New faces in the second-year MBA class

Sungyunkwan University Graduate School of Business students spend their final semester at MIT Sloan

Sungyunkwan University Graduate School of Business students who are spending their final semester at MIT Sloan, along with MIT Sloan Senior Associate Dean Alan White, Program Manager Eleanor Chin, Professor Michael Cusumano, and Jennifer Mapes, manager of the MIT Sloan Visiting Fellows Program Photo: SKK GSB students who are spending their final semester at MIT Sloan, along with MIT Sloan Senior Associate Dean Alan White, Professor Michael Cusumano, faculty chair of MIT-SKK GSB Project, International Programs Manager Eleanor Chin, Visiting Fellows Program Director Jennifer Mapes, and SKK GSB Professor Matthew Rodgers, Spring/Summer '07 International Faculty Fellow.

In 2003, MIT Sloan and Sungyunkwan University Graduate School of Business (SKK GSB) in Seoul signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together for eight years to develop a new world-class, English-language MBA program at SKK GSB. The goal of the program is to develop leaders of Asia-based global companies. SKK GSB admitted its first class of 34 in the fall of 2004. One-third are international.

This spring, 12 of those 34 students are spending their final semester here at MIT Sloan. The rest are participating in other U.S. MBA programs.

For the six SKK GSBs at MIT Sloan who are not native Koreans, the opportunity to spend time in Cambridge is yet another entry on resumes already studded with international experiences. For the six Koreans, these months at MIT are an essential first step toward international careers that will lead them to tours of duty and increasing responsibility through Asia and Eastern Europe and possibly Europe and the Western hemisphere.

When they graduate from SKK GSB this summer, six will go to work for Samsung Group, Korea's biggest conglomerate, which selected them through a competition held in countries throughout Asia and Eastern Europe, is paying for their education, and has assured them of employment for the next several years. Most of the others are sponsored by other leading Korean corporations, including Samsung, under similar arrangements.

‘A rich environment’

The students say they are having an amazing time at MIT Sloan — and across MIT. At MIT Sloan, they are carrying full course loads across a wide range of topics, including leadership, international management, marketing, information technology, managerial communication, system dynamics, disruptive technologies, entrepreneurship, negotiation, corporate finance, and mergers & acquisitions. Four are fitting in classes at Harvard (three at the business school, one at the Kennedy School) as well.

Many are also participating in club activities and going to C-functions (“a great experience to feel a totally different culture”). During lunch hours and into the evenings, they attend CEO lectures at MIT Sloan and all over MIT.

“Meeting so many people, hearing their opinions and experience, is major,” says one student. “SKK GSB is so small. This is enormous. Sloan has resources that aren't available in Korea — professors with different styles, different kinds of classes. It is a rich environment.”

Some are also making time for sports, from volleyball pickups and tournaments to daily tennis games. And they have learned their way to favorite restaurants and neighborhoods in Boston, a city that reminds the ones who have been to Europe (or come from there) a lot of European cities.

During Spring Break and on weekends, some of them have traveled and will travel more — to Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, New York, Washington, and the New England ski slopes. When school lets out, two are planning a six-week fly/drive blitz from Mexico City and Acapulco to Alaska.

New perspectives

Certainly one important reason that eleven of the twelve SKK GSB students can take such full advantage of opportunities here is that they have already been hired by their sponsors. (The twelfth, who is self-sponsored, is looking for a job.)

They don't have to do much housekeeping either, because there's always something to eat in the Hospitality Room at the Marriott Residence Inn in Kendall Square, where most are staying. The location, just a few minutes' walk from MIT and the T, is ideal. They can get to where they are going fast — and they do.

Like second-year MBAs everywhere, the SKK GSBs have found the schoolwork this final term less onerous: “There was more pressure at SKK; we spent more time studying for final exams. Here, we write more papers, we have more time.”

For the native Koreans in the group, who have had little experience speaking English outside of school, finding their way around MIT the first week was “confusing.” For the non-Koreans, who take classes in Korean when they are in Seoul but whose common language is English, coming to Cambridge has been a comfortable move. Says one student: “Here we understand everything because it is in English.”

At first, the diversity of MIT Sloan students and faculty came as a shock. Now it is giving them new perspectives.

“We thought we were fully diversified, ” says one student. “But here, because MIT Sloan is so large, there's more diversification. The professors and students from other countries give us unique points of view.”

Despite its small size, SKK GSB, which will soon enroll its third MBA class, draws students from many Asian and Eastern European countries, including China, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, India, Ukraine, and Romania.

‘Difficult to leave’

As much as the SKK GSB students appreciate the opportunities that MIT Sloan is giving them, they are also sensitive to differences that do not translate so directly into benefits. These differences are most apparent during case discussions in class.

Says one student: “We're all accustomed to HBS cases. But over 90 percent of them deal with American companies, and Western approaches are not always applicable to Asian cases. Corporate governance issues are very Western. Maybe 30 percent of the ethics cases aren't applicable. Asian culture and management are different. Some things would work in Asia. Others would face some resistance.”

The flip side of this experience is that the SKK GSB students have found MIT Sloan students genuinely interested in what's going on in Asia, indeed anywhere else in the world. “In our Cross-Cultural Leadership course, a lot of countries were represented and everyone spoke out about their nation.”

One SKK GSB student who actually arrived at MIT Sloan ahead of the spring semester so that she could take part in IAP probably speaks for all of her classmates when she says, “I made friends in the first day. Students here are incredibly free. It's going to be very difficult to leave in May.”

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