30 at night.

After spending half an hour playing the piano and singing, I feel at peace and completely refreshed. It's amazing how much I crave playing when I am not around a piano often enough. I've determined that I have to figure out a way to bring my guitar back with me at Christmas.

Many people think I'm crazy when I tell them I take one day off a week. But what I have discovered is that those times of rest are vital in a busy schedule. Taking half an hour to play the piano when I could be prepping the cases for Wednesday is actually the best use of my time. I've found that going to bed by midnight every night does more for class participation than staying up an extra hour or two to review.

I know I've blogged about this before, but I'm learning how incredibly important it is. There is a lot of discussion about choosing a career and having work/life balance. What I'm finding is that you can make time for that renewal and refreshment no matter your schedule. The times that you go hard are the times when the end is in sight. When you've got 4 months between August and December with very few breaks, you can't afford to run yourself ragged every day and every week. Of course, all this said, I have a big list of things I am planning to do next week during my free evenings that should have been done throughout the quarter. Oh well... you can't win 'em all.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

International Food Festival

One of the best things about Darden is the international student population. Every year, there is an International Food Festival, and the organizers claim that it is the best event of the year.

After participating last night, I would concur.

Flagler Courtyard was transformed into a global village, with booths set up for India, Columbia, Argentina, Italy, Japan, Thailand, and many, many more countries. Each of these countries featured students dressed in their traditional country garb and, more importantly, serving traditional country cuisine. It only took a few tables before I was completely and utterly stuffed. I would swear that I was done eating until I walked past the Russian booth, where my friends forced blinis into my hand. Then someone would tell me that I absolutely HAD to try the noodle dish from Korea.


After the dining portion of the evening, there were traditional performances from each country. While many would probably decree the Egyptian belly dancer was the best (a girl from the fabulous Section B), my favourite was the Japan presentation. The first lord was played by a guy in my section, who was lulled to sleep with wine by someone who promptly stole the bird. (For more on that, read my previous entry.) After that, there was some sword play and some sumo wrestling to determine who would win the bird. It was quite hilarious.

One of the biggest questions I got all evening was: where's the Canada booth? So, my question to all my fellow Canadians, what would you deem traditional Canadian food so I can have a booth next year? The only thing I could come up with is poutine.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


If you read my blog at the actual blog site and not on Facebook, you will notice that on the right side of my blog, there is a bucket list. On the top of that list, there is a newly checked item - seeing U2 in concert.

It was everything I dreamed it would be.

Okay, perhaps that is slightly overdramatic, but seriously, the concert was amazing. I continue to have a deep-found respect for Bono as a musician, celebrity, activist and man of faith. One of my favourite moments in the concert was the acoustic version of "Amazing Grace."

The social activism remained high as well. They performed "Walk On" in honour of Aung Sang Suu Kyi, a political prisoner in Burma. There was a tribute to everything the One campaign has accomplished. And at the end, Bono gave a special thank you to the people sitting in the (RED) section.

As I walked back to my apartment, one of my classmates and I discussed the implications of everything. Here we are, being trained as "leaders in the world of practical affairs," and as such, we have a responsibility. I've always felt it is my responsibility as someone who has much to give back and truly make an impact that lasts beyond my time on this earth and does something more than expand my shoe collection. It's so easy to forget this when I am caught up in cases and the job search, but ultimately, I need to figure out how best to contribute to this global community I find myself in.

Anyway, I could probably develop a whole blog on this subject, but for now I am tired. The concert was great.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Job Search

It seems the reality of Darden is that just when you feel like you've got a handle on something, another new challenge rears it's ugly, opportunistic head.

For the first couple weeks of classes, I struggled with class participation. I didn't know how to raise my hand, didn't know how best to contribute value, didn't always know how to communicate my thoughts. While I don't consider myself an expert in any of those things, I've been feeling much better about class participation. There's even an objective measure of how I'm doing - the weekly peer-to-peer assessments in which we see how many times our peers have recognized us for contributing to their learning experience. So, all in all, I've been feeling more confident in that area of my academic life. (In fact, one of the highlights of my day yesterday was giving a definition for R-Squared in DA and hearing a flurry of typing as people wrote my definition into OneNote. Yes, it's the small things in life...)

Enter the job search.

Yesterday, I attended a briefing for one of the consulting companies that is right at the top of my desired company list. Basically how briefings work is that you sit in a room for 45 minutes while the representatives of the company tell you all about the company. All of that is really just a prelude to what has become not-so-affectionately known as "pit diving," in which dozens of keener students eagerly swarm the company representatives in hopes of making a positive impression.

During said "pit dive," you are expected to make small talk with the company representatives. Now, I have spoken in front of over 1,000 people before. I've given presentations to classmates, managers, boards and children, all with the greatest of ease and confidence. But put me in a small talk situation with someone and I suddenly feel awkward and unsure. In order to combat this fear, I wrote a paper in an undergrad communications class on small talk, and while that helped, it is still something I dread. (It doesn't even help to know that everyone else feels the exact same way about small talk or that people are surprised I fear small talk because they think I'm social.)

And if all that isn't enough to fear, there is the resume to deal with. Before Darden, resumes were a simple list of job titles and responsibilities. Not anymore. Now each bullet point has to be tied to a situation, task, action and result. And, wherever possible, said result must be quantifiable. All of that makes me wish that I hadn't only just been starting the development of metrics before I left the Company.

