One of the rewarding things about doing the course in Oxford, is the people that I am meeting and the experiences that we share. There is an incredibly great richness to the experiences and knowledge of the members of the cohort.
Just prior to leaving Korea I received a message from a member of the cohort saying that he would be on Seoul and would we like to catch up. As it happened he was arriving with his daughter the day before we were due to leave Korea for good. This may sound like an inconvenient time but in fact it was the opposite, instead of being bored round the hotel waiting to leave we had a mission, organise the evening and have a good night out.
We duly organised to meet, and subsequently meat, at entrance 1 to Seoul Station. Then we were off to Namdaemun markets with the plan to eat marinated boiled pig trotters (chokbal 촉발). As usual we got a little lost, as there are a myriad of little side streets that all look the same to me, so to keep the kids going we had some Korean street food, a seafood pancake (hemulpajon 해물파전 ) and some octopus and then some sweet filled pancakes (hudeok 호떡 ) for desert. Then after walking, talking and looking at the markets for a while we came to the chokbal 촉발 restaurants that we had planned to go to.
We sat down and ate the chokbal 촉발, rice and drank soju, talked about many things, work, travel, Korea, France, culture and many other things, however the one subject we did not cover was the upcoming EXAM. It was a wonderful evening,and it was very nice be able to introduce one of my class mates and his family to something that was very Korean and they may not have tried otherwise and it was great to learn about his family and life
So I was off to Oxford for my first contact week, the lectures run from first thing Wednesday morning until mid-afternoon on Saturday. To make the best of my time I flew from Seoul to the UK on the preceding Saturday so that I could spend a couple of days at my Uncle and Aunt’s house studying and getting over jet lag. By way of a side note, if possible I would recommend that anyone traveling from Australia, SE Asia or America should travel on the Saturday or Sunday prior to the course, those that did got far more out of the Wednesday and Thursday than those who arrived on the Tuesday evening. While at my Uncle and Aunt’s house I did less study than planed and ate and drank more than planned, I blame them, they are such great company, cook such delicious food and have a great cellar.
I had hired a car when I arrived at Heathrow so on the Tuesday afternoon I drove to Oxford, dropped my car off and checked into the Royal Hotel . As is the way of the world, I had flown 10 hours from Korea and the bottom floor of the hotel I was staying was a Korean restaurant!!! The royal hotel was comfortable, but nothing special, my room faced inward and was quiet, some of the other students who had outward facing rooms said it was noisy at night. Once checked in I went for a walk to get my bearings.
The Royal Hotel is opposite the Said Business school, the business school is a very modern building both in age and style. A short walk down the street the whole feeling goes backward in time several centuries, I enjoyed my stroll taking in the antics of drunken uni students, the river, architecture and the general ambiance. The Business school had organised a first night ice breaker at the Kings Arms, this was a great way to meet some of the people who I will be studying with for the next year.
The next morning it was into the course, I was nervous just like a young kid at his first day at school, the information came quick and fast, and I am glad to say although some of the pre-reading was very dry the lecturers were not. Throughout the module the majority of the information was presented by Sue Dopson and Michael Smelts, they were enthusiastic, flexible and fun, it made all the difference. All the days were packed full, there was something to do every break and activities organised every evening.
There were numerous things that surprised me about the organisation of the course. Most importantly there was a great lunch provided every day and we had access to coffee, tea and snacks for every break (it is not a course to go on to lose weight). We only had limited time that we spent in breakout sessions, the breakout sessions averaged one a day and generally they were quite short (half to three quarters of an hour is my guess, I didn’t keep a record), on reflection this had to be the case we had so much content to get through and also had to do all the things like how to use the University IT system, Libraries…. I am hoping that in future modules there will be more time for group working, time will tell. The final thing was how accessible and amenable the staff at the business school were, we could just have a chat, I remember for my undergraduate days how aloof, scary and unapproachable the lecturers were, and here it was the opposite. However as an undergraduate I suspect that there was very little that I knew about engineering analysis that my lecturer didn’t, however I am sure that I knew more about the internal workings of a Korean chaebol than anyone else at the course.
