How ASIA changes a VFA Fellow’s perspective

by Alex | MBA Class of 2018 | Student Stories

With a background in the solar energy industry, Alex is passionate about sustainability and using big data, behavioral economics, and process optimization to deliver impact and efficiency. The former Marketing Director was also a Venture for America Fellow, trained in principles of entrepreneurship and holding experience working in a startup. Hailing from the United States, an MBA at ASB gave her not only a world-class education, but the chance to explore and discover a region of the world she had never visited before!

We caught up with Alex, who is from our MBA Class of 2018 recently for a quick Q&A about her experiences at ASB.

Tell us about your career background and what you were doing before ASB.

As an Environmental Science major, I was daunted and somewhat disheartened by the career search process. Everything pointed toward academia or activism, neither of which seemed to be a great fit for me. I stumbled upon Venture for America through a friend that had gone through the same dilemma and ended up living in New Orleans for three years.

My two jobs there were as an energy efficiency consultant and a marketing director at a solar firm. I use the term “consultant” loosely, because my job involved climbing on roofs and poking around mechanical rooms to see how well equipment was running, or typing in numbers from utility bills, or troubleshooting our connection to a building’s operating software. As a marketing director, my job description was more conventional, but covered everything from making brochures and infographics to tweaking ad campaigns to optimizing sales operations. I learned a ton of skills at each position, but higher-level strategy always felt elusive to me, hence enrolling at ASB.

Why choose ASB?

For me, it was a unique chance to explore a region in which I had a lot of interest but had never visited. Not only that, but it was a way to get an MIT-quality education in a unique environment with a diverse class. If I had gone to any other business school in Asia, it would have been mostly geared toward local students, and if I had gone to business school in the US, I would not have received many of the learnings and opportunities that ASB offers.

What has been the highlight of the MBA 3.0 curriculum?

The ability to travel. Period. A person’s environment does a lot to shape their behavior, so it’s been interesting to learn from both the businesspeople and the business environment in a variety of cities, countries, and organizations. Even beyond business applications, travel has made me broaden my perspective and become more open-minded. I’m able to quickly adapt to new environments, whether it’s in the context of working out travel logistics or developing respect for different cultures. It’s one of those skills you don’t even realize you have until after you’ve developed it.

What has been the highlight of Action Learning?

Working in groups, but not because it’s fun. It’s more difficult than you would imagine working in a group of diverse nationalities, work experience, work styles, and opinions. Nearly every group experiences conflict at some point throughout their project, and that’s okay. We’ve all learned a lot over the past year about how to identify personality and work style differences and accommodate for them. At the same time, there is a lot to learn from each group member’s unique experiences, and when we do the right amount of listening and collaboration, we can greatly increase our learning beyond what we would have been able to do on our own.

What has living in Malaysia/Asia been like for you?

Living in Asia has been interesting in ways that I could not have anticipated. I’ve gotten my first real taste of being a minority and not being able to blend into the crowd. I’ve also become a lot more curious about what most people feel are everyday behaviors, and have been trying to uncover the nuances of each country’s culture. That said, it’s also been striking to see how different each country within Southeast Asia is, given that they’re all relatively close geographically. Overall, the program has made me realize what aspects of cultures and societies I value most, and will hopefully guide where I’m going to live next.

How have you balanced personal projects / social or family life and a hectic full-time program?

With great difficulty. I’m someone who likes structure and organization, so the best way to enforce my priorities is to adapt my schedule to them. For example, I make sure to exercise and make myself dinner when I get home before working on schoolwork, because I know that otherwise the latter will take up my time. I call my parents and my boyfriend at the same time every week or every day. I make sure to have at least one event to look forward to each weekend day. It’s not a perfect system, but I think I’ve come a long way toward being a more balanced person.

Who should apply to ASB in future rounds of applications?

Flexibility and open-mindedness are two qualities that come to mind. As a student, you will constantly be exposed to new people, concepts, and cultures, and it will all come at you at the speed of light, so you need to be prepared for, or even excited about, this type of environment. “Unconventional” sums it up, because if you are interested in a conventional career on Wall Street or in a large company, you will have an easier time of it elsewhere. If you want an adventure, maybe ASB is for you.