Anyway, if I've learned anything over the last two months, it is that sometimes you just need to put yourself out there and do what you need to do, regardless of your level of confidence. I have learned that the greatest blessing can be recognizing your weaknesses and then figuring out what to do with them. If I managed to get a better handle on the class participation puzzle, I can do it with the job search as well. (And then I'll be finished with challenges until my fabulous internship starts, right?)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Breaks are Imperative

For the past two and a half days, I've had a friend visiting. From the time I left to pick her up from the Richmond airport on Thursday afternoon until this morning (Sunday) when I pulled out my laptop to work on the cases for tomorrow, I have not done any work for school. I've had conversations that did not revolve around debits, credits, cannibalization ratios and Crystal Ball*. On top of all these perks, it's been great to catch up with someone that I've known for years and get outside of the MBA bubble a little. I have also appreciated sharing my new town and took Mary to TNDC, Arch's, Bodo's Bagels, the Downtown Mall and Shenandoah National Park.

This morning when I sat down to start work on cases again, I felt refreshed. I didn't come to them with the same drudgery which had been building up over the previous weeks. I was actually kind of excited about tackling the new DA (Decision Analysis) case.

So the moral of the story is that breaks are really necessary for survival. I know there are a lot of people who don't think Christmas is all that far away, so they can just slug it out until then. But I think that when we lose our drive and our focus, we miss out on the whole MBA experience. Sometimes the most beneficial thing we can do, in terms of studying and the job search, is to just not do it and go do something else.

Anyway, all that said, I do still have three cases to prep for tomorrow, a resume to finish and an application to fill out... So I will end it here.

*Crystal Ball is a program that works with Excel to predict an expected result for a formula based on providing a range of assumptions for the values of the inputs to that formula. For an overly simplistic example, assume I assign cell A1 to be equal to A2 + A3. While I may think A2 will equal 1 and A3 will equal 3, A2 could be anything from 0 to 4, and A3 will most likely be 3 with a minimum of 2 and maximum of 8. Crystal Ball will then do a series of trials (I usually have it set a 250,000!) to tell you what the average of all the results will be. It also spits out some pretty graphs and gives you some useful reports.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Canadians Like Ketchup

One of the biggest advantages of being at Darden is that we get to occasionally debrief our cases with the people who were involved in the actual outcome of the case. Today in marketing was one of those days, where we were joined by the brand manager for Heinz ketchup (who happens to be a Darden alum!).

While she said a lot of interesting things, the phrase that struck me most was this: "Canada is a fascinating case study." I previously thought that it was common to eat ketchup not just on french fries, hot dogs and hamburgers, but also on scrambled eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches and with chicken nuggets. Apparently, however, this is not the case in the US. Canadians consume a lot more ketchup than Americans. According to the brand manager, it's because we put it on a lot more things, but also because we use it in recipes. And when you use ketchup half a cup at a time, consumption is much higher than putting a little plot of it on your plate to dip your french fries in.

When she mentioned that they consume a lot more ketchup in Canada, the whole class turned to look at me, and I admitted quietly to the guy sitting beside me that I don't actually eat ketchup at all. I guess I'm not a true Canadian, eh?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Assume Positive Intent

It makes life simpler when we categorize everything and everyone and put them in boxes, right? If someone cuts you off in traffic, you can assume they are a bad driver, probably an inconsiderate person and, oh yeah, because of all those things they probably hate puppies, too. The guy in front of you in line at the self check-out station at the grocery store who is taking forever must obviously be stupid.

It was a while back that I heard someone say that "we judge the intentions of others by their actions, but we judge our own actions by our intent." When I am the one taking longer at the self check-out, it's because the machine won't scan fast enough - I'm trying to go quickly. If I ever accidentally cut someone off in traffic it's because I was trying to get around another inconsiderate driver.

This tendency can cause huge problems in community. It's one thing to be frustrated with a random person at a grocery store and an even bigger problem when we start to put labels on people with whom we need to be in community. A line from the Associate Dean during our orientation stuck with me and has been festering over the last few weeks: "Assume positive intent."

We all come to situations with our own experiences and often baggage. If I'm having a bad day, and someone says something, and I take it in the wrong way, it's very easy to fall into the trap of assuming they meant it in a negative way. Once you take it that way, you assume that person is generally mean or does not like you very much. (You become "in the box" toward them.) And once you view them that way, every action that you observe of them only reinforces your opinion.

This is a very dangerous line of thinking. For starters, while I may have a bad day and snap at someone, this does not mean that I am ALWAYS snappy. We need to be careful about the labels we apply to others (and to ourselves, for that matter!). We like to think in terms of absolutes, but people never fall into absolute categories. More importantly, doing this can destroy community. It can lead to gossip and slander and can also destroy the opportunities that we could have from being open to everyone and their input into our lives.

So the challenge I am giving myself for the rest of this week (and beyond) is to give everyone a blank slate every time I meet them, and to assume positive intent.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Darden Cup

This morning I pulled myself out of bed earlier than I would have preferred, all in the name of Section B spirit. After getting out of bed, I put on a shirt that is such a hideous colour I would never otherwise wear it, save the fact that both Section B and the University of Virginia share the colour ORANGE.

Today was the first sporting event in the Darden Cup - a year-long contest that pits section against section. On the agenda for today: softball, a game that I have sucked at no matter how hard I've tried. (A fact that my grade 10 softball team was always relatively quick to remind me.) There were two ways to get points today: by winning the tournament and by having the most people out.

Section B was awesome. I was not the only one who dragged themself out of bed and put on an orange t-shirt. I'm pretty sure at some point in time over the morning, I saw nearly everyone from Section B, plus partners, kids, puppies, parents (it's parents' weekend at Darden - my parents were not there because they love my sister living in Munich more than they love me... JUST KIDDING!), second years and PROFS and their partners, kids and puppies. In fact, our Q2 Finance prof pitched our first game.

