Vision 2020: How to make the most out of your first year

29th May 2020: My first year at IESE has just concluded. Much has transpired since my last reflection in December 2019. I added several experiences to my backpack, some I dreamed of and others, unintentionally and maybe even unwillingly at first:

  • Secured my Amazon Summer internship – I recall writing exactly this as a career goal in my admissions essay.
  • Adapted to changing situations – COVID, online learning, virtual internship, moving home to Singapore for a couple of months
  • Not seen my team D7 or the Class of 2021 since March 9th – As someone who enjoys meeting and interacting with others, this was a challenge. I learnt to nurture relationships in a different way.
  • Participated in amazing events – Multi-Culti, Section D Girls Dinner, Pizza Party (Fun game of eating Oreos using only my face) and held my first dinner party for 10 (never cooked for anyone other than myself till then)
  • Immersed in Spanish culture – flamenco, amazing food like churros and tapas, calcotada
  • Thoroughly enjoyed connecting with prospective students about my experience
  • What I had planned for has changed – As an example, I was dead-set on going to Berkeley on exchange and did everything to meet the requirements. With COVID, I decided against going through with this, to spend more time in Spain.

I have grown professionally and academically tremendously since starting the MBA. I will focus this post on the ‘softer’ aspects of this growth.

People: Lean into them

What I cherish the most: People. People that I have leaned on and continue to do so. I encourage you to reach out, regardless of whether you’ve spoken to these people before. Diverse perspectives are important; it’s one thing that fuels personal growth. Push yourself here.

If you’ve interacted with me, D7 comes up naturally. My team has been my rock: our hangouts, funny videos we’ve shot, check-ins, randomly meeting to chat about nothing and everything under the sun and conquering work in a systematic way. There’s a lot personally and professionally that I took away. I have an enriched view on working, collaborating and ideating. What I know: We will always be there for one another. I know that with absolute confidence.

I reflected on how our team worked so well together, and here’s what helped us.

1) Share your personal and professional challenges and be unafraid to reach out:
– You never know how they can help you whether that’s sharing their experiences, helping you process emotions or connecting you to others.
– You might be insecure initially and pretend you have everything under control. No one really knows what we’re doing. Remember you are here because you have got that something. Trust yourself and the process.

2) Managing the workload together:
– When deciding on project divisions, play to the strengths of the individuals in your team. Do stretch yourself to work on projects out of your comfort zone. Do what scares you. Here you learn from the experts in your team.
– Pay it back by taking the lead on areas of your previous work experience or a passion point even if you’ve never formally worked in it. Your passion motivates the team!

3) Build a bond that has nothing to do with work:
– How well do you really know each other? The nuances, quirks, personalities?
– Can you read what is being said even when nothing’s actually been said?
– Understand their culture, food and lives before IESE.
– If you genuinely like each other, you enjoy working together. Build that.

4) Be open:
– You did not come to IESE to do the same things or be with the same people. Take it all in stride. Keep things in perspective.
– Share your personal and professional goals so the team can help you get there. People are more accommodating and understanding that you assume. Build the trust.

5) Find your anchor – What do you want as a team:
– What’s important? The grades? Social life? Career focus? A balanced approach?
– Knowing what you want as a team helps anchor you all throughout the year.
– We knew we would never lose each other in pursuit of a grade or our professional goals. It was important to give our best academically and professionally, but also to support each other in whatever way needed to enjoy this experience. D7 is exactly that!

Cases will always be there. The luxury of knowing people at a deep level will not arrive very often. You’ll remember these moments much much more in years to come.

Pause. Breathe. Live in the moment. Reflect

It’s easy to go at 1000 miles an hour and get caught up in the entire MBA structure. Don’t forget your original goals – the ones that led you to this in the first place. Remember how excited you were to begin this journey. Sure, your goals evolved through the first year, but re-connect and ask yourself: What do I want? Is it different? Do I need to re-focus?

It is important to check in with yourself every few months or at milestone settings (end of 1st term, end of 1st year, end of internship etc). Do what works best for you.

These questions helped me remain grounded:

  • What do I want from the MBA?
  • Where do I see myself in 10-15 years (holistically: personal, professional, lifestyle)
  • What can I do now to help me get there? (people, skills, hobbies, mindset)
  • How am I feeling right now? (Is something worrying or overwhelming me?)

Choose activities that you want to get involved in and actually enjoy. Sometimes you’ll over-think experiences. Stop. If you want to do something, go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? (a helpful question to ask sometimes).

There will be days when you don’t want to do anything. That’s fine.

Talk to your peers. Go for a run. Eat tapas. Do something that is out of your usual routine, even if it’s only for that day. It helps put things back in perspective.

Be kind to yourself. We all need off days to disconnect and just be. And it’s okay!

Rise up to challenges, which come in many forms

The easiest thing to do is complain about how situations changed, how unfair things are, how it is not the way you imagined it turning out. As COVID already proved, things change overnight and you have to run with it.

What impressed me is how my peers have risen up to the changes and made the most of it. I give a massive shout out to IESE’s Start-Up & Entrepreneurship Club that has gone head and shoulders above to organize recruitment sessions, engaging speaker series and its first fully virtual Escape Confinement Hackathon. One speaker’s event that was highly lauded was the opportunity to chat with Iren Reznikov from Cisco’s M&A and Investments on the innovation and venture capital system in Israel and Spain.

Start asking yourself:

  • What can I do given the circumstance?
  • How can I make the most of this time?

This is something I want to do even more, going into my second year.

If you fail along the way, that’s fine – the best part is that you tried. It’s important to try, try many things you want to and can handle.


On a Personal level:

Not everything will go your way, classes might not turn out how you expected, the internship you land might not be the one you originally dreamed, or something else comes up. You must adapt to the changes which occur and know something good comes out of everything. If it has not yet been good, then it’s not the end yet.

At a School level:

IESE has been extremely flexible in the options given to help deal with the uncertainty: flexibility to defer the entire 3rd term, a partial deferment, the internship in the fall and so on. I commend them for working endlessly to provide as much flexibility as possible, regardless of the number of people signing up for each option. I cannot be more grateful for that.

This aside, there’s a lot you can do now that you are in school. Use the flexibility to design a roadmap of things you’d want to do. This is important so time does not pass you by, without you realising. It does go past in a whirlwind!

If I could re-do my first year, 100% I would. It has been a great experience all around.

Can’t wait to start Year 2 with my classmates!

Enjoy the ride, take everything in and keep yourself grounded. Let go of your assumptions, unlearn, relearn and immerse yourself wholeheartedly! Your attitude is what determines what you get out of and what you give to this experience.

To IESE’s incoming Class of 2022, welcome to this incredible journey!

Pursue your dream MBA! Take these next steps today:

Divya Gundlapalli View more

MBA Class of 2021

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.