Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Darden Visit

Last September, my girlfriend (toady my wife) and I set on 3.5 weeks of airport hopping around the USA. We landed in D.C. and after spending a few days at my girlfriend's parents in a suburb of D.C. we headed to our first school visit.
After almost 2 hours of drive we reached the gorgeous Charlottesville. Rumors have it that route 29 is a highway patrol goldmine, but I guess I was driving the speed limit.

We met with a current student in the evening who showed us around town - specifically the downtown mall. We had dinner and talked about school and the application process (surprise!).
We then turned in for the night preparing for the next day's class visit.

The GPS kindly pointed us to Darden blvd. There, surrounded by forest resides the Darden School of business administration.

At the gatehouse we got our parking permit, allowing us to park anywhere in the boulevard. I could feel the history surrounding me as we walked through the great wooden doors. These facilities are actually quite new, but they were built in accordance with the architecture of UVA, which was built by Thomas Jefferson's vision of an academic village. In short - amazing (UVA is a world heritage site BTW).

The visit started with 'First Coffee' - a 50 year tradition - a 9:30 gathering (after first class, which starts at 8:00 - Did anyone say MBA boot camp?) with a fresh, steaming cup and discussions about every topic from academics to hobbies with students and faculty. We were a bit shy and didn't get into any discussions. Networking in US standards is uncharted territory for us. We knew we, like a lot of internationals, had to learn this.

Off to the admissions office, where we received our case and had half an hour to prepare before our escort came to pick us up. This was my first case study ever so I didn't really know what to expect. The case was part of the 'Leading Organizations' course or as students call it - 'LO'.

Our student escorts took us to our separate classes - I was in section B. I kept rehearsing the short introduction of myself that I've prepared. The Israeli culture is very concise and strait to the point. We usually state our first names and current positions. Blabbing about your accomplishments is considered showing off, so speaking about myself in that manner is a skill I was still trying to master. I was somewhere at "My name is Oren..." when the professor asked me to introduce myself. I did so very briefly and that seemed enough. Than I was asked to tell an embarrassing story about myself. I censored the real juicy stories and told a nerdy dry "embarrassing" story because I actually wanted to be admitted to the school. I was finally allowed to sit down and watch the show. Or so I thought. You see, in Darden you don't watch the show. Instead of listening to the professor, you talk. If you listen to someone it would be to another fellow student. And you'd better listen. You can't lose trace of the conversation because you might get cold-called. The class split up to some group discussions for a few minutes and I actually participated, which seemed great at the time. What I didn't know then is that the whole learning experience at Darden comes from self learning, then group learning with your study group (3 hours every night) the rest is completed and polished in class by the 60 students who make your section. The professor is truly merely a facilitator.
There is no real way to transmit the experience of a Darden class. You really have to be there. This is probably why Darden requires that all domestic applicants interview on campus.

After class we were taken to have lunch with current students in the very impressive dinning hall. Food was good (paid for by the school) and the company even better. Darden students are friendly, modest and helpful. I can assume this collaborative, supportive atmosphere comes from the study method.

We were then off to the suburbs of D.C again. The next day held an early morning flight to Detroit. Ann Arbor awaits.

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