Over the past few weeks, I celebrated 2 graduation anniversaries – 12 years since my commencement from the prestigious Covenant University and 3 years since my convocation from the equally prestigious INSEAD Business School.  During the celebrations, I did some reflection and had the chance to speak to a few folks going to business school, so this post is a natural extension of those conversations.

No comments – the year was 2007, lol

Yup, school season is upon us and a good number of folks are getting ready to head back to school for their post-graduate degrees. You might be heading out for an MBA or a different Master’s degree – regardless of the choice of study is, I believe there will be something relevant for you in this post.

Sorry but I had to drag Dee into this, hehehehehe

First things first, congratulations on securing admission!!! I know the journey to get here was not child’s play – doing research on schools and programs, writing exams (GMAT, GRE, IELTS, etc), writing a ton of essays, filling endless biodata forms, meeting your own submission deadlines, getting your references/recommenders to submit their letters on time, raising funds to pay initial deposit, applying for scholarships, securing accommodation and so much more. You have done great to get to this stage, so pause and give yourself a big hug. You have done well! WELL DONE, CHAMP!!!

I want to remind you that you are making a substantial investment into your life/career and I truly celebrate your resilience in going through the process. I know that these international degrees are not cheap, and if you really do your maths well, you will realize that the total cost to you is not just the tuition and living expenses. The cost to you also includes the lost income (all the salaries you wont collect while you are away), the time away from family and friends (and this is more important than we realize) and much more. That said, this is a worthwhile adventure and investment that will pay off, so you’ll be alright eventually 😊

Being away from the gang is tough but it will end in praise

Now that you are finally off to school, how do we make sure the school fees doesn’t burn? How do we make sure that you take full advantage of the opportunity and get the full benefits from this adult education experience? I am going to be sharing a few tips from my personal perspective of getting an MBA, but I am sure they will also be applicable to other programs.

1. Immerse yourself wholeheartedly into the program. Dear friend, once you leave home, stop looking back like Lot’s wife. I encourage you to really throw yourself into being a student all over again. Leave all your big boy and big girl shoulder pad in Lagos and just be a child hungry for knowledge. Everyone in your class will have an impressive CV, and trust me, you will not escape feeling intimidated from time to time (for some, it will be your first time being a minority in school). However, don’t waste your energy feeling timid, second-guessing yourself or trying to out-do anyone. You earned your right to be in the program just as much as anyone else did, so you all deserve to be there.

Me and my coconut water earned our place on the program!

2. Speak up and add value in your class. Unlike your undergraduate program, where you were talked at mostly by the lecturer, these adult education programs have a strong peer-learning component. Class participation via discussions, asking and answering questions is the order of the day. Remember that you do have valid experiences to share. Several people in your class may have no Nigerian/African/emerging markets experience, and so, part of your value-add is giving them that perspective. If all you do when you open your mouth is abuse your country/continent, then you have lost an opportunity to change the narrative. That said, don’t now make yourself Minister of Africa Affairs and start making up random facts about Nigeria/Africa in the name of just having something to say ALL THE TIME (Google will disgrace you, lol). Also, regardless of how hot your story/perspective is, please don’t be a microphone hoarder – make your point in a crisp concise way and let other people speak too. If there is no point to be made, then silence is golden, as usual. No one wants to be around an ITK (I too know a.k.a. Mr/Ms Know It All) 😊

Not every time teach people about African business, sometimes teach them about African dance!

3. Focus on learning as much as you can and enjoying every moment of it. The academic element of these programs is just one aspect – don’t rob yourself of all the benefits of the other aspects. If there is a field trip, join it. If there is a community outreach program, volunteer for it. If there is a talent show night, sign up for it and have a good laugh at yourself. Unlike your undergraduate program, this is not just about getting straight As, so ensure you are a well-rounded student developing all aspects of yourself.

Global Leaders also Talent Show Performers

4. Invest in building a strong network. Please, please, please, don’t spend all your free time on WhatsApp/Skype calls with people back at home – go and hang out with your classmates too. Don’t get me wrong, you should still carve out time to connect with friends/family back at home (they are truly a support system through this period) but don’t make yourself a hermit because of that. If the only time your classmates see you is during class, then you could have saved yourself a huge chunk of money and just signed up for an online degree. Think about it for a moment – you can learn most of what is being taught via online courses. In this era of open education, a lot of these Ivy League schools now have their MBA curriculum available on online platforms, sometimes for free, so you can easily learn all these things from the comfort of your home. So, since you decided to go all the way for a full-time program, then you might as well benefit from being physically present in school.

