University of Virginia undergrads that return to one of UVA’s graduate schools are referred to as a Double Hoo. I think there should be a special name for those of us who have spent a disproportionately large amount of our lives in Virginia. I wasn’t able to think of a cool name but wanted the name of my blog to reflect my love for Virginia and hence the title – Musings of an Adopted Virginian. I lived in India until I was eighteen but went to college at Washington and Lee, just an hour from UVA. I also lived in Arlington, VA for three years before moving to Charlottesville.
With my love for Virginia established and explanation for my blog’s name out of the way, I’d like to use this first blog post to share my experiences this past summer. There will be ample time over the next two years for me to write about what’s going on in C’ville but I think it’s important for prospective/matriculating students, particularly the “traditional applicants,” to do something totally radical in the months/year before starting their MBA. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to live out a dream, travel the world, work somewhere exotic, basically just throw caution to the wind and do something you might not get the opportunity to do once you have “settled down” after b-school. This summer experience might even change all your post-MBA plans and introduce you to something that might become your life’s calling.
While working at a think tank in DC, I used to volunteer with a community development financial institution where I helped manage their international portfolio. This experience piqued my interest in microfinance and I decided to spend three months before b-school getting on-the-ground experience at a microfinance institution, TPC, in Cambodia.
I landed at the international airport at Phnom Penh, the capital city of the Kingdom of Cambodia, on April 27. The first thing to strike me about the country was the people. Cambodia has a rough past, with the Khmer Rouge that resulted in the death of thousands of people in the 1970’s. While there isn’t an evil dictator killing everything that moves any more, people’s struggles are far from over with Cambodia still ranking among the poorest nations in the world. However, what was amazing is that none of this has crushed the spirit of the people who remain cheery and bright-eyed.
The technical description of my job at TPC was to lead the development of deposit products (savings and fixed deposit accounts) since TPC currently only lends money to its clients but does not accept savings. I had the opportunity to visit villages to understand the needs/wants to clients during focus groups and then design the implementation of the same. My finance and business skills were being used to provide thousands of Cambodians with the opportunity for a better future. The summer definitely left me with a lot to ponder in terms of my post-MBA career goal.
But the summer wasn’t just about the work. I experienced one of the most fascinating cultures of the world first-hand. This included several tuk-tuk rides with my driver driving on the wrong side of the road, traditional Khmer food, chats with the many monks practicing religious asceticism, being a part of the Queen Mother’s birthday celebration and spending a day with people that live in the floating village.
I could go on and on but you I’m sure you can tell that it was an enthralling summer. Darden is going to keep you extremely busy with cases, recruiting, networking and much more for two years. Use your summer (or longer, if possible) wisely to get out of your comfort zone and experience a different culture. It is definitely worth it.