Launched, and ready to go.

Today was the last day of our three-week Launch, that ended on a high note with a drinks and dance reception. The class decided to shift the party outside of the school, while I excused myself to some quiet time in my room. As I reflect on the three weeks gone, my mind is getting overwhelmed trying to register all that I have experienced so far – met 350 future friends from 54 countries on the first day; interacted with an Olympic silver medalist (Said alumni); spent an evening with Dinosaurs; attended live Oxford Union debate (bucketlist item checked off); mastered an African hymn (also shamelessly sang the same outside the Oxford Union at midnight yesterday!); discussed the complexity of Brazilian indirect taxes with a stranger over dinner; pitched a business idea to the American Ambassador to UK; learnt punting from a high school student at Oxford; pondered over how a group of business students can help make a significant social impact– and many more.

My motivation behind joining an MBA program was much beyond the academics and recruitment. The idea was to spend a year on introspection and self-development, to push my boundaries to learn something new each day and to get a broader perspective of life. Three weeks of the Launch, apart from acclimatising us to the course, staff and the place also taught us to introspect and reflect. A few activities during the Launch made us sit back and think about why we do what we do, why are we here and what we hope to achieve. These are questions my mind often wonders about, or rather, wanders around. It would be unfair to say that I have found my answers already (as a classmate rightly joked about at the end of one such session “I find it hard to talk to myself!”), but I did find the sessions extremely useful in identifying and understanding various aspects of my personality to be able to leverage my strengths and work on my weaknesses going forward. 

Dean Tufano in his keynote on the first day mentioned that joining Oxford was a choice we made for ourselves. But I also strongly relate to what Dr. Kurt April pointed out to us during discussion on Leading from own Diverse Narrative – that it is a privilege to be here among the brightest and most talented minds from all across the world. Coming from a developing economy with an experience level below average in the class, I find it intellectually exciting to look through the narratives of others from the other end of the telescope that I have been accustomed to. What strikes me the most about my batch is, regardless of the personal accomplishments, the humility and enthusiasm with which each one of them comes with to learn and collaborate. The diversity in my class is incredible – teachers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, ex-servicemen, models, economists, journalist – which will make for a truly enriching experience. 

Before coming to Oxford, there was just one thing every body I spoke to from the school had to say to me, which is that time runs at lightening speed here and before you know it is over. It has been three weeks since I came here, which in hindsight would mean that roughly about 6% of my MBA is over. That really does hit hard, doesn’t it?

If the Launch is any bit an indication of how the coming year is going to shape up, I am excited to be here.

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Lets do this!

The day for which countdown begun 290 days back (literally), is now hardly 11 hours away! I’m going to take a moment to let that sink in.

I moved in to my accommodation at Rewley Abbey Court last night and my flatmate and I are happy with the location of my flat. The view from our bedrooms is of the magnificent school campus, and on the other side our living room makes for a nice hangout place with the Castle Mill stream flowing by. It feels good to have a nice cozy place to come back to at the end of the day.

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I took some time out from my unpacking to meet a few batchmates and also grab a quick dinner with some of them at a joint closeby. From the looks of it, I have a fantastic batch with a great mix of people, almost everyone I met so far has been warm and welcoming. It was great to finally have faces to all the names I had been interacting with over social media in the past.I was quickly filled in with stories of the previous evening’s invasion of the the Turf Tavern by the batchmates (a rite of passage for the incoming MBA class, I gather). This evening I also got a chance to attend the introductory session on the Oxford Women Leadership (OWL) community by the outgoing chairpersons and a co-founding alumna. The room was abuzz with women (and a decent representation from the men as well) from diverse backgrounds. There is so much to learn from each person and her story –  one thing I am incredibly proud of for being in an international cohort.

I went for dinner to Jericho Tavern with an alumnus who also happens to be a senior from my undergrad college. It was interesting to hear about his experience of the program and the university as a whole. One thing that I strongly agreed with him was on making a conscious effort to explore the university and get involved with activities outside of the business school that interest me.