With my Pedro (my Portuguese brother) and his folks – 2016

The richness of these in-person programs is the interactions with classmates and the opportunity to build strong networks. It is hard to build a solid network when you are absent, so I encourage you to be present and really show up. If you think attending classes is enough to help you build this network, let me break your heart. When you are in class, there can only be one person speaking at a time. If your lecturer is speaking, your side gist with your new-found friend is classified as noise. If you are not the one answering a question, any other sounds you make is classified as noise. If you have not been instructed to pair up with a classmate to have a quick discussion about a topic, any other conversation in class is classified as noise. And even though, they are not writing list of noisemakers, you surely don’t want to be labeled as the noisy person from Nigeria (or wherever else you are from) who is disrupting the learning experience for everyone. My point is this, the strong bonds you want to build with your classmates will not happen in class – No! These bonds will be formed outside of the lecture room – when you are doing a group project together, when you are having lunch/dinner together, when you go on a group trip together, when you plan/host an event together, when you train for a marathon together, when you find yourself at the gym together. Notice how none of these activities can be done in absentia? Notice how you have to be physically present and truly present to be able to have the conversations that deepen/strengthen bonds? Being a hermit is not the way forward!

With Pedro again in 2019

5. Say NO to parapo! For those of you who like ‘parapo’ and will only hang out with people who look exactly like you – you should have saved your money and gone to a school here in Nigeria. Again, this is an opportunity to EXPAND your network, so take advantage of it and meet people from other parts of the world. Don’t neglect the fellowship of your fellow countrymen (I love my INSEAD 16J Naija crew to bits) but make sure you connect with other people – those friendships are equally valuable. Think about it as an opportunity to experience another country/culture without physically going there and securing free accommodation whenever you finally decide to physically travel to that country. There will always be space for you on a friend’s couch in any corner of the world, BUT you have to make the investments in those friendships upfront.

My 16J peeps (excl Deji) – from Fontainebleau to an owambe!

6. Actively seek new experiences (both in and out of class) This might seem obvious, but it is not. We are creatures of habit and our default is to stick to what we already know and are most familiar with. Let me start from the new experiences in class. Step out of your comfort zone to learn new things. Are you a finance guru? Then use the opportunity to learn about strategy and marketing. Are you an ex strategy consultant? Then this is the time to take elective courses in consumer psychology and organizational theory. I made a deliberate attempt to pick electives that were completely outside my comfort zone, and those were the courses where I learnt the most! I had been initially terrified of finance, so I took 3 electives in finance. I thought I hated/was no good at entrepreneurship (because back in the day, in my head, entrepreneurship was just buying and selling), so I took 2 electives in entrepreneurship and they completely changed my thinking. Of course, I scored my lowest grades in these courses because I was starting from a very low knowledge bases in those areas, but I repeat, those courses were the areas where I learnt the most and really grew professionally. Remember that grades are not everything at this point, so it’s a great opportunity to take the risk to learn something new!

My face when those new courses wanted to kill me!
Professor Pekka taught me my hardest Finance course (and lowest scoring course) ever!!!!!

Outside of class, it is the same principle – meet/hang out with new people (not just your fellow Naija peeps you whine with about how much you miss party jollof and asun, lol), visit new cities or countries in the name of field trips or weekend getaways, get involved in clubs/societies (but still remember the child of who you are, lol), try new foods (not every time dodo), etc. If you are a super-planned person, do something spontaneous for once in your life (this is how I ended up jumping on a road trip from Fontainebleau to Amsterdam last minute – made the decision at 5am and was on the road by 7am). If you are always spontaneous, try planning something for a group – just to see how things work on the other side of life, lol. Test yourself, push the boundaries, experiment! Afterall, you are a student, and nobody can sack you from being a student (except you do something extreme).

With the crazy folks I went on the Amsterdam road trip with!
With my Cameroon pepper, South African biltong and Chinese fried rice, lol

I can go on and on but let me stop here. Going away for my MBA was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I met myself all over again (got the chance to live out some of my personal values and discovered some of my weaknesses and prejudices), rediscovered some latent gifts (I started writing again in b-school – see my first published article here), made some amazing lifelong friends/connections (local and international) and had a great time learning and living my best life (traveled to 9/10 countries while I was there and had some incredible cultural experiences).

Arriving at my 30th country (Croatia) with some of my favorite people! ❤

I celebrate you again for making it all the way to this point and I really encourage you to make the best of this experience you are about to have.

As always, I am more than happy to answer your questions (to the best of my knowledge) in the comments section.

Cheers to an amazing year (or two) ahead!

Kemi

22 Comments

  1. Fola Ferron July 26, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    Kemolala! Omorere bi custard 🙂

    Very helpful, very timely as per resumption season.

    God bless you!

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author July 27, 2019 at 10:31 am

      Ameeen!!! Thanks dear! And thank you for the back-end feedback – definitely made this better.

      God bless you too 🙂

      Reply
  2. @thereadingmom.ng July 26, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Beautiful. My own is online so I will not experience any of this 😥

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author July 27, 2019 at 10:31 am

      PhD still dey load – no be you? Lol

      Reply
  3. Kemi O. July 26, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    This is an excellent guide to adult education.

    Thank you.

    P.S. Jetting off soon myself.

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author July 27, 2019 at 10:30 am

      Yaaay! All the best dear!!!! Glad you found it useful 🙂

      Reply
  4. Arin July 27, 2019 at 6:18 am

    Thank you Kemi. Very interesting and insightful post

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author July 27, 2019 at 10:32 am

      You are most welcome, Arin!

