Monday, March 29, 2010

Darden Structure and International Experiences

In the comments section of my previous blog post, I received some questions regarding how Darden could increase international exposure, as well as what the benefits are of how Darden structures the year. Rather than replying in the comment section, I figured I would write a blog.

First, Darden and international exposure...

There are a variety of ways through which Darden gives an international exposure through the curriculum. As you may be aware, there are GBEs (global business experiences) to a wide variety of places: Barcelona, Brazil, Stockholm, Mexico City, Argentina, Bahrain, and a bunch of other places that I cannot currently recall. Students have the opportunity to attend up to two of these through their time at Darden. Beyond this, partnerships with companies like Danaher offer students the opportunity to go and do projects in their overseas divisions (this past spring break, some of my classmates did a Kaizen event in India). So there are opportunities for short trips abroad to get a glimpse of culture and business in foreign countries. If you want something longer, Darden has exchange programs with a number of partner schools. Off the top of my head, I can think of students who have gone to Sweden, Barcelona, Italy and Japan. There are more, though!

Another international flavour that Darden brings is international cases. By no means are the cases we study centered on American companies. I can't estimate the portion of the breakdown, but there are a lot of international cases that we study.

And finally, of course, there are international students. These students (of which I am one, though culturally, there isn't a significant difference between Canadians and Americans) bring their cultural knowledge and experiences into both the classroom and the extracurricular time. Just this past Saturday, I enjoyed Indian dancing at the Bollywood night. The richness of the international experience depends on how immersed you are with international students. Because I had the opportunity to attend international student orientation (well, not opportunity so much as requirement), I got to know a bunch of international students.

Structure of Darden Curriculum

Since there are changes on the horizon, all I can say is that the benefit of the Darden structure is that it allows for modular learning. If we only took five courses in first semester, I don't know that we'd be as prepared as we needed to be for interviews. Using shorter chunks of time for courses allows us to integrate learning across subject areas because there is more variety.

**Note: Just wanted to clarify that the change is not with the curriculum, but the structure (i.e. when each module is delivered). I think the move is toward six terms rather than four quarters.

Anyway, I am happy to answer your questions, so feel free to leave some in the comments. I generally check them fairly regularly.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Congrats Round 2 Admits!

The latest round of acceptances were released on Friday at midnight. Congrats to everyone who was admitted!

In honour of your admission, I would like to present Julie's Official Do-Before-Darden Starts guide.

  1. Relax and enjoy life. Get in a trip you've been thinking about, enjoy a hobby, spend time with your friends, read all the books you've been thinking about reading.
  2. If you're still working, DON'T throw in the towel and coast until your end date. I finished my job on July 17 and had a few weeks off and was immediately thrown into stressing about my internship when International Student Orientation started on August 10. What you want to do while you are still at work is find ways to create measurable improvements at your workplace. You'll want resume bullets that fit the STAR format (Situation/Task, Action, Results... with results quantified wherever possible), so make sure you view the rest of your time at work with a view of building up these resume bullets.
  3. Follow all the stuff on the Darden checklist. I can't remember it, but all the logistical details are taken care of with that list. For things like housing, there is some incentive to take care of it sooner than later. My roommate and I got the sweetest building in the complex because we signed our lease as soon as we could.
  4. Relax and enjoy life. I say it again because it's the most important. Darden first year, and especially first semester, has been described as drinking from a fire hose. They are changing up the program next year to make the structure a bit more manageable, but I went the first couple months without reading any non-Darden books, scrambling to find time to call my friends and family back home, and dreaming of time that I could go hiking. It's all worth it, but I just want to emphasize that now is better spent relaxing and enjoying life than attempting to learn everything you possibly can about accounting.
Hope that helps. Congrats again!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Creative Capitalism Live Blog

"There isn't a person in this room who couldn't do what Mohammad Yunus did." - Ed Freeman, Darden Professor, March 23, 2010

Mohammad Yunus, in case you are not familiar with him, won the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering Grameen Bank and the concept of micro-credit. Micro-credit is the concept of giving itty, bitty loans (like $25) to people who need them to get capital to start their businesses. If you are at all interested, I highly recommend Banker to the Poor.

Can I really change the world? According to my Creative Capitalism prof, yes.

The question is not if, but how.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Q4: Preview of *GULP* Second Year

For the first three quarters of my time at Darden, I bought into a lie. I bought into the lie that Second Year was much easier than First Year. I also bought into the lie that Q4 would be much like Second Year.

I suppose, if you aren't volunteering as a House Captain for Building Goodness in April, a consultant for OCI (Opportunity Consultants, Inc.) and still looking for an internship, that this could be true. That said, I am doing all of the above things, and as a result, it seems that the free time formerly occupied by learning teams has been gobbled up by meetings and interview prep.

Anyway, Q4 brings with it a wealth of changes: electives and the end of learning teams. Since the only classes that are required are leading organizations and ethics, there is less need to meet to go over spreadsheets and calculations for classes. This means that learning teams are finished. Of course, as I struggle to value interest rate swaps for my valuations class tomorrow, I am wishing that I still had my learning team to meet with.

There is a whole range of electives. I am taking data analysis and optimization (DAO), valuations and creative capitalism. I can't decide which I am most excited about. DAO provides the opportunity to model business problems in Excel, something which may not excite the average person but gives me feelings of great control. On the other hand, I am doing a tangible project for my creative capitalism class. Plus, this whole business thing is supposed to end up with me doing something good for society at some point along the way, and creative capitalism gives me the opportunity to start exploring what options will allow me to do that.

So, that's Q4. I can't complain too much. After all, the weather is infinitely nicer than it is back home, and this weekend (despite interview practice, volunteer meetings and case prep) has included a hike, Arch's frozen yogurt on the patio, and dinner on the Downtown Mall (Charlottesville's most redeeming feature, in my opinion).