While walking back towards my accommodation, I was mentioning to him about how awed I am of the place and intend to make the most of the time that I have here. He patiently heard me out and what he said to me in the end left me thinking about it for long. He told me – exactly in a year from today, you will look back and realise how it would seem like it was only yesterday that it all began, yet you will find a completely different person in you.

If the first day is any indication of the times to come, I can assuredly say that this is going to be a phenominal year. Said Business School, Class of 2016 – let’s do this!

Tier 4 Student Visa (from India)

Back to hometown after a short trip to New Delhi for my visa appointment. Whoever tells you that the toughest part gets over once you get an admit is SO wrong! Either that or he never needed to apply for visa.

The application is a bit of a task in itself. For UK Visa application in India, unlike visa app for USA, on the day of your appointment you submit at the application centre what you feel is your best prepared application and then can only wait for weeks in dreaded anticipation before you hear from embassy about their decision. Almost like an encore of your B school application!

For the benefit for first timers, I’m outlining the process to be followed to apply for Tier 4 Student (General) Visa (Make sure to diligently go through the detailed guidelines laid out here on GOV.UK  and here on Oxford’s site)

  • You will need to register at Visa4UK with your e-mail address. The application can be filled in multiple sessions until submission, post which you will not be allowed to make changes to your application. Make sure to keep saving from time to time, else you’ll have to fill in the details all over again, which can get quite frustrating.
  • The application itself would not take more than 30 minutes if you have all documents handy. You’ll need to fill in your personal details as per your passport (including that of your parents), travel history from past 10 years, education details, and declaration of maintenance funds.
  • Fill in CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance Acceptance for Studies) details provided by the University. Note that the CAS document should not be issued before 3 months prior to the start of your course. Also, the CAS has a unique number that can be used only once. In an unlikely event that your visa application gets rejected, you will need to request for a fresh CAS number to reapply. The document also specifies details on sponsor university’s license, course of study, documents used to assess your qualification as well as fees due towards the course. You will need all these details to fill in the application accurately.
  • Provide information on source of funds – loan letter, personal savings, funds from parents etc. This includes any remaining tuition fees and living costs (minimum 820 GBP per month for Oxford).
  • Select Biometric Resident Permit (BRP) collection centre. Once your visa is issued, you are given a 30 day vignette (from your travel date) that you need to show to collect your resident permit. Oxford has made provision to collect the BRP from the campus during orientation week, but since I am flying in earlier and BRP needs to be collected within 10 days of flying I would need to go to the post office to do the same. 
  • Submit application and book appointment slot. This will be followed with payments to be made towards Immigration Health Surcharge IHS (225 GBP) and Visa processing fees. IHS payment varies depending on length and type of visa, and can be calculated using this link.

Documents to carry along  for Visa appointment :

  • Passport
  • Latest photograph according to UK visa guidelines 
  • University admission letter 
  • CAS mail from the university 
  • Proof of funds 
  • IHS reference number 
  • Tuberculosis test report 
  • Previous degree (based on which CAS was issued) 

It’s a smooth process, gets over in about an hour. Make sure to not carry any eatables in your bag (yours truly did and had to grudgingly offer them to the security). You’re allotted a token number and while you wait for your turn you need to fill a couple of forms with your personal details and list of documents being submitted. 

If you want your documents to be sent back to your home in lieu of personal pick up, you can request for courier after paying certain amount (flatly refused for my state, why VFS why???

Once your token number is called out, you move to the allotted counter and submit your documents. The staff will go through the bundle and ask you a couple of questions to confirm your identity. Make sure you submit all documents in original to be on the safer side (recently heard of a friend whose visa got rejected because she submitted a notarised copy of her degree certificate?!!). 

You are then proceeded for the biometric test and a short video interview. My interview was warm and friendly. The interviewer asked me a few questions about my background and reason behind pursuing MBA and choosing Oxford as my preferred place of study. I assume the interview is done to ascertain your identity and that you are fit to study in the UK with regards to your command over English and study plans. 