What Section B was slightly less awesome at was winning games. We were down one run going into the bottom of the last inning of our first game, and with bases loaded and our star batter up to the plate, the ball popped up into the outfield and right down into the glove of one of the members of the opposing team. Our hearts were broken and we went on to play our next game.

The second game had an equally epic ending, and we were 0-2 heading into the double elimination playoffs. You may wonder how a team that is 0-2 makes the playoffs, but it turns out there was another team that ended up doing worse than us on point spread. We played the first-seated team in the first round of playoffs and lost by a margin that I don't care to remember.

And then it happened - Section B learned to play softball. For the glory that is third place, we faced off against Section A. I must add, at this point, that Section A had only a few people left that weren't playing, whereas Section B still had a mighty strong orange-wearing cheering section. Anyway, we were up 8 - 3 going into the bottom of the 4th inning. As we watched the bottom of the fourth unfold with huge grins on our faces, the bases slowly filled up with a girl on 3rd, a guy on 2nd and a girl on 1st. (Did I mention runs scored by girls are worth two points each?)

No one needed Excel to calculate that if they all came home, they would win.

And it happened. As we struggled to get three outs, they came in one or two at a time. We finished the fourth inning in a tie: 8 - 8.

So we went into a tie-breaking fifth inning. Section B pulled it together, got a few people around the bases, and went into the bottom of the fifth up 11 - 8.

The rest of the inning was somewhat of a blur, but with bases loaded (with girls, again, I might add) and two outs, another girl stepped up to the plate. Our pitcher pitched the ball, her bat connected with the ball, the ball popped up in the air, and our catcher got under it and caught it, securing Section B victory.

And that, my friends, is how Section B won third place despite winning only one game. I'm not sure how the total points will come out once participation marks are all considered, but all in all, I had a GREAT day and am very proud of Section B.

Friday, September 18, 2009

UVA Honour Code and the Section B Bird

Don't lie, cheat or steal.

That is the crux of the UVA Honour Code, a highly respected, student-run system at UVA that means we get to take our finals at home. Another big advantage is that I can set up my laptop in my classroom in the morning and leave it there until I pack it up again at 1:10. The Honour Code assumes the best of people and provides a very secure environment.

I could probably tell you more about it, but there is a lot more information at the UVA Honour Code site that I would encourage you to check out instead.

There have been two distinct events this week that have provoked me to think about what it means to be a part of the UVA honour tradition.

First, I was summoned for jury duty. Basically, if someone is accused of an honour offense, they have the opportunity to be tried before a jury of their peers. This was a much more pleasant concept before I was summoned. At the same time that I want to uphold and support the honour system, I also treasure my weekends greatly and am hoping that the whole trial will at least be an interesting experience. (Fortunately, I only have one day of the proposed 12 or so that I could actually attend trial. When I joked with one of my friends about making plans for that day, he pointed out it would likely be an honour violation to do so.)

The second event this week that provoked me to think about the honour code will require some background information. The Darden first year class is divided into sections. While sections are technically only together for one semester, section loyalty runs long and deep. Sections are also very rich in tradition.

One of the sacred traditions of Section B is the bird. The bird is given at the end of the week to a student who made the wackiest or most ridiculous comment of the week. The bird is also a member of Section B who comes out to parties and is carefully guarded.

WAS carefully guarded.

Yesterday (or, early this morning), the bird was stolen. Somehow, in this honour-entrenched institution, it is part of the tradition for Sections A, C, D and E to steal the bird and make Section B do something to get him back. I haven't quite figured out how this all reconciles to the command not to "lie, cheat or steal," but last year Section B had to perform the Lion King during First Coffee in order to get the bird back. I have already volunteered to coordinate the music should something similar be required.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Running and Rest are Good for the Soul (and the Droopy Eyelids)

After spending yesterday barely able to keep my eyes open, I realized that it had been over a week since I'd gone for a run. So, I decided that there was nothing more important than getting in a run after learning team, catching up with my best friend over Skype, and getting to sleep.

It's amazing what a difference a small, healthy decision can make! I woke up this morning feeling completely refreshed and energized. It's funny, because I remember after I had started running for a few weeks, and one of my co-workers told me that I seemed to have much more energy. I should have remembered that and made it more of a priority over these last few weeks.

Life at Darden is starting to get intense. This week marked the start of company briefings, and to give you a glimpse of my day, I attended two briefings, a session on brand management, and a networking event after the brand management session. Fortunately, as there were no cases for today, my learning team knocked out our cases for tomorrow last night and I didn't need to worry about case prep on top of all that.

It will only get busier, so keeping my priorities straight will be imperative.

And just to add yet another thing on the pile, I was summoned for jury duty for a UVA honour code violation trial... (but more on that later.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Priorities (And Why an Hour Never Seems to Consist of 60 Minutes, Nor a Day 24 Hours)

It's just after midnight and I am not nestled in my bed. This is probably the last thing I should be doing, but sometimes when your head is filled with thoughts, it's hard to concentrate on anything else. Currently, I am in the process of reviewing company briefings for next week as I try to wrap my head around what else I need to do for tomorrow and debate whether to iron my dress for the Consulting Firm Briefing or just go with a simple skirt and cardigan.

After crashing for a nap on the couch in our office while attempting to read a Technical Note for marketing, I made a really important observation. Eating healthy and going for runs are not optional activities for when I have time, they are vital activities to keep me moving. I haven't felt as tired as I did today since I started maintaining a more healthy lifestyle. Taking a quick inventory of my week made me realize that I haven't been for a run since last Monday, and I'm discovering that cutting the runs because I feel too swamped is not an option.

Priorities are something I've mentioned before, but I can't stress how important every minute is. I am still trying to figure out how I can get out of class at 1:10, but not have a chance to settle down to work on cases until 2:30. I am learning that 5 minute conversations here and there add up to a lot of time spent not working on the things we should be working on.

