Intersecting Minds: Education, Business and Technology at the North Carolina State Jenkins Graduate School of Management

First Day of Class

August 31, 2009
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It’s that time of year again. After the end of an amazing introduction week capped by a truly international formal dinner on Saturday night, we are ready for the first week of classes. As I write this, I’m sitting inside Dalgas Have, one of the four buildings I mentioned in my last post. In a little less than 45 minutes I’ll be heading to my first lesson here at CBS.

The classes I’m taking this semester are:

  • Corporate Finance
  • Strategic Risk Management (Global Derivatives)
  • International Logistics Management
  • Innovation Leadership

Earlier today, I stopped by the bookstore in Solberg Plads to buy my first round of textbooks. Needless to say, the Strategic Risk Management class looks like it’s going to be the true beast of the group. The material looks difficult, and even worse, the class is held in seven sessions: four 3-hour blocks on Fridays and three 6-hour blocks on Saturdays. Yuck. But I do know the class will be worth it. I’ve always wanted to understand the financial markets and the economic crisis better, and this class will be a key to that knowledge.

I’m also excited for my other classes, Corp. Finance and Logistics Management because they fit into my two concentration areas, and Innovation Leadership because it should help me learn how to think more like an entrepreneur.

As an added bonus today, I finally got my cell phone topped up and ready to work. Unlike the US, the Danish cell phones that the students use here have a pay as you go policy. I’m hoping I can make the $100 I spent today last at least a couple months. I really haven’t been using my phone much here because I really haven’t needed to. With so many planned activities during the first two weeks, we all knew where we were going and where we’d be. But now that classes have started, having a cell phone has become necessary again. Those two weeks of freedom from calling/texting sure were nice though.


Introduction Week Highlights

August 27, 2009
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I’ve been a bit behind in updating the blog this past week because there has been another whirlwind of activity the last few days. Instead of covering every detail, here are a few highlights in no particular order:

Danish Culture and Economic System: We attended a one and a half hour lecture on several aspects of Danish culture on Tuesday morning. The most interesting takeaway from my perspective was the fact that the Danes have one of the lowest income inequality percentages in the world. In other words, they have a very large middle class where everyone shares the wealth. This happens because the Danes have tax rates well over 60%, resulting in a very strong federal government who manages everything from the education system to health care to public transportation.

And it’s highly effective. The subways are clean and run on time. The campus is beautiful, people are very happy with their health coverage. It’s a vastly different approach from America, and a highly enjoyable environment to live in.

Bicycles: One of those highly enjoyable activities is bike riding and walking everywhere. Because Copenhagen is such a small city, you can bike from end to end in under an hour and a half. I take my bike everywhere now: to campus, shopping, going out at night, dinners with friends. When I’m not riding, I walk. It’s a lifestyle I could certainly get into back in the States, but there are almost no truly bike friendly cities. It’s a shame too considering how much more exercise people get, and how much less damage they do to the environment in terms of carbon emissions.

The Campus and Schedule Nightmare: CBS has a wonderful campus. There are four main buildings, and they are architectural wonders in comparison to NC State’s all red-brick campus. Unfortunately, managing 15,000 students in four primary buildings makes for an administrative nightmare. The scheduling and class planning is extremely unorganized and creates a headache for a large portion of the students. Classes are scheduled on top of each other, and classrooms are constantly changing. Some people were dropped out of classes due to overbooking students in classes. It’s almost completely up to the student to find courses that fit their needs and their schedules. Many of the exchange students, including me, aren’t accustomed to this approach.

But it is pretty. Below is a picture of the interior of Solberg Plads:

The entrance of Solberg Plads

The entrance of Solberg Plads

Classes!: Next week I start my first classes. Even though I’m not taking all the classes I had originally intended to take due to scheduling conflicts, I’m excited. The schedule and approach to education is vastly different from America, and I’ll have more to say about that over the coming weeks.

Finally, after 10 days of meeting a few hundred people, absorbing a new culture, shopping for a new life, and running all over Copenhagen, I’m a bit exhausted. I tell people I talk to that 10 days has felt like 100 because of everything that’s happening. Tonight I’m learning Danish Folk Dancing, and tomorrow getting yet another tour of Copenhagen. It’s been a whirlwind so far, but I’m enjoying the hell out of it.

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Biking Copenhagen

August 24, 2009
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I’ve been meaning to write this post for almost a day now, but I’ve barely had time to sit, let alone blog. On Saturday, I managed to complete a real round of grocery shopping, buy a new cell phone for only $50, and I picked up a used bike as well. The bike has been nothing short of great, and I’m learning why so many Copenhageners use them to get around.

First of all, the city has built large bike lanes on every major road and most side streets. These lanes are easily wide enough for 2 bikes to ride side by side. The city is also flat, and it’s cool enough temperature-wise to make riding a comfortable experience. Riding is also a great form of exercise, and it explains in part why Danish obesity rates are nearly 2.5 times less than their American counterparts, (~11% in Denmark vs 26% in the United States).

Last night, three of us pedaled from our dorm to Christiania to catch a reggae concert. We didn’t bring a map, figuring we could just ask the locals along the way for directions. While we ended up making several wrong turns, it didn’t really matter because the three of us were so captivated by the ride and the city. We rode down new streets and ended up by these large castles downtown before finally heading in the right direction and making our destination.

This week is another busy week of orientation. 500+ more exchange students arrived this weekend, so we’ll have another huge round of names and faces to learn while also trying to get our class schedules figured out, books purchased, and getting around.