Barring a tiny moment of panic where the staff pointed out to me that I should’ve carried a No Objection Letter from my parents since I was showing funds from a joint account, the process was extremely smooth for me. It had not occurred to me – and I had read the guidelines multiple times – that I would need an authorisation from my parents if I was a joint holder. The staff was quite helpful though and suggested that I manage to get the letter after my video interview in half an hour’s time. The following 30 minutes were the biggest adventure for me during my uneventful unemployed pre-MBA life. Sprinting around the market on call with parents who were at our farmhouse in a remote countryside, with both parties searching for a nearby internet cafe and finally managing to make it back just in time before they shut the doors – it was quite an experience! 

I have subscribed to SMS alerts on the status of my visa application. Last checked my phone for the 87th time, there’s been no update apart from “Your visa application xxxxxxx was forwarded to UKVI”.  The next one better be “Your visa is issued, please come over to collect your passport and we are more than happy to enclose a ticket to Platform 9 3/4 for you!”  

Accommodation, Tickets: Check

My lovely brother booked the flight tickets for this jobless broke girl. God bless elder siblings!

I’ll be landing to Heathrow in early September with my parents and we shall spend a couple of weeks at my brother’s place, before I head off for Oxford on September 20th (Orientation starts on 21st). The entire family will be together after over a year and we are quite excited. If my brother’s work schedule permits him some days off, we will also make a short trip somewhere. Cannot wait!

Signed my accommodation contract and sent it across to the college accommodation today. Rewley Abbey Court, with a distance of just about 150-200 mts from Saïd, is going to be my abode for the next one year.

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One upside of getting admitted early on in the admissions cycle is that you have ample options to choose from to secure college and accommodation. With GTC ( Green Templeton College ) being my first choice and a safe one for MBA students, there were enough on-site and off-campus accommodation options available. I wanted to stay as close to the school as possible, so that its easier to reach the school quickly in case I am running late. A long sleepy walk / ride to the school in sub zero temperatures during winters is the last thing I want to worry about. And the few extra minutes that I would save, I can always make use of them in grabbing some more soon-to-be-a-rare-luxury sleep. 😉

The downside being that this is off the college premises, again limiting interaction with non-MBA scholars. Also that I didn’t have option for an ensuite room in shared flats at RAC. Having lived in an undergraduate hostel with 20 girls in my corridor and only a handful of washrooms to share, I am prepared to live with anything!

I’ll be sharing a 2 BHK flat with a batchmate from India. We both are in touch over messages and she seems really nice. We both are excited and have been discussing on what all we will need to buy once we are there, mainly kitchen and utility items. The accommodation includes cooker and refrigerator, but would need to set up rest of the kitchen. The accommodation license has an elaborate instruction list on what is allowed and what is not in the flat. I will go through it in detail soon, specially for the electric and electronic items. Regardless, a couple of electric socket converters will be pertinent to carry.

For those interested, there is a video of the 2BHK RAC flat on YouTube by Nick Martin, the accommodation manager. This was immensely helpful for me before putting forth my application for accommodation with my preferred choice.

So with arrangements for accommodation and travel made, I need to get started on my Visa application asap!

100 days

That is exactly the number of days before the orientation for MBA class of 2016 begins at Oxford. Hell yeah! It’s all been happening so fast I’m sure these 100 days are also going to fly past in a jiffy. Before I know I’ll be walking through the gates of the hallowed institution with a dazed look and nervous footsteps, towards what shall be my abode for the next year and a brand for the rest of my life. Where I’ll step in with the fire to learn and from where I’ll walk out empowered to take on the bigger challenges. Sounds like kindergarten all over again, ain’t it?