But what are my priorities? Tonight I took the opportunity to go out with a group of girls from my section and celebrate one girl's birthday. (If you are ever in Charlottesville, I definitely recommend Arch's for frozen yogurt!) Though I could have spent that hour and a half doing all the things I am scrambling to do now, I don't regret it. These two years are an incredible opportunity to get to know some amazing people, and sometimes the best thing you can do when life gets busy is take a step back and laugh together.

So, I guess you refocus, regroup, get some sleep, pick yourself up out of bed the next morning and do it all over again. Sometimes not being perfectly prepared for DA is not as important as getting a decent sleep or doing something that contributes to the lifelong connections built in B-school.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Community and Life in the Ivy Commune

When I originally turned on my computer to blog, the plan was to talk about prioritization and my insanely busy schedule. As I sat down to write, however, there was a knock on my door. It was one of the guys who lives downstairs returning a dish from our BBQ yesterday. Him and I discussed one of the cases for tomorrow, he left to go back to his suite, and I returned to my computer.

Not five minutes later, there was another knock on the door. One of my friends had gotten my text about having her jacket at my place and was swinging by to pick it up on her way home from learning team. Her and I chatted for what was probably way too long before parting ways to go back to finishing prep for tomorrow's cases and the upcoming briefings.

The closest I've come to community before living here was when I shared a house with a friend living in the basement suite. We would watch movies together, cook Easter dinner together, and borrow food as necessary. I have to admit that living in Ivy Gardens and experiencing community here is actually a great experience. For a long time, the notion of borrowing a cup of sugar was old and outdated to me. But in the last few weeks, I've gone downstairs to borrow wine glasses and corkscrews. And, although reciprocity is never a condition of being neighbourly, I've picked up the slack as well, throwing a shirt in with my laundry, giving someone without a car a ride to the grocery store or the mall and contributing food to a Sunday BBQ.

If I'm having a lousy day, I know there are people close by who will give me a hug if I need it. If I need to borrow a textbook, a set of wine glasses, or anything, I know that someone in Ivy will have it. When I'm walking home from class, there's usually someone to walk with me.

Anyway, I will talk about prioritization later, as I attempt to define exactly what makes Darden the most rigourous first year MBA program.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Observations on the South of the 49th Parallel and South of the Mason-Dixon Line

After living in the South for just over a month, there are a collection of observations which I have been gleaning about cultural differences between life back home in Canada and life here in Virginia.

  1. Service staff are incredibly friendly down here. I don't know if it was the intense labour shortages in Alberta due to the oil industry, or if it's a cultural thing, but I have consistently had great conversations with the grocery check-out clerk, the lady ringing me through for my oil change, the women running the tills at Cafe 67 and generally everyone I encounter.
  2. The accent gets less noticeable. I have become accustomed to the usage of "y'all" in everyday language, though I have not adopted it myself.

And now, some observations on the differences between Americans and Canadians.

  1. Americans don't know what a "toque" is. I don't know if it's because it's not cold enough that they need a special word to denote the distinction between a hat worn in the cold from one worn to the Kentucky Derby, but when I've used the word "toque" I get blank expressions. (Note to Americans: a "toque" is a woolen hat worn in the winter used to keep the head and ears warm.)
  2. Equally blank looks come my way when I pronounce the last letter of the alphabet as "zed" instead of "zee."
  3. Even though I said "eh?" when I lived in Canada, it is either more noticeable here because of the Canadian stereotype or I actually say it more, for the same reason.
  4. I am having a hard time getting out of the habit of using Canadian spelling, even though my spell-checker gets mad every time I type "labour."
  5. Health care is a big topic of discussion here. I get asked a lot about the Canadian system, and am never entirely sure what to say. On the one hand, I can't fathom living in a place where if you get sick, you're SOL. On the other hand, with the population differences, and certain strengths in the US health care system, there is no way the Canadian system can be applied in the US. Americans find it hard to believe that the thought of two-tier health care evokes such strong negative reactions for Canadians.
  6. Speaking of politics, I explained to someone last night that the Canadian political system is generally more left-wing than the American system.

And that is all for now...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Purpose-Centered and Bridezilla

Although it is the class in which I will most likely get the worst grades, I have been appreciating some of the readings we have been doing for LO (Leading Organizations). As my roommate and I watched "Bridezilla" over lunch today, I could envision all sorts of practical applications for the class, so I will present the concept of "purpose-centered" through the use of a case vignette and analysis.

When Christina showed up to her wedding reception venue, she was completely shocked to find that instead of going all the way to the ground, the table linens were a good half-inch above the ground. This may not have triggered such an emotional reaction if it had not been such an awful week. Her bridesmaids, specifically chosen for their size, had not only lost weight, but insisted on wearing control garments in order to make their bridesmaid dresses more flattering. Later, forgetting that it was a winter wedding, her bridesmaids were unprepared to stand out in the cold of winter in their strapless dresses for the rehearsal, and insisted on wearing pajamas over their shoulders. The worst part of the week had been the big fight with her fiance, who claimed it would be okay to have the ceremony in the gazebo! How could he not understand this was the most important day of her life, and that the aesthetics of the gazebo simply would not do?

Although there are many frameworks that can be applied to this situation (in particular, the model on self-awareness), I would like to analyze it from a problem- vs. purpose-centered approach. Right now, Christina is very focused on the small things, and what she sees as the immediate solution to her problem. Her thinking is focused on the details of her wedding day and how she will appear to everyone. If Christina were to take a step back, and look at the big picture, she would realize that what really matters is getting married to John. It doesn't matter whether her bridesmaids are more or less attractive than her, or that she has to wait an additional 30 seconds for the horse and carriage to get to her. None of the guests will notice the length of the tablecloths. All that matters is that she say "I do" and sign the papers that will result in her marriage to John.