      Reply
  5. Rejoice July 27, 2019 at 7:05 am

    Thanks kemi for sharing!
    I’ll be going for my masters soon in data science and I will put everything learnt in your blog post into practice!!!
    I loved the part of immersing yourself into the program because most people go abs forget the reason why they came..lol

    Btw your twin truly looks like you(same forehead 😁)!!!

    I’m patiently waiting for a third blog post 😘😘😘

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author July 27, 2019 at 10:39 am

      Hahaha! Rejoice, are you sure your middle name is not Olivia? 3rd blogpost in one week? Hahahaha! I believe in miracles too.

      Congrats on your data science masters! Data is the new gold so I am sure the ROI on that degree will be MEGA! Congrats dear!

      Very happy you found the post helpful – all the best!!

      Reply
  6. Roti Balogun July 27, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    GBAM! Great lessons Kemi and very real & relevant! Something else about the in-person adult education experience (I’m currently learning in my ongoing PHD and loving it😊) is to consider a gratitude minute for everyone in your class.. unforced plug, intentional action.

    Think about it this way. We naturally share and receive seeds of our knowledge, heritage, intellectual curiosity in the classroom, peer groups, fun field trips etc and everyone benefits!

    What we don’t do often enough is to say thank you enough to each person for bringing a piece of themselves into the learning experience. I had a box of thank you cards (or texts) which I wrote out every time I learnt something new from a classmate whether in my close click (parapo!) or outside of it. I wrote the why, when and what impacted me the most about the comment or share. The response, a richer more profound culture of learning, sharing and insights with lifelong benefits hard to quantify.

    Don’t wait to the end of the program to share a minute of gratitude or celebration. Share it in the moment that matters and you’ll be pleasantly surprised of the rate of return on your emotional investments!

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author July 28, 2019 at 12:06 am

      Where do I even begin to reply this comment from? Comment wey be post all by itself!!! Whooooosh!

      Thank you so much for dropping this major wisdom nugget here. I actually never thought of being so intentional about this when I was in school but now that I lead teams, I know how far these positive reinforcements go. Solid solid piece of advice – I feel like updating the post to include this too (I just might!!!)

      And yeah, not all parapos are bad, lol. As long as your network does not comprise of ONLY people that are like you, we are good to go!

      Reply
  7. Jibs July 27, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing.

    Wish I knew all these seven years ago before embarking on my masters I wouldn’t have allowed one oyinbo boy convince my entire class that all the countries in West Africa are francophone countries; I just left them to their ignorance (insert me covering my face).

    Now I know better and will definitely do it differently the next time.

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author July 28, 2019 at 12:03 am

      Whaaaat?!?!? That boy should be flogged. Let’s hope those people are friends with Google and have seen the light now. I am sure they were surprised about how well you spoke English, lol. God safe us!

      But yes, you know better and I am sure you counsel other people to do better as well. The big lesson here is to speak up – your voice is relevant!

      Thanks for stopping by, Jibs!

      Reply
  8. Jumoke July 27, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences and tips! Very timely and useful for me.
    Regards,

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author July 28, 2019 at 12:01 am

      Yaaay! I am glad that you found it timely and useful – please share with others who might also need it.

      Thank you, Jumoke! And all the best in school!!

      Reply
  9. U.Ogbeifun July 27, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    You know what?! I wish I knew all these before I went for my masters.. I was such a loner, never mixed, never travelled!!.. my thought was..’this MSc is only for a year, will they even remember me. So why bother’ but boy! Was I wrong?

    Well done Kemi! And you know I always ask you.. How do you do it?!!!! You were so present in all activities and still finished beautifully!

    Once again, here is me taking a page out of your book! #Uyi&herMBA2020!

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author July 27, 2019 at 11:59 pm

      Never too late, girl!! You will use the tips for VisionMBA2020! Amen????

      How do I do it? Na God o! I did not finish top of my class (with all those tough courses where I was scoring low grades, lol) but I definitely learnt and grew a lot, and that for me was more important than being the best graduating student. It is tough to be excellent at everything so you gotta pick a struggle and be exceptional at it!

      Thank you again for stopping by – I don’t take these comments for granted – THANK YOU!!

      Reply
  10. Ozioma Paul July 29, 2019 at 8:01 am

    Awwwww! Thank you for sharing this. I’m a week at grad school and these are super timely especially the parapo point 😂😂😂 and when you said “You earned your right to be in the program just as much as anyone else did…”, I felt it in my chest! Very timely word as I keep feeling funny with all these people from different backgrounds and experiences and CVs and CGPAS.

    Ah! I’ll definitely revisit this post from time to time. Thanks once again for being an inspiration!

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author July 29, 2019 at 4:31 pm

      Yaaay! Congrats on grad school – have an amazing time dear! I am so glad this came in timely and I hope you really have an amazing and rewarding experience!!!

      Hugs!

      Reply
  11. Sherifat Onabanjo August 25, 2019 at 12:59 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    I live in ‘the abroad’ and I am currently doing a post-graduate diploma program and I tell you that I find some of your points relevant and helpful even though my program is online.

    We are 21 in my class and we created a WhatsApp so as to connect