Friday Afternoon Thoughts

August 21, 2009
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I finished my first “class” here in Denmark today, a Crash Course in the Danish language, basic vocabulary and conversational phrases. While Danish resembles English grammatically, mastering pronunciation is extremely difficult. There are three additional vowel sounds and the language isn’t spoken anything like it’s written, so it’s hard to gather phonetic clues from the words themselves. Nevertheless, it’s fun to go out and practice with friends and try to use some simple phrases with the locals. And it’s always fun to learn cool phrases in a foreign language, whether it’s Danish, French, German or Korean.

I’ve also had a chance to get to know more of the classmates here. While we’re a very diverse group in terms of age, background, and culture, we share a common desire: experiencing a culture different from our own and learning from each other. It’s almost surreal to think only 250 exchange students are here, and another 500 will arrive this weekend. And that’s on top of 14,000 local students who start classes with us next week.

The past 5 days have been intensely stimulating, trying to learn a new language, trying to learn everyone’s name, and trying to assimilate into a completely new environment. I’m looking forward to a break in the action this weekend before true orientation starts next week and classes the following.

As they would say here: Hej hej! Har en godt weekend.

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Christiansha’vn and The International Buffet

August 20, 2009

On Tuesday afternoon we went on a tour of the international free zone, Christiania. What a place. Christiania is located on an old WWII base near the heart of Denmark. It’s huge, at least 75-100 acres, and the grounds are beautiful.

Last night, the school hosted an international buffet where the exchange students made food from their home countries, and a winner was announced at the end of the event. Unfortunately, we didn’t have an oven for baking and lacking such a crucial element hurt our chances for a prize. Our fare? Pancakes, Doritos, a bottle of coke, fried sausage and hashbrowns. Pretty weak.

Meanwhile, the Danish, French, German, Dutch, English, Singaporean, and Korean groups brought their A game. There were delcious crepes, sausages, bangors and mash, spicy curries, and even a seafood pancake. But the winning prize went to the lone representative of Mexico. He made enchiladas and brought one of the finest bottles of tequila Mexico has to offer.

Yesterday was also an important milestone because I was able to pick up a used bicycle for very cheap, 150 KR (or about $30). The bicycle culture is huge here, and the city planners have incentivized their use by creating huge bike lanes for riders. Since Copenhagen is so flat and relatively small (~ 25 square miles), it’s very convenient to just hop on the bike and ride to wherever you’re going.

The Danish “Hygge”

August 18, 2009
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Yesterday we began our first day of Danish language instruction, and I’ll have more to say about that later, but the real highlight of the day was the Danish “Hygge” (pronounced “Hugh-ge”). The Danes are a friendly, social people, and they wanted to introduce the exchange students to this concept right off the bat.

After packing 250+ exchange students into a room way too small for all of us, the Hygge was described as the essence of Danish culture. It is somewhat related to the English term “coziness” but that’s not it exactly. It’s also somewhat related to the American concept of hanging out and drinking beer with your friends, but that’s not it exactly, either. Put the two together though, and you’re pretty close, and that’s what happened last night. After an entertaining sketch detailing some aspects of Danish culture (the huge emphasis on bicycling, love of chocolate and the generally direct nature of the people), the introductory team announced that it was happy hour at the bar outside (yes, there is a bar on campus). The bar was serving 2 beers for 25 kroner (roughly $5).

Needless to say, we had a very cozy, Hyggey time for the next couple hours. Then giant Danish hot dogs were served outside, and we all had a nice meal before walking back to the dorms to try and catch up on some sleep and recover from jet lag.

Tonight, we’ll be heading to Christiana, an international “free zone” which I’ll have more to say about as well a bit later this week.

Arrival and Initial Impressions

August 17, 2009

Godmorgen fra Kobenhavn! As I type these words I’m looking out the window of my dorm room at Finsensvej Avenue. A steady stream of bicyclists and cars are streaming by in front of several large brick buildings with slanted tile rooves. It’s a beautiful morning here. The sun is out and there’s a nice breeze blowing through the streets.

I arrived at my residence, Kathrine Kollegiet, yesterday at around 2:00 pm local time. Most of my day was spent unpacking and beginning to meet the other exchange students in my residence hall. Although my roommate isn’t here yet, I’ve already met people from the following countries: Australia, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Korea, Canada, and even two other Americans. Everyone is very friendly and excited to be here for the next 4.5 months. Most people speak English quite well, although the Spaniards are already asking us (Americans) for help with their English. I’m sure we’ll all have a lot to learn from each other.

As for the accomodations themselves, they are more than adequate (and they should be for what I paid!). The bathroom and kitchen are hilariously small by American standards, but the room itself is a good size for two people, and the view out the window is lovely. There is a large backlot with a basketball court and plenty of benches for eating and hanging out while the weather is nice.

I still need to buy a power converter device so I can plug in the video camera to upload some video and pictures. I’ll try to get some video coverage of Kobenhavn a bit later this week because the next two or three days will be very busy. Just today, I’m going to class from 9-12, picking up a student ID card, purchasing groceries and other necessities, attending our first formal information session, and capping the day off with a Danish Hygge, a cultural event featuring games, entertainers, and snacks. Sounds interesting, to say the least.

And I’m Back!

August 14, 2009
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Hello World…

I am back in the drivers seat blogging after an amazing summer in South San Francisco working for Genentech. I’ll have a video quickly summarizing my experience posted a bit later today.

Needless to say, it’s time for another big transition. I’m leaving for Copenhagen, Denmark in a little more than 24 hours. I’ll be chronicling the experience on this blog, complete with stories, pics and videos of my time there. I’ll also be trying to blog more about economic and business issues from an international experience.

I’m also looking forward to more guest blogging appearances from other b-schoolers back at North Carolina State. It’s going to be a tremendous experience and I can’t wait to share it all with you.