What Christina needs to do is take a step back and figure out why she is concerned over tablecloth length and bridesmaid size. Perhaps there are insecurities that need to be dealt with on a deeper level. It is unlikely that having heavy bridesmaids or the right linens will ultimately solve these issues.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Weeknight With No Learning Team?

After two and a half weeks of classes, case prep, learning team, more case prep, go to bed, repeat, there came a reprieve today. Tomorrow, while we have classes, there are no cases to prepare! For OPS (Operations, in case you couldn't figure out that acronym...), we are doing a simulation which promises to be quite fun. (But only because I'm a total nerd. Any non-nerds may not find the same kind of joy from playing games about making things more efficient.) In Marketing, we have execs coming from Google and Progressive to present to us. And then we do Honor Orientation. (Third time for me... wonder if I could get out of it by telling them I already know not to lie, cheat or steal?)

With no cases to prepare for tomorrow, there comes a very rare Wednesday evening treat: no learning team. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't LIKE my learning team. I just don't consider the most exciting use of my evening to be sitting around discussing cost allocation methods.

So after weighing several social options for the evening (because at Darden, a free evening is instantly filled), I am headed over for a relaxing evening of movie watching at a friend's place. I guess the pile of banking, resume building, target company list making and cleaning can wait until tomorrow.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Section B Blogger Shout-Out

Since I have enjoyed reading the blogs of some of my fellow Section B mates, I figured I would just give a shout out to some of the blogs I have been reading. Two of the bloggers were actually journalists in their past lives, and they all take a very creative approach to chronicalling life at Darden and in Charlottesville, so I hope you enjoy.

Miss MBA blogs about what she is learning each week in class, as well as random Charlottesville incidents like the aggressive fox and the panty thief.

Forks in the Road talks a little more about life in Charlottesville.

Sierra Does Darden has a very creative approach and talks about what happens to your brain on Darden...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Second Week in the Bag!

My second week at Darden has officially come to a close. I just finished the last module of my marketing assignment and am not looking at another case or assignment until Sunday afternoon rolls around!

Some thoughts...

1) Class participation is significantly more difficult than I was anticipating. In undergrad, I could generally contribute really well. The prof generally knew that she could count on me when the conversation lagged, and my understanding of the material was generally better than the rest of the class. Here, however, everyone's type-A and a freaking genius. I struggle finding the balance of when to go back to a point and when to just let it go. I feel as though I made some major blunders this week, but I guess it's just a learning and growing experience, right?

2) It's interesting navigating the social scene. As I wrote out an email yesterday to invite people to my place for board games, I realized that I didn't know who all to include! I didn't want to forget anyone, nor did I want to invite the whole class. So I just sent it to the people who came to mind and told them to pass it on. I'll probably invite more people tonight at the Cold Call, but with keg races to compete with, I'm optimistic that I won't find more people than I can fit in my apartment.

Anyway, one thing that I have learned in my short time at Darden is that if you get there even 10 minutes late, there is no food left. As someone with a newfound appreciation for free food, I had better head off to tonight's Cold Call lest I have to come home and make supper for myself...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Limited Time and the Importance of Value-Add

The concept of "value-added" is, to me, one of the single most important concepts in business and business strategy. While I spent a significant amount of time analyzing our "value proposition" when I worked for the Company, and have spent time analyzing the same for case studies, I have been finding a new application to the concept here in B-school.

For those not familiar with the terms "value-added" or "value proposition," they are basically the notion that a business has to do something that adds value to its customers. For simple manufacturing companies, the value is straight-forward: they provide a part necessary for the business. Companies can also provide support services that add value, such as just-in-time delivery. Companies should be wary of investing activities that do not add value to their clients. This is probably over-simplistic, but the explanation will serve for the purposes of the rest of this blog.

One thing that I am learning now that life is crazy-busy is the importance of value-added activities. I made the mistake of downloading this addictive little game to my iPhone that I frequently find myself playing. It's a terrible habit since I rarely feel refreshed after playing this game. I am learning that I need to incorporate value-added breaks into my study afternoons: going for a run, reading positive/encouraging emails, writing in my blog, having a good conversation with a friend from home. All of these things refresh me and help me to focus.

With more to do than time to do it, I find the same concept applies to my studies. Often there is more reading/analysis than I can fit in my limited time. I need to be sure to maximize my time by avoiding the "fluff" reading and focusing in on what is really important.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Conviction and Getting Out of the Box

Have you ever been hit by something that was so simple it figuratively knocked you off your feet?

For my Leading Organizations (LO) class, we had to read a book called "Leadership and Self Deception." While it is hard to get into the specifics of the book, the basic premise is that when we are "in the box," we see other people as objects. When we are "out of the box," we see other people as people. Our behaviours can be the same whether we are in or out of the box, but our attitudes (whether we are in or out of the box) affect how we see others and how they see us.

At first, I thought this whole box thinking was as simple as Philippians 2, which states that we should look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. But as I read further, I realized the strong implications of being in the box. Being in the box means that we elevate our own needs and self-perceptions and project negative intentions on others. We consider their perspectives and needs as less important than our own. Even as I write this, I can think of some major issues that I have that have stemmed from me being unwilling to get out of the box.

Fortunately, getting out of the box is quite simple. All you really have to do is recognize that you are in and get out. It means choosing to view others as people, with their own unique needs that are just as important as our own.

