It was 6:30am on a snowy Friday morning in Montreal. My wife Sarah and I had just been woken up in a very enthusiastic fashion by our 3.5-year-old daughter Mathilde. I looked at my phone and burst out laughing. “Congratulations, we are delighted to confirm that you have been awarded an Oxford Saïd-HEC Montreal Scholarship to the value of £53,000.”
A few weeks earlier, I had learned about the existence of this newly created scholarship, funded by Jean Chagnon, an alumnus of both HEC Montréal and the University of Oxford (MPhil, Management Studies, 1973). He had just created the scholarship to give the opportunity to HEC Montréal graduates to pursue a postgraduate degree in Oxford, and he had initiated a similar fund in Montreal, providing the exact mirror opportunity to Oxford graduates.
The idea of studying in Oxford had been on my radar for a few years already. I am trained as a classical singer and co-founded the pop acappella/comedy/boy-band group QW4RTZ, with which I toured for four years. The experience of being on the road was thrilling but exhausting, and I realised that I much preferred the work happening behind the scenes than on stage. I enrolled in the Masters in Arts Management programme at HEC Montréal and quickly became involved in the digital transformation of the cultural sector in Quebec, at a time where arts institutions became increasingly aware of the potential of leveraging their customer data for marketing and philanthropic purposes. My work was fascinating (and colleagues in the arts are truly awesome), but I was also becoming disenchanted about the way cultural organisations typically engage with their communities. I strongly believe that they can and should be forums for the most important conversations of our time, but I saw too few organisations embracing this role as their core mission. How can the business model of cultural companies be changed to better serve the community? To become more efficient and impactful? To become less short-sighted and more innovative? Pursuing an MBA, especially in a context as culturally diverse, intellectually rich and impact-driven as Saïd Business School, seemed like the ideal way to explore these questions.
Truth be told, I had known for a few months already that I was accepted to Saïd Business School’s MBA programme, but I had delayed my admission until the announcement of scholarships, hoping to receive one. My wife and I had explored various financing options, but there was no realistic way for us to uproot our family to Oxford for one year. And all of a sudden, on this cold Canadian Friday morning, our Oxford dream became much closer to a reality.
From then on, our evenings were filled with Oxford-related questions. “Which neighbourhood should we live in? What’s the best school for our daughter? I keep reading about having to pick a college: what is a college anyway?!?” We decided that we would sell our house, to keep our options open post-MBA, and we also got married in our living room a few weeks before moving out. All in all, a big spring.
And one day, I received another email. “Dear Mr. Roy, Mr. Jean Chagnon would love to meet you.” On the day of our scheduled meeting, I walked to the HEC Montréal café with sweaty palms and a pounding heart. I frankly did not know where to start to express the gratitude for such generous support. Right away, we started a fascinating conversation that has never stopped since, filled with his fond memories of his time in Oxford and passionate exchanges about the responsibilities of business leaders in today’s world. I was assigned to his former college, St Edmund (Teddy) Hall, to my great pleasure, and he facilitated my preparation for our big move overseas by connecting me with Saïd Business School and Teddy Hall staff.
As I am now about halfway through the MBA programme, I realise the incredible privilege of studying and living here. Every day, I get to exchange ideas with extremely inspiring colleagues from all over the world (64 nationalities are represented in our cohort) and to hear from the world-leading experts who are teaching us. It has been said many times, but the biggest challenge of a year as a student in Oxford is choosing between a never-ending suite of fascinating experiences. As I am currently writing this in Teddy Hall’s majestic library, located in the 12th-century Saint-Peter-in-the-East Church, I cannot help but feel deep gratitude for the scholarship initiated by Jean Chagnon, without whom a year in Oxford would still be a dream.
Some of you maybe wonder how my wife Sarah and our daughter Mathilde are adjusting. Mathilde is also incredibly stimulated by her school where she is learning, in addition to reading and writing, that the word “pants” means very different things in Canada and in the UK. We also found a wonderful community of families in the MBA programme with whom we are developing long-lasting friendships. And my wife Sarah, well… she’s almost 38 weeks pregnant and we are expecting our second daughter any minute now.
I better go home and get some sleep before our world turns upside down once again. This year, as if it had not been life-changing enough already, only keeps getting better! I’ll let you know how we’re doing in a few months!Back to top of article