A once-in-a-lifetime Swiss-Chinese MBA experience

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Chan (far left), is now part of the first cohort of students in the top business school's "twin city" MBA. Source: Marcus Chan

A year ago, Malaysian Marcus Chan attended the China Europe International Business School’s Shanghai bootcamp in the summer to get to know the top business school a little better. He had dreams to pursue an MBA and wanted to see if CEIBS was the right business school for him. Little did he know that in 2020, he would be in Zurich, Switzerland due to the COVID-19 pandemic, instead.

Chan had originally signed up for an MBA that would first take place in Shanghai. Part of the programme did include a semester at CEIBS’s Zurich campus. Due to the coronavirus crisis, however, the entire cohort of international students is now in Switzerland — indefinitely — until it is safe to return to China. It’s the first year that CEIBS is doing this “twin city” format.

Chan is taking all this in stride. Although the 36-year-old does find Switzerland expensive, it has its perks. There is an opportunity to expand his business network in Europe and he’s happy to find quality organic produce widely available at the grocery stores. As an avid home cook, Chan appreciates a good food haul. Another aspect of Zurich Chan is pleasantly surprised with? Efficient public transport and the awe-inspiring Swiss natural landscapes. We talked to him via email to know more about his classes, how he’s curing homesickness, and what advice he has for other international students:

Why did you choose CEIBS?

CEIBS is a business school well-known for its China connections and an extensive alumni network. I’m also continuing next semester when I’m allowed to travel to China for the future of business and expanding markets. It’s a good idea to get to know the market better.

Do you think it would have made a difference if you studied at a local business school rather than Zurich and Shanghai?

Definitely. I think the quality of MBA institutions in Malaysia is lagging and not as international. MBAs are a lot about networking and you need a school that has a proper outreach and the best programme to make the most out of it. It isn’t just a piece of paper — it’s an experience. 

What has been your most memorable class so far?

We just finished Term One. Along with Term Two, they are the most academically intense terms in this two-year programme. Even though we have had to do a bulk of online learning while overseas in Zurich, I think the term has been very memorable. 

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Chan (far right) has already made a great headstart in Zurich, by getting elected as vice president of the student council committee. Source: Marcus Chan

My most memorable class at business school, however, has been Microeconomics. Not so much because of the coursework, but because Professor Bala Ramasamy is a very engaging professor who made the effort to travel to Zurich to teach us in person. In saying that, we did have a few classes online but despite this, we were able to arrange meetings with Professor Ramasamy outside of class to get to know him on a personal level.

Do you have any fond memories with teachers at your business school in Zurich that’s stood out for you? Like becoming student committee Vice President!

So far, it has been quite challenging to really get to know the professors at the uni because we are doing most of our courses online. Although I do have to say that we did have a taste of offline classes at the beginning of my time in Switzerland and it was good to engage face-to-face with professors who did make it to Zurich.

We even got to know the professors in Shanghai well because of the way an MBA is programmed — more about student interaction and being engaged compared to a normal university course. I guess it also helps that part of our scoring is assigned to student participation! The professors have been very responsive to any of us who have questions or queries and are very open to conversation.

What do you plan to do with this degree after graduating?

I currently have no plans to further study in this course – won’t be going for a doctorate! I plan to use the skills in my everyday work and apply the knowledge I gain in my business working life — especially leadership skills. I also want to make use of the extensive alumni network the business school has. 

Is it hard for a foreigner to order food or strike up a conversation with the locals in Switzerland?

In terms of ordering food here in Switzerland, and especially in Zurich, there has definitely been some lost in translation moments since most of us don’t speak or read any German (and none of us were planning to come here!). However, most locals do speak some English, so it hasn’t been that much of an issue.

Striking up conversations with locals in Zurich isn’t so common. People here tend to be more insular and it’s even more apparent if you don’t speak their language. There also hasn’t been much of an opportunity to socialise outside of the school circle because of the pandemic.

What is one thing you miss from home and how do you substitute it over there?

I miss the food, friends and affordable prices! I brought over a bunch of Malaysian sauces with the taste of home to tide me over for a while when I cook things I’m more familiar with. I miss the spice and heat. I will never complain about food prices back in Malaysia ever again. Everything here is just ridiculously expensive. I miss being able to buy green Asian vegetables at good prices. I stopped converting to keep my sanity. 

Do you have any favourite spots in Switzerland?

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Chan is positive he’ll get the Chinese business school experience soon. Source: Marcus Chan

I’ve really enjoyed going everywhere in Switzerland — the mountains, the lakes, and the beautiful scenery at every turn is something I really appreciate. My favourite spot, so far, would have to be Saas-Fee, when we went for a long weekend ski trip.  I have never been to a European mountain/ski town during winter before and it was quite something despite all the restaurants and bars being closed. Just being able to wake up next to spectacular views of glaciers and mountains was something out of a storybook. 

What advice do you have for international students looking to go to Switzerland?

Budget well! Don’t get too shocked with food prices. Look into getting the half-price travel card —  Swiss Pass —, because even though it is an expensive initial investment, it does save you a lot of money in the long run. Get out there, go hiking, rent a car and visit different spots around the country to take it all in. Research and find the hidden gems for good food, which does exist and is not always Swiss. There are plenty of Asian and international food places around the city, and make sure you order a bit off the menu if you want to try something more adventurous.