Anyway, while I have tried mightily to explain this whole box concept, if you are at all intrigued or confused by what I have written, I do encourage you to check out the book on your own. It is a quick easy read!

Sunday, August 30, 2009


After a week of ups and downs, highs and lows, I felt like I got my perspective back. As I mentioned earlier this week, there were days that I wondered what in the world I had chosen to do. In the past three weeks, I have stretched my comfort zone and felt overwhelmed. While I haven't felt lonely, there have definitely been days that I longed to just catch up with someone who really knew me. Someone with whom I could let down my guard and just be myself with. (Not that I can't be that here, but it just takes time.)

Being someone who has been relatively accomplished in the typical sense, I have also been levelled this week, as I am surrounded by insanely successful people. Sure, I have a university degree and made Dean's List... but I didn't go to Harvard. It's easy to feel "small" in this environment, especially as you watch someone tear your resume to shreds.

A second year told me that church was her anchor during first year. And this morning, I felt that anchor so very tangibly. As I joined in worship with brand new friends, and complete strangers, I realized that we are part of the same community. Singing words like, "you are all I need, you are all I want" brings back my perspective and reminds me that it's really not about me. And God doesn't think I'm "small"... But I need to remember that my worth and my value come not from my accomplishments, or even my accomplishments relative to others, and not from how the rest of the world views me... but from the fact that I am a child of God.

And now, after enjoying a weekend off, it is time to get back into books and cases.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Trust the Process"

Calculating cannibalization break-even rates in Marketing today, I realized that I am learning something here. The week has gone up and down in terms of my coping and frustration levels. There are days when I wonder why I gave up a salary, free time and left all my friends behind in Edmonton. Today was not one of those days. Going through our marketing case, I experienced the very tangible feeling that I was Learning.

"Trust the process" is a phrase that becomes ingrained in everyone who has anything to do with Darden. I do not always Trust the process. There are days, like yesterday, where I Loathe the process. To avoid rattling off my day, I will just reiterate that we are given approximately 130% of what we can actually accomplish. But the reinforcement process is so valuable. By the time I am sitting in class, I've already gone through a case on my own and dissected it with my learning team. Amazingly enough, there are STILL things left to learn in class. And it's during class, when you get those "Ah-hah!" moments, that you realize this is all worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Day 3G Came to Charlottesville

This morning, as I was checking Twitter, I noticed two tiny little characters at the top of my iPhone that changed everything.


For most of the world, these characters are relatively inconsequential. But for the people of Charlottesville, they symbolized a historic moment.

The buzz first began on Twitter, but by First Coffee, the news was everywhere. I came back to my classroom after grabbing some tea, and the guy in front of me in my section said, "did you hear about 3G?" Of course I had, but we high-fived over the joyous news.

Updating the ever-so-important Twitter newsfeed now takes seconds, instead of the previous minute that often timed out. I can now ACTUALLY check my Facebook messages! And downloading apps is an option from somewhere other than being connected to the wireless at my apartment.

Yes, this was a very good day in Charlottesville.

The Importance of the "Hour a Day"

Last week, we were told that no matter what, we should spend an hour a day doing something "fun" and non-school related, whether it's going to the gym, talking to a friend from home or whatever.

Today I did not do that, and I can understand why it is so important.

We were warned that we would be given 130% of what we could accomplish. One of the key skills we learn at Darden is time management and prioritization, and three days in, I can already see that lesson beginning to unfold.

After feeling like I was dragging all day, I will now make a renewed commitment to the hour-a-day rule. It makes me much more effective for the other 23..

Monday, August 24, 2009

First Day in the Bag

Lessons learned today:

  1. Free time is an insanely precious commodity. You may think it's not a big deal that you forgot to get one textbook and have to go back to the bookstore and stand in line. Then as 7 approaches rapidly and you are still furiously trying to skim over your OPS case before learning team, you realize you should have planned better.
  2. Taking breaks is still important. I managed to get in a run and a short visit with my sister this afternoon. I think these things are important... it's those fluff things like going back to the bookstore that need to be avoided.
  3. You can never be too prepared for class, but you never can be. Okay, convoluted sentence. Basically, if you know everything about the company in the case discussion, discussed all the answers thoroughly with your learning team and spent five hours reading the supplementary materials, that's a good start for prepping for the case discussion. However, you don't have time for all those things, so you have to figure out how to prioritize.

Those are just some things I've learned over the last two days. Now, at 11:11, I am off to read my "Leadership and Self-Deception" book, since there is no way I'm going to get to it during the afternoons.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Classes Start Tomorrow And...

The rumour of the intense first-year at Darden has been confirmed.

It's 10:38 p.m. I have class tomorrow at 8 a.m., but I still have to finish up my personal career plan before going to bed.

It isn't that I've been slacking all day... I was up at 7:30 cleaning my bathroom... But there's just so much to do.

On the plus side, my learning team is really great. I had them all over for supper today before we discussed tomorrow's cases, and it was a great time. I feel that the evening had a great balance between visiting and getting to know each other and going through the case material. If I wasn't intimidated about this adventure before, I have people in my learning team who did undergrad at Harvard, MIT and Penn.

Friday, August 21, 2009

And We're Off

Yesterday, I sat in Abbott Auditorium with my 310 peers, the people I will be graduating with in less than 2 years. It is interesting to think of it that way, but we finished yesterday's Office of Student Affairs introduction by writing a letter to ourselves that will be in our mailboxes the day we graduate.

The kick-off and welcome session was one of those moments that for me was the culmination of many months of anticipation. For details on the class demographics and specifics of the event, I will simply refer you to the Darden article about the class.

