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Sarel Migael van Baalen

Degree:

MBA

Location:

South Africa

Industry:

Engineering

Year:

2019-20

By Sarel Migael van Baalen

MBA classmates: different, but the same.

One of the strengths of the Oxford MBA is the diversity of the cohort and how this diversity is embraced. This was a major consideration for me in applying at Oxford and now, after just one month at Saïd Business School, I already experience the tremendous value of this. The 2019-2020 cohort consists of 329 students and represents 64 nationalities, meaning that roughly every fifth classmate, is from a different country.

As a South African, I am familiar with the challenges and wonderful opportunities tied to diversity – or so I thought. Being part of an MBA cohort that has such rich diversity, is stretching my thinking about my way of doing, my culture and my country in ways I could not imagine before joining the programme.

The diversity of our cohort inherently means a difference in opinion and when this plays out through our frequent robust class discussions, initial conflict arises. It may transpire that a certain business strategy is completely suitable in one part of the world and a non-starter in another part of the world. Perhaps certain a customer engagement is appropriate in India and South Africa, but not in Singapore, Japan or Egypt.

The ‘conflict’ predominantly occurs in our thoughts, when we realise that our ways of doing in our countries or companies are not effective, ethical or just. To me, this constant confrontation has radically changed my perspectives on business back home and in a global context. To me, the greatest part is to enjoy this rich learning experience in an uplifting environment.

While my classmates are very different from me in so many aspects, we have a couple of fundamentals in common, one of which is the commitment we have all made to learn from one another. We are all taking a year off from our careers, leaving behind what is familiar to us and investing our time and money in the Oxford MBA, and therefore to a large extent, in each other.

I will reflect on this facet of my MBA experience again in following blog posts.

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