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What B-school profs think of Canadian students

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Adam Janikowski left his job as vice-president of investment banking at BMO Capital Markets in Britain to pursue an MBA at INSEAD in France. He writes regular articles on his progress.

With 71 countries represented amongst my classmates, the views and experiences in the classroom are extremely diverse and, in some cases, contradictory. As a Canadian in an international program, I often wonder how our professors manage to successfully teach students from such different backgrounds.

I also wonder what their impression is of the Canadian students in the program. And, perhaps most importantly, I ask myself: Does the nationality of a student have any bearing on their chances of success at INSEAD?

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Two-thirds of my way through the program, curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to ask them.

During their first week at INSEAD, students are given name tags stating their name and nationality. We are expected to display these name tags in every class so that professors have an easy way of identifying who is talking and where they are from. Professors will often call on students to share their views based on their nationality. However, I wondered: If the name tags didn't exist, could professors distinguish between the nationalities of the different students?

Of the professors I questioned, the most common observation of Canadian students is that they come from a very welcoming country. They are amazed by the number of us with dual nationalities - that is, 49 out of the 89 Canadians currently studying These second citizenships range from Greek to Serbian to Korean, with the most common being British and Lebanese.

When asked about academic performance, the professors who teach quantitative courses such as statistics, finance and accounting reported only minor differences between the students from different nationalities, whereas professors teaching more qualitative courses such as marketing and strategy were clearly able to differentiate between various nationalities. One accounting professor did feel, however, that North American students are not as strong academically as eastern European and Asian students, given equivalent work experience levels.

Professors overwhelmingly spoke about Canadians' confidence. They see North Americans in general and Canadians especially as more willing to answer questions and challenge the professors' teaching than others. Professors noted that this is especially relevant when compared to students who have been educated in Asia, whom they say are more reserved.

In addition, many professors commented that Canadians were less inclined to congregate solely with other Canadians. They believe that the students who come from diaspora-oriented countries such as India, China and Israel and those with strong cultural identities such as Italians and South Americans tend to have a unique national identity at INSEAD, and thus an instant community with whom they can relate. Canadians on the other hand tend to float between groups of different nationalities without necessarily latching onto or identifying with any particular one. Canadians are more likely to experience other cultures and traditions while doing their MBA rather than bonding with a group of other Canadian students to create an extension of home. This ties with the general belief of professors that Canadians are culturally aware, and I believe that it reflects positively on Canada's hallowed "cultural mosaic" immigration policy. As a Canadian, I am proud of this perception, but I also think it can be somewhat limiting as there are fewer opportunities for immediate networking and mentoring upon arrival.

INSEAD has a policy of not disclosing individual students' marks and would not divulge performance statistics by nationality. However, the dean's list of the top 10 per cent of the class is made public. Dominating last semester's list were the Dutch, with 12 per cent of the scholars represented, followed closely by Indians, Germans and Italians, with 10 per cent each. There was only one Canadian and two Americans on the list.

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To sum up: the professors' view of Canadians is that, although we tend to be more confident and more accepting of others, we do not necessarily bring a unique viewpoint to the classroom. In an international school like INSEAD, the biggest determinants of success and differentiation for Canadians is our individual motivation to learn and succeed.

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