This week has been intense. I have heard time and time again that Darden has the most rigorous first year program of any MBA, and judging from this week, which has only been the lead-up to the start of Q1, it will most certainly prove to be true. I am sitting here in my office cherishing the quiet part of my Friday evening, hoping that the phone doesn't ring so I don't have to be tempted to go out. I've been out late most nights this week, and getting up early every morning.

And now, at the risk of rambling off on yet another unrelated topic, we were assigned our learning teams today. If you are not familiar with Darden, I'll try to explain the anticipation that has come with section and learning team assignments. I started meeting people at the applicant stage, where I spent way too much time on BusinessWeek's student application forum. Then once we were actually accepted, I started meeting and emailing more people. Since arriving in Charlottesville on August 5, I have met so many people that I'm starting to forget names I had previously remembered.

So by the time sections are announced, you have already met a lot of really cool people that you would love to be in a section with. On Monday, when section announcements were made, I was excited to see this was the case! Today, as we sat in Abbott Auditorium waiting to be released to find out who was in our learning team, there was a palpable anticipation in the air. Learning teams are an integral part of the Darden curriculum. They are step two in the case study method, and a functioning learning team is a vital part of academic success.

I was pleased to discover that my learning team is really awesome. We fought valiantly through this afternoon's bonding activities, despite the intense heat. We have a variety of backgrounds and judging from today, everyone seems to be willing to work hard to make LT work. I am, ironically, the only person who wasn't living in the US (yay for being the token international student!), though two of my teammates were born in Russia and one of them is not an American citizen. The BEST part of my learning team is that there is another girl! Someone had warned me that I might be the only one, so I was happy when I looked down the list and saw a distinctively female name.

Anyway, this has been way too long! It's been a good week, but I am tuckered out and looking forward to resting tonight so I can head off to the mountains for a hike tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In the Big Leagues Now

As I saw the personal contact info for an investment banker at Morgan Stanley splashed across the screen today, the sheer power of the Darden alumni network really hit home. Coming from Canada, everything is very small-business oriented. I meet Presidents, Partners and CEOs quite regularly, but they are usually self-made entrepreneurs. After learning a lot more about I-Banking during the MBA application process, the gravity of where I am now is really hitting home.

There are many things I could write about today: section announcements (I am in Section B, which is pretty much the best section. A few people that I had already started getting to know are in B as well, so that is great. On the down side, I didn't get a Kindle), the weather (still unbearably hot), my long-gone nights of 7-8 hours of sleep or my slowly-becoming-insane schedule. (I am fighting to keep up with email and classes haven't even started...) However, as the career search has been foremost on my mind, I want to touch on that and the career management process at Darden.

Long before I started the MBA application process, I knew I wanted to go into strategy consulting. I want the fast-paced nature of the job, the travel involved, the challenge of new assignments and the opportunity to work with really bright people. I am not an expert in what consulting entails, but from what I know, it seems to be a perfect niche.

The economy being as it is right now, however, is forcing me to examine alternative routes and options. While consulting internships are historically competitive, with hiring down, they are brutally so this year. Since I don't want to reach the end of January and be left with no consulting offers and THEN start searching for alternative routes, I am using this time to give considerate thought into what would also be good careers for me.

The Darden career management process focusses heavily on fit. Each of us have our own unique attributes, personalities, needs, etc. Companies and job functions complement these needs to varying degrees. As I have been sitting in the career discovery forum all day, I've been paying close attention to what resonates with me. For example, while my strength with numbers could be a good fit for corporate finance, being so focused on numbers alone would drive me crazy. Although marketing is not until tomorrow, I know that focusing only on marketing would also drive me crazy. So as I look for jobs in industry, I need either something that will provide a general management rotation (work for a while in finance, then marketing, then operations, etc.) or for a company that will allow me to rotate even without a formalized career track for rotation.

Anyway, there are a lot of other thoughts that have been going through my mind, but I don't need to go on about my own personal discoveries. And I have to go get ready for tonight's networking etiquette dinner... :-)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Heights of Anticipation

Tomorrow is a big day.

Tomorrow we find out which section we are in, who else is in our section, and which section gets to do the Kindle trial.

Tonight, by way of default, is a big night. It's our last official night of freedom before the program begins. There is a big party at a bar downtown, and I am at home doing laundry.

Sad story, I know. But somehow in the hustle and bustle and constant temperature changes, I developed a nasty cold. I lasted through a reception at one of our professor's houses. (Gorgeous home in the VA countryside, and yes, you read that right, about 10 faculty opened their homes to students this afternoon.) Then I lasted through dinner at a local Italian place. But when I got home and saw my roommate all dressed and ready to go out, I just didn't have it in me. So I will instead relax, get some rest, maybe consume some Vitamin C, and hopefully feel better in the morning.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Orientations and Adjustments

The past week, as suggested by the title for this post, has been filled with orientations and adjustments. I debated writing several blog posts about each of these things, but as another day has zipped by and I am long overdue for bed, I think I'll just try to get to the meat and pull it all together.

International Student Orientation (referred to hereinafter as ISO) was interesting. On the positive side of things, it was really great to meet my classmates that are coming from all the different corners of the globe. The perspective that they bring will absolutely enhance our learning experience. I say that with sincerity, though it is something I heard day after day in ISO. Though there were sessions that I didn't find useful personally (i.e. US etiquette), what I enjoyed was trying to see North American culture through the eyes of my foreign-raised classmates.

Technology Orientation was the other orientation of the week. This one definitely frustrated me as some miscommunication ended up costing me an extra $100 in setup fees. I also had a lot of my settings changed, programs uninstalled, and files moved. However, I have now located all the missing files, reinstalled the programs I need and am really appreciating the whole Microsoft Exchange setup that we have going at Darden. I must admit that I got addicted to Meeting Requests while in the workplace, and now I can send meeting requests to my professors, career consultant and classmates. There are some great tools, and the technology process at Darden certainly evidences a strong commitment to excellence.

