Thursday, January 10, 2013

5 reasons to do an exchange term abroad

It’s been long since I contributed to this blog however this is a very apt occasion to make a comeback by describing the experience of an exchange term. For those uninitiated: PGSEM offers the students a chance (or 2 chances which I’ll explain later) to take one of their term in a foreign university. This is the same as offered to the PGP batch studying along with you and same to the extent that the rank list for choosing universities is common between the PGP and PGSEM students. For e.g. this year’s 2nd ranker overall was a PGSEMer and he got to choose London Business School for his exchange term.

Anyways, exchange university selection process is a thrill in itself but to keep it short, around the 4th quarter of your studies, you’re asked to choose if you want to take a quarter abroad. Now by 2 chances I meant that since PGSEM has 10 quarters so they get to opt 2 times for the exchange process (though they can only take 1 exchange term during the course). Based on your 1st quarter marks, all students, PGP and PGSEM are ranked together and asked to choose the universities in order of the student’s rank. And don’t worry, IIM Bangalore has partnerships with most top institutes in all geographies.

Now coming back to the topic, what are the top 5 reasons for PGSEM students specifically to do an exchange term abroad? Though reasons below might overlap with numerous folks who have taken exchange term at different universities, ones stated below are strictly derived from my experience at NUS Business School, Singapore. Ordered from least important to the most important according to me:

Subject Choice is good reason for taking up an exchange. A lot of schools IIM has tie up with work in a university system and what I found exciting was that at NUS Business School, you have access to the whole university to choose some of the subjects. People can take up 1 subject outside of Business School in any discipline of their choice. Some people picked up Chinese language, some picked Music and so on. I ended up picking a course with school of design and environment out of my interest in Clean Tech. Even the business school would present you a different subject choice simply because they’re a different school with different faculty. To state it another way: It’s not needed that the foreign university is better, it’s better that there is more variety at your disposal.

Networking:  I feel that exchange term drastically increases your network. Especially when you’re a PGSEMer, you’re interacting with your batch mates in classes and to some extent after classes for extracurricular or projects. Being full-time in a hostel with a bunch of MBA students is a totally different experience. The friendships formed when you’re studying together, networking together (read partying) or eating together are fairly more involved. A totally new environment and new country helps your forge several new friendships in a short duration. Also since you’re studying full time, you could pick up even unpaid internships in fields that you’re more interested in and build your network further.

Diversity: Your network is not only large but more Diverse. Going into a foreign university during the exchange term, brings in people from various nationalities and various backgrounds. If two people had the same set of people they knew, the gain in network connections is not that much, but if the set of people are totally from different field and country, you gained a whole new network of friends. However perhaps scoring high on people you know is the least benefit of working in a diverse group. You learn a lot about team work, cultural sensitivity and tacit knowledge about dealing with a variety of people that’s much more valuable.

Career Services: Another important reason for me to choose exchange was for the career services that the exchange school provided. Let me clarify, this doesn’t mean that you’ll be sitting in placements in foreign school. What it means is that you can take help from career services of these schools to improve your profile, get your resume reviewed or even attend presentations from companies you’re interested in.

Taking MBA without work: Lastly but most importantly for a PGSEMer, an exchange term provides an opportunity to take your MBA without work. You’d note I didn’t use the word “Full-time” because for one I can tell is that the number classroom contact hours are exactly the same per subject either ways. What changes is that you’re much more focussed on the subjects and don’t have to switch context too much. If it was to me, I’d say PGSEMers are the most hardened MBA graduates who can balance more than any other full time folks. However at the same time, it’s a pleasant break to be able to concentrate on your subjects full time, pick up more subjects, spend your extra time in extracurricular activities and be a student again.

However at the end of the day, there is opportunity cost involved.  PGSEMers are constrained by their work commitments sometime and cannot take this unpaid break from work. Such long a break might even put your employment at risk. This decision finally rests on the person taking it and s/he has to fix all these. There are some schools which even give scholarships to IIM students and if not totally free, the trip costs reduce drastically.

It was a great experience for me and I hope some of the above reasons resonate with you and you take this exciting opportunity that PGSEM provides you.

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