Melodrama aside, my plan for the next 100 days is to practically do nothing, and yet, there’s quite a lot to do still. I’ve moved back to my hometown, all my 4 years of stuff from Bangalore packed in boxes and stashed aside. Soon after I arrived, we drove to Kashmir, to our ancestral place and farmhouse. In the coming weeks I’ll be going through the mails and newsletters from SBS and also get started on documents needed for visa application. In the meantime, I also need to submit Financial Declaration to the school, only after which will they send across the CAS. CAS is needed to apply for student visa, I shall be writing in detail about visa application soon.

Every single person I’ve interacted with lately has been telling me about how I’m never getting this free time ever again in life and how I should make the most of it – by basically relaxing. Speaking with current and former students I gather that there is not much to fret over the course work, which will be manageable in the campus and that I need not worry about that before the term begins. However the school has put up a list of recommended readings and a couple of mandatory pre-arrival formalities to be completed, which I shall need to go through. Top on the list is working on my CV and researching on what a good cover letter looks like. School’s career centre is also conducting a series of Webinars over the coming weeks to give an introduction into various career options and job application advice. I am looking forward to these sessions since currently I’m in a dilemma about my career progression ( I want to stay in the industry but that’s that ).

But more than everything else, I am looking forward to spending my time with family and catching up on novels and movies, after so long. I think this is going to be my longest time spent at home since 2007 when I moved to my undergrad hostel.

So here I am, sitting over this view from my patio, soaking in the lull before the storm!

Acing the Argument Analysis

I have been approached a number of times recently with GMAT aspirants asking for the best strategy to score well in the AWA section. I admit I did not invest much time in this section during my GMAT preparation, which in itself was pretty hurried with. I would read few sample argument essays to get a gist of how the essays should be structured, but that was it. But towards the end of my preparation, it started to worry me that I had ignored the section completely. Was I getting too overconfident? I do not know. I wanted to focus on my weak areas more, but felt it was pertinent to read from the experience of previous test takers as to what a strong argument looks like. Research on net on sample AWA led me to this post on GMATClub. A test taker had shared his strategy a few years back, which has now been popularly known as ‘chineseburned method’, after this username! I found it extremely resourceful and practiced a couple of times during the week before the test. I would also get my write-up reviewed by my friends who had taken the GMAT earlier. Below is a brilliant infographic of the same, for easy reference. Take a print out and stick it on your desk for quick recap when you are taking a break from your prep!

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Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with the template / chineseburned, nor have been asked by anyone to endorse the same. I found it extremely helpful during my preparation and want to share with others.

Winding up at work.

I have less than 50 days left in the city before I wind up for my hometown. Last week I let the management at my office know of my Oxford admit and my decision to put in my resignation. It was harder than I was expecting, but the response I received from most of my seniors was very endearing. My Product Owner told me that they were anticipating such an announcement from me soon enough, but were hoping to find some means to retain me in the organisation. However, since they knew Oxford was my dream school, they were delighted to know that I made it and were supportive of my decision. 

Regardless, putting in my first ever resignation at my first ever job felt like a bit of a heartbreak. I have enjoyed my time here and shared a brilliant comaraderie with my peers and management. And I’m glad I will be leaving not on the note that I was desperate for an escape route, but that I have an opportunity I cannot afford to miss.  

We discussed my career plans and post-MBA interests. We also explored the possibility of me coming back to the organisation after the course ends, constraints being that the role is in accordance with the skills that I pick up over the year and of course that my loan repayment is managed comfortably. Unfortunately, there is no HR policy at my organisation for sponsoring my MBA unless I did it from one of the affiliated colleges in India after spending more than 5 years here. Great to know still that I can always return, an option definitely worth giving a thought over. 

I serve notice period of two months, during which I will help transition all the work I was responsible for, document critical information so it doesn’t get lost with my exit, and also help find a suitable replacement. It’s a bittersweet feeling in the team, after having spent close to 4 years with them. If only I could be at Oxford and YET hold on to the products and releases I’ve worked on, that now seem to be like my babies, which I do not have the heart to abandon! 

But the heart’s got to do what it’s got to do!