Oh yeah, and did I mention that this is also leadership transition time? I'm taking over as president of Darden Christian Fellowship (DCF) for next year. Super excited... especially since it's the only thing on my plate for next year. Hoping to make it awesome, and would love to get in touch with any incoming students to hear some of your thoughts on DCF. Shoot me an email at (Or my Darden email address, which is

Monday, March 15, 2010

Oops! Guess I Use Kindle Now

The concept of portable book readers has long appealed to me. Unfortunately, when I lived in Canada, the Kindle was not available outside the US. By the time I moved to the US to go to school, I was in school, and thus my leisure reading declined in favour of cases and textbooks. Sigh.

Over Thanksgiving, I rekindled my love of books, but having gotten used to the touch-screen convenience of my iPhone, the buttons on the Kindle kind of annoyed me. How can I get used to such an archaic device when I was so used to the function on my iPhone? (Yes, this sounds ridiculous, but if you've ever flipped through photos on an iPhone, you'll understand.)

Just before Christmas, Barnes and Noble put out a tempting offer for my eBook reader desires: the Nook. It had a touchscreen, and as far as I could tell, was otherwise competitive with the Kindle. Although I wasn't ready to make the purchase myself, I did think it might make a lovely Christmas present. They were, of course, sold out, but my Mom suggested I look into a book reader app for my iPhone.

Of course, there is an app: a Kindle app. And it's free to download. So I installed it on my phone, and now I buy most of my books that way. I actually bought my first book for school that way today.

When I got an email from Amazon today informing me there is now an application for my computer to read all my Kindle books, I realized that without even purchasing one, I've become loyal to the Kindle. My library is currently being built up with books, all of which need to be accessed on some sort of Kindle related app. If I ever buy a portable book reader (not sure if the iPhone battery cuts it for long plane trips and reading books), it will be a Kindle, not a Nook, after all.

It's funny, because the same thing happen with Apple to make me iPod dependent. Apple just put up this convenient, easy-to-use store and application that just made it SO, SO easy to download .99 songs and create CDs. When I made the leap to portable music player, it had to be an iPod.

So, what does this mean for business? Having just completed my strategy course over spring break, this seems like a great strategic option. It's not an accident on Amazon's part that I now use the Kindle. Their use of integration created barriers to entry for other potential eBook readers by raising the cost of switching for me. As I slowly build up my collection of eBooks, the cost to replace them with another devices format gets higher and higher.

Anyway, I won't continue to theorize on how this strategy is successful. Instead, I will just hope that Amazon can take a design cue from Apple and produce a Kindle with a convenient, easy-to-use, shiny touch screen by the time I'm in the market.

Barcelona GBE (Global Business Experience)

How can you go wrong when you sign up for a course that a) means one less course next year, b) involves strategy, c) takes place in Barcelona and d) involves looking at all the popular tourist destinations?

Well, let me suggest two ways that this strategy might not pay off. First... if the week in Barcelona (which I was sure would be in the 60s, after all, they have palm trees down there!) contains the worst snowstorm since 1962. Second... if the last few days of your trip are spent in your hotel room as you battle a mysterious illness. (Okay, to be fair, I did not require a visit from a Spanish doctor as some of my fellow travellers did, but I still don't consider this the best way to spend Spring Break!)

Anyway, my impressions of Barcelona are suffering from recency. If I dig a little deeper into my memory, I remember that we had some really good times. So...

The course was on viewing strategy through the design lens. After a quarter of learning frameworks and discussing capabilities, the transition to a more metaphorical view of strategy was definitely interesting. We looked at how designers like Gaudi, Picasso and Dali created breakthrough innovations and then discussed how we can apply those to business strategy. This process involved looking at a whole lot of Gaudi architecture (Colonia Guell, Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Casa Battlo), visiting the Picasso and Salvador Dali museums, and visiting a number of other really old cities and cathedrals. It was a good switch to go from the spreadsheet-focused analytical mindset to the art-viewing creative mindset. (Of course, that said, I do miss my spreadsheets after putting together a scrapbook-type journal as an assignment for the course!)

Throw in some Spanish nightlife, endless paella, tapas and sangria, thirty fun Darden students and some great shopping, and you've got yourself a great trip. I would definitely recommend the Barcelona GBE to anyone considering it, but would also recommend that you avoid getting sick and aim for beach weather instead of "oops, I should have brought my snow boots with me from Canada" weather!

For some more detailed recollections of the trip, check out for some more posts. She live-blogged throughout the trip, and has even included a pic of the snow.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Small Town Movie Theatre

With our first exam in the bag, LegalMBAyhem and I decided to see a long overdue movie at the local cinema.

When I made the decision to come to Charlottesville, I knew I was giving up many of my big city amenities. The frustrations in lack of good shopping have been apparent, but this afternoon, I have discovered a new one: movie theatres.

Now, I'm not talking about the lack of reclining seats, large screens and stadium style seating. I'm talking about a few of the following examples:

- Lighting: we walked into the theatre and there were NO LIGHTS. Good thing we have smart phones for illumination.

- Movies starting on schedule AND running all the way through: a few minutes after the movie was supposed to start, the first commercial came on. After that, the lights went back on, and the pre-movie radio station started up again.

- Not being accused of stealing pens: As we were sitting and waiting for the now-overdue movie to start, the man who sold my friend her ticket came into the theatre looking for the pen she used to sign her credit card slip. He then asked us when the movie was supposed to start, and we said "ten minutes ago."

- Movies that start on time: We eventually had to go and ask them to start the movie again.

Oh, Charlottesville.

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