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emba diary

MBA graduates can look forward to higher salaries but money is only one reward.Kenneth C. Zirkel/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Oksana Chikina, who hails from Uzbekistan, is an international development professional on a leave of absence from Population Services International (PSI), a U.S.-based non-governmental organization. Having spent the past 12 years living and working in 10 countries on four continents, she has spent a year as an international student attending the executive MBA program at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. This is her 11th and final post in a series.

I am attending a talk, sitting next to my former marketing professor. The classroom on the first floor of the Rotman building, where my classmates and I spent thousands of hours over the past year, has a different feel today. For the first time, I am here as an alumnus. The memories of school days are very fresh and the talk is interrupted by my student memories.

Our final class week was spent tackling real life problems using the Rotman signature "integrative thinking" methodologies. Joined by exchange students from the UCLA and Bocconi business schools, we were deconstructing challenges faced by the companies, businesses and even countries represented in the classroom.

As with other classes of the Rotman EMBA program, I found this soft skills course quite challenging. It is very hard to analyze opposing models and construct integrative solutions without compromising. It is even harder to carefully examine causal models and dive beyond the obvious solutions.

The final presentations for the course upheld the traditions of diversity, creativity and sense of humour for which my class became well known.

During the nights of the final residential week, we were collectively reflecting on the amazing journey that we went through as a class, as 11 study teams and as individuals. These reflections reached their emotional peak during team debriefs and final deep reflection as part of the leadership course.

It is truly powerful to give your teammates (successful and driven professionals with whom you have no reporting relationship) feedback on why you would or would not follow them as a leader. It is even more powerful to hear what they have to say about you – a kind of final test for the ability to have difficult conversations and be truly authentic.

The most powerful, however, was the final hour spent in class when the 60-plus executives shared their reflections on the program. A year ago, when the course just started, we all were asked to fill out a questionnaire describing the vision of success and expectations we had for the program. The questionnaires were given back to us before this last in-class discussion.

Discussing them, it was truly surprising how transformative one year can be and how different our expectations seem to be today. It is no wonder: thousands of hours spent in the classroom, in team meetings and behind a study desk; three babies born; four engagements announced; one joint business established; countless personal and professional connections formed. We all agreed that the program was much more than a compilation of technical business courses required for any executive today. It was a deep dive into leadership and emotional intelligence and a hard stretch of our comfort zones.

For most of us, the vision from a year ago has been reached and surpassed, but the goal posts have also moved further ahead. The overall program experience, combination of the classes, team work and personal interactions with like-minded people led to a profound paradigm shift – people are inspired to transform their careers, enter political arena, grow businesses or pursue advanced academic and professional certifications.

A sign of great personal achievement just a year ago, today the program seems like a door into a larger world with a multitude of possibilities.

It is hard to describe what went through my mind as I hit "send" for my final paper. It was an overwhelming feeling of relief, joy, sense of accomplishment and … very deep sadness.

The crazy marathon that has been stretching my intellectual, mental and emotional capacity is finally over but it is very hard to imagine life without it. And here I am, publishing my final blog post on the outstanding Rotman EMBA journey. Every minute of it was totally worth it. The sadness of parting with the student life is overpowered by the excitement of becoming a Rotman alumnus. It truly feels that time starts now.

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