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Grades not the only measure of success for Rotman EMBA

Oksana Chikina is an EMBA student at Rotman in Toronto.

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 is spending a year as an international student attending the executive MBA program at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. This is her fifth post in a series.

The holidays are over, 2014 has begun and I'm into the second term of my MBA program.

As mentioned in my previous post, the study teams had been reshuffled before the holidays and we were assigned to new groups of six. Who could have thought that it would be so difficult to mentally separate from people I had just met four months ago? I guess we were not the first cohort suffering from separation anxiety, and this is why we spent an afternoon on a new team-building activity.

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If you happened to be at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on Dec. 13 after 4 p.m., the groups of adults holding pieces of ring-bond papers, hectically running up and down the stairs and occasionally yelling at each other were probably Rotman EMBA students. Yes, the new teams were sent on a "Conundrum Adventure" at the ROM with a pile of rather complex and often funny puzzles, with the mission of getting to know each other better. We got to practise our recently acquired financial management skills calculating exchange rates for ancient Greek coins, attention to detail while translating hieroglyphic puzzles, and marketing and branding while analyzing ancient Chinese prints. Over all, it was a lot of fun that definitely helped us overcome the mild fear of change. For better or worse, we are going to be spending the remaining nine months in the new groups.

The end of the term also brought about our first grades and unexpected encounters. If you were a straight-A student in high school and university, you will be able to relate to my deep disappointment when I realized that this would not necessarily be a continued trend at Rotman. Never mind that corporate finance and accounting were equivalents of foreign languages that I was expected to be somewhat fluent in after just three months of classes. The pinch of disappointment was still there.

I find it ironic that old habits seem to die so hard. Having spent so many years in the work force and experiencing first-hand that outstanding academic performance does not necessarily guarantee a stellar career, some of us still continue measuring success mostly in grades and marks.

Going back to school might just awaken that high-school self that seemingly retired a decade ago. So, a tip for future EMBA students: Take some time to articulate your vision of success before the program starts. The three bullet points which I had put together last August had nothing to do with grades and really helped me focus on the learning part of the program:

– A 90-per-cent increase in new knowledge.

– Solid connections with like-minded people in new fields.

– Confident application of new concepts.

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I am confident that the past term moved me closer to achieving this vision.

Not all work

Finally, Rotman had a proper Christmas party. Social activities involving the families and children are an integral part of the overall Rotman EMBA experience. There is a lot to be said for meeting the families of your classmates and seeing completely different sides of them, faculty members and program managers. My classmates haven't ceased to amaze me. They're individuals with very demanding daily jobs, children, community involvement and yet are still committed to their professional growth and development.

Being a token international "orphan" I received at least 10 Christmas dinner invitations, which truly moved my heart.

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