Now for the fun stuff STUDENT LIFE, I am an Affiliate Member of Pembroke College, whoohoo, on the second night we got to visit the college that we were now affiliated with , told all about the history, the content of the Masters cellars, and shown round some of the amazing buildings. Some of it is right out of a fantasy novel, I was expecting to come face to face with a pixie or fairy or some other mythical beast. The next night we were off to Dinner at Balliol College, the dining room may have been the set out of Harry Potter, the only difference was the lack of wizarding robes and the candles were in candle stick holders on the tables not floating in the air. The food and company was great and after dinner some of us made our way to one of the local pubs. This meal felt like the first time many of us properly relaxed and it was a great chance to get to know my fellow students far better. The next morning, Saturday, the final day, one of our numbers was missing for the first lecture; we were slightly concerned that he might have disappeared in the Vodka triangle, however it was far more boring, he just had a frustrating two hours trying to fix ticketing problems for his flight home.
The lectures finished at 2:00 pm and then I shared a car to Heathrow, and caught the 8:00 PM flight to Seoul. Exhausted; I ate the yummy plane food, had a couple of glasses of wine and slept for almost the entire flight. I arrived home with confidence that the course was entirely doable, I was learning some great things ant there were many interesting and fun Class mates. Time will tell how well I go in the exams.
This Post (and all the Oxford posts that will follow) essentially mirror the posts that I am writing for the Said Business School in Oxford University where I am doing a Graduate Diploma in Organisational Leadership.
After I volunteered to write a blog about my experiences I thought “what the hell have you done”, which was exactly the same thought that I had when I completed the enrolment process. So in need to relax take a breath deep and get on with it. So I intend to write a series of blog posts tracking me through my journey at Oxford and the Said business school. I emphasise intend because sometimes life gets in the way of plans and if it becomes the choice of a blog post or studying for an exam it is really an easy decision.
The first step to Oxford was the conclusion I was at a point that now was the time that I needed to do something to give me a step forward in my career and fill in some gaps in my knowledge. I also had to find a course that could be fitted in with my life, my family’s life and work. These constraints meant that I could not commit to do a full time EMBA program. The other thing that I was acutely aware of is that branding is very important and everyone consciously or subconsciously tends toward the better and more recognisable brands. If I was going to commit to the effort that I perceive that it will require to do well in later life study I wanted the pay back, this meant that I only considered the top ranked schools. I was in the process of reviewing the offerings from the top schools we a friend of mine said “Mate what you need to do is a Grad Dip form the Said Business School” so I looked at them in detail. They are a great fit for me, 4 modules with a short residential session for each, 3 exams, an assignment and a project all with constrained time lines so I don’t get complacent or lazy. Of the Graduate Diplomas offered two stood out, Organisational Leadership and Global Business.
Both of the Diplomas suited my experience and ambition, according the Said business schools website the Global Business one focuses on “global strategy, risk and reputation, corporate diplomacy and international business challenges” and the Organisational Leadership one focused on “building a deeper understanding of how to manage people and organisations for competitive advantage“. After reading all the online information and considering what my ambitions were I felt that the Organisational leadership better filled me. Subsequently I approached the Said Business School and spoke to both Tom Brownrigg and Andy Pool, both were very helpful. We went through my history and experience and concluded that I should be a good candidate and encouraged me to apply.
The application process was simple enough, fill out a questionnaire, write some short statements as to why I wanted to do the course and submit my CV. The most difficult part of the process was getting copies of my Academic record, no simple on line application and credit card charge. It was a bit like the modern version of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, Internet, phone and post, slow frustration but we got there in the end. I started the application process in the Second week of October 16 and received my offer of a place on the course on the last week of November 16 (subject to me submitting the originals of my academic record). So I duly paid for the course and received the reading for the First module in January. 17
During the discussions with the business school I had been told that for the duration of the course I would need to commit about an hour a day to doing the pre-reading, study and assignments. So like a good studious little student I sat down and started reading and doing the case studies. Holy cow some of the papers were particularly boring, 50 pages could have been summarised to two or three with a couple of nice graphics, those ones took a lot of reading. That aside the Harvard business review articles were easy to read and to the point and the case studies were fascinating.
So having done the requisite pre-reading I set off to Oxford for the first on campus session, I was more than a little nervous, I hadn’t done any real University level studies for over 25 years and I had never — ever done studies any of the Soft subjects university. However I did console myself that it could not be too difficult to pass at Oxford, my Uncle and Grandfather had managed it, in fact my grandfather had managed a double first while playing up like a second hand lawnmower, by amongst other things, fighting a duel at dawn, I added an newspaper extract below and here is a link to another article.
Next my first on campus session “Oxford the land of Pixies, Elves, Harry Potter and a Korean Restaurant”