And finally, adjustments. There have been a few:
  • "For here" vs "To stay": every time I eat fast food in an American restaurant, I want to reply "to stay" to the question "for here or to go?"
  • Heat and humidity: my wardrobe has been completely altered. I now wear skirts and camis or sundresses. However, since most buildings are air-conditioned, a cardigan or sweater is necessary to bring along.
  • Busy social schedule: There is something happening EVERY night. Tonight I decided to ignore the party and stayed at home watching a movie with my roommate.
  • Stores: There are a lot of new stores in the US that are really fun. I've always heard that shopping was better in the US, and today I experienced it firsthand. We went to Williamsburg, where there is a large outlet mall, and stocked up on almost all the clothes necessary to last through Christmas. I even bought a great new suit, which I will get a lot of mileage out of over the next few months.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Feeling More Settled

It was just over three weeks ago that I finished work. In that time, I have travelled countless miles to and from home, changed where "home" actually is (in the where-I-lay-my-head-at-night sense) and met a million people.

Since arriving in Charlottesville on Wednesday, life was non-stop. I met new people every day, saw as many tourist sites as I could find time for, and tried to collect the things I needed for my apartment. Since my sisters were visiting, my room was a mess, and I had hoped that after I dropped them off at the airport in Washington DC, that I would have a nice quiet evening to unpack. Of course, that did not happen... Instead, I got to meet more people and ended up staying out at a party until 2 a.m.

Today was perfect. Though I meant to go check out a church in C'ville, instead I let myself sleep in and feel rested. I spent the day lazily unpacking my last bags and organizing the stuff on my desk. And now that is mostly done. The kingpin on the day was getting the Wii set up so I can now use my Wii Fit.

And instead of meeting 20 more people and having short conversations with them in a very loud room, I went over to a friend's house and had my first home-cooked meal in a few days! (The chili and corn muffins were delicious...) I felt like I actually had a chance to connect with someone rather than cramming down 20 new names.

Tomorrow vacation is over. At 9 a.m., I must report to Classroom 50 for International Student Orientation. Though we finish at 3 and I can hardly complain about the workload yet, there are still a dozen other things I want to do before life gets too busy. Oh well... priorities, right?

On a side note, Charlottesville is very hot and humid. Part of what made today so great is that I barely ventured outside. I think I would die without AC. ;-)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Camp Darden: Take One (For Me, Anyway!)

Tonight I had my first exposure to what, last year, was affectionately called "Camp Darden." A growing group of about 16 of us met at the Downtown Mall and migrated down the road for dinner.

It was great to have a chance to connect with some future classmates! One of the highlights was being able to put "voices" to the people I've been talking with over the last few months. (I say "voices" because thanks to Facebook, I already had faces for names...) I had fun visiting with people and got mocked by one American for my apparent accent, though I still don't think it sounds like "hoose" when I say "house."

My roommate moved all her stuff into the house today and we are now living in a state of disorder which will hopefully soon be remedied. I guess we have a week until actual orientation starts to get everything together. My sisters and I are spending tomorrow in DC and then they fly home. It's been great sharing my new life with them.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Is There Anything Jefferson DIDN'T Do?

One of the greatest advantages of having my sisters drive down with me to Charlottesville has been that I've gotten to be a tourist. Today we did some of the main C'ville attractions: Monticello and the Downtown/Pedestrian Mall, if that's what you call it. It's been nice to go through these things for the first time and getting to experience them before they become familiar.

It seems like I am slowly getting settled here. I unpacked a bunch of boxes today and, more importantly, I got a phone. A shiny new iPhone, which is my first foray into the smartphone world. I think it will be great, but still have to take the time to play with it and figure out how to sync everything. I am still using the Internet connection at the pool, but our Internet was turned on today... They are just asking for a username/password and I haven't been able to figure out exactly what they want. So I am waiting for my roommate to arrive tomorrow, and hopefully she's got the information we need.

Adjusting to life in a new city and climate is fun and tiring all at the same time. I am definitely used to the relatively cold dryness of the Canadian prairies, and the humidity here is both a blessing and a curse. My skin is appreciating it, but if feels a lot hotter than what I am used to. There are new bugs and animals. All in all, though, Virginia is absolutely gorgeous. On my first two visits to C'ville, I will admit that I was less than impressed. It was definitely the quality of everything about Darden that swayed my decision to attend. Now that I've had a chance to get acquainted with Charlottesville, it is growing on me. The landscape around here is breathtaking and I love the trees! In addition to that, the Downtown Mall (I think that's what it's called?) is the perfect place to shop and eat dinner. Our waitress also spotted Dave Matthews, and my sister rushed to snap a picture...

Anyway, there are a lot of thoughts swarming. For now, I am glad that my sisters have gone off to see Harry Potter, giving me a chance to debrief a little. I may also go tackle the Internet dilemma in my apartment and figure out how to put Twitter and Facebook apps on my iPhone...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Home Sweet Home

After five days of travelling, my sisters and I have arrived in C'ville. As I am about 10 minutes away from getting kicked out of the pool area where I am using the free Internet, I'll make this short and promise to write more thoughts in the next few days.

It's very surreal getting used to a new home! I've been here only 5 hours and have already gone grocery shopping and gotten a few things I need for my home. I still don't have a phone, which is driving me crazy, but hopefully that will be on the agenda for tomorrow.

One thing that is quite exciting is that there are raccoons here. We don't have those in Edmonton. Anyway, lots more thoughts and stories from the drive. Looking forward to meeting everyone from the blogosphere in the next few weeks!