Monday, June 21, 2010

London escapade

Just realized I haven’t blogged in a while.  A lot has happened.  I spent the first half of June in London for LBS’ Admits orientation.  This was my first solo international trip.

I’m fortunate to have an uncle who lives in Greenwich (south London), and he allowed me to stay with him.  Definitely cut down on my expenses and made this trip a possibility.  It was also nice to stay a week longer, scope out the city, and set (or attempt to set) things up.

Admits orientation was FANTASTIC!  I remember walking up to Regents Park from the Baker Street station and thinking “OMG…this place looks exactly like it does in pictures online.  The facade of the building facing the park is beautiful, unique, and reminds me of a castle. 
They had quite a few activities for us but everyone acknowledged the focus was on meeting people.  The first person I met was Chris.  Chris was actually the first LBS person I talked to on the phone in March.  He is a mechanical engineer from southern California.  He joined the Navy and honorably served his country for several years, most recently managing infrastructure construction projects in Afganistan.  It was so good to meet Chris in person.  We crashed the end of year Finance Club BBQ.  That’s where I had my first Carlsberg beer.  Though I will always choose Shiner, Carlsberg and Newcastle will suffice for now.  The Finance Club BBQ was great because I got to meet several of the second year students.

Meeting my classmates was the highlight of the trip. I met some REALLY impressive people.  Olympic athletes, royalty, successful entrepreneurs, war veterans, people with unbelievable work experience, and even a professional hockey player.  I found most people to be down-to-earth and genuine.  There were 200 admits there out of our projected class of 395.  Looks like 91% of our class will come from outside the UK.  26% female.  The average age will be a year older than me.  It's a competition to see if each new class will have students from more countries than the prior year's class.  Mine beat the 2011 class, landing at 66. 

My other favorite part of the trip was Sundowners.  European schools are a little "different".  Attached to the school is Windsor Pub.  And in the basement of the school is MBAr.  Each Thursday, the school has a giant schoolwide happy hour where students, faculty, and recruiters come and have free wine / beer / cider.  There's a giant lawn area in front of the school, so we had hundreds of people enjoying the weather outside and drinking from 8 - 11:30 pm!  

As for the rest of my trip, I enjoyed just exploring the city on foot.  I REALLY HATED trying to set up a bank account and flat hunting.  Banks are concerned with money laundering so it is very difficult to open up a bank account.  I was lucky and ended up getting a very basic non-free account with Barclays.  They told me that online banking and a debit card were the “perks.”  Couldn't get a credit card though.  And flat hunting is a nightmare because the real estate market works differently.  Landlords use estate agents to find renters, and properties come on market and go very quick.  In other words, agents don't know what flats will be available when I move in August.  And when a flat does become available, it will sell in 2-3 weeks.  I will say it was good for me to go look at flats because I know what areas of town I want to live in, how close to the school I want to be, how much flats cost, and how small they actually are.

A few stories I’ll share:

-On the first day I was in London, my uncle from northern California randomly was in town.  He went to college there, so I met up with him and my other uncle who lives in Greenwich.  They showed me around the city.  My uncle told me that when he left London in 1989, the city was a dump.  But, now the city has greatly gentrified and there are so many nice things to see and do.  We also went to a Michelin star rated Indian restaurant, Mint Leaf.  It was in the basement of a building and had a great atmosphere.  Very good Indian food.  YUM!  I also enjoyed the art around the city.  Currently, there are 250 or so elephants painted by famous artists.  They are being auctioned off to raise money to save the Asian elephant.

-One neat thing about London Business School is no one has an accent.  People come from all over the world and speak many languages.  I was worried about my Texas accent, and I went for a week trying to soften it and get rid of the “y’alls”.  I failed miserably.  We say that no one has an accent at LBS because you come to this accepting place and join an eclectic group of people.  Everyone’s accents and backgrounds become the fabric of the student body.

-I got some great advice from my classmate Katie.  She’s an Irish girl who has lived in London the past few years as an art dealer.  She told me to avoid using the Tube for the first few weeks.  The Tube (Underground) gives you a warped perception of the city.  And if you ride the very efficient bus system, you’ll quickly learn to gauge distances and understand where things are in relation to one another.  I did it afterwards and it really helped!

-When you go to LBS, you are not joining a magical community where everyone will instantly get along and avoid ignorant comments.  In fact, the exact opposite will happen.  The example that comes to mind is a conversation I had with D’arcy.  D’arcy is a former professional hockey placer turned investment banker.  I know he had lived in Canada and NYC at certain points.  We walked together from the school to the Tube station and rode the same route.  I asked him when he was flying back to NYC.  He said he lived in Toronto. And, I said, “Oh, I thought you were still in banking.”  I know there are other banking centres in the world, but that comment instinctively came out.  D’arcy called me out on it and told me that Bay Street is the Wall Street of Canada.  I felt awful for making that ignorant comment.  But, that’s what is supposed to happen in a non-hostile environment.  Those small conflicts make you a more understanding, worldy person.  I heard some ignorant and hateful comments about Texas while I was there, but I’ll get to set the record straight too. 

-I stopped by a shop called the Carphone Warehouse and bought an unlocked phone and SIM card for a mere 4 GBP!!  And it was a brand new phone too.  Afterwards, I enjoyed 7 pence / minute cell phone calls to the US and 20 pence / minute calls to the UK.  Incoming calls are free and texts were 10 pence each.  This was a bargain compared to the “discounted” rate of $1.29 that AT&T was charging me. 

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