Expect the Unexpected

Hi all. This serves as my inaugural post with the famed Darden student bloggers, which I couldn’t be happier to join. As I mention in the “Profile” tab, I’ll tend to focus my time here more on the social side of things: my goal is to accurately represent what it’s like to be a First Year (FY) at Darden. That said, this post will serve as more of a grab-bag. I believe one of the best ways to articulate how the Darden experience deviates from its peers is to describe differences from my initial expectations. Without further ado, my top 5 surprises since starting Darden one-plus month ago:

1. Diversity. Last year visiting a number of business schools, everyone seems to publicize the diversity of their class. Call me a pessimist, but I’d still figured business school would be filled with students from traditional business industries (marketing, investment banking, consulting) and that this “diversity” everyone talked about would be observed by traditional differentiations (race, country of origin, sex, etc). Not to sound like a homer, but I’ve come to appreciate diversity at Darden differently. Specifically, I’m surprised at the breadth of backgrounds: engineering, teaching, and manufacturing each serve as well-represented industries. For my international colleagues, I also failed to appreciate the substantial distinctions in business models and customs, something I’ll continue to learn throughout these two years.

2. Back in College? My first night with the Darden community featured a hot-dog eating contest at Ivy Gardens, the nearby off-campus apartment complex and closest thing to a Darden dorm. Theme parties (including someone that showed up with a wizard staff), softball tournaments, and UVA tailgating serve as just a few of the other social highlights. I’ve been really surprised at how easy-going the Darden student body is. Before arriving at Darden, I’d held a view that business-school students tend to be a little stuffier. This is really not the case here (I hesitate to say, “Ask UVA law school students if they agree”). People are just out to have a fun time when we’re not cracking the books, much like my undergraduate experience (minus much of the time spent cracking the books). However, my graduate social experience differs in the level of responsibility the student body shows: Darden is a small place, and people recognize that the network developed here can last a lifetime. The potential consequences of really dumb behavior are much more highlighted here than in undergrad.

3. Teaching Method. So my first day of class, I walked in and found out we’d be using the case method, which came as a complete shock! I joke, but truthfully I have been surprised at the application of the case method. Students tend to talk a lot more than I expected: 80% – 90% in the average class (based on my poor judgment, I’m sure these figures are perfectly accurate). While I’d caveat that the 10% – 20% of time occupied by the professor serves as at least as valuable as the rest of the class, students really drive the conversation for the vast majority of the time.

4. Recruiting. It’s amazing both (a) how early the process starts, and (b) how comprehensive each on-campus recruiter is. I remember doing this dance as a junior in college (at UVA I would have been a “third year”, still figuring out the rationale for that naming system): the recruiting process usually consisted of one company briefing, maybe 1-2 networking calls with recent graduates, maybe one networking night, and two short days of interviews. At least in investment banking and consulting, many firms have already initiated the networking process: should I sign with an on-campus recruiter, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect I’ll see that firm at least 5 times and speak with at least 10 people in detail before interviews start in January.

5. Charlottesville. Before arriving, I really only knew Charlottesville as the hometown of Dave Matthews and not much else. So far, I’ve found Charlottesville’s surprising culture and all-around awesomeness most pronounced in: Sunday polo matches at King Family Vineyards, the fluorescent old-school limos of Wahooptie, the Gus Burger at White Spot, and the art gallery showcases on the mall on First Fridays.

Lastly, a funny detail of my daily routine (which I’ll include in each post). Living at the far end of Ivy Gardens (from Darden), I have the option every day to walk to school by taking either the obscure back road or the main strip running through Ivy. I save about 3 minutes taking the back road. It’s a daily battle which road to choose, but I usually have a good idea which I’m choosing by the time the Cheerios are poured. Sometimes you need to read that extra article in the WSJ (yes, I’ve almost run into bushes while reading the paper) or you’re just not ready to go before a half cup of coffee is working it’s way through the veins. Most days though, I’m happy to add the 3 minutes on and join the masses to either celebrate or commiserate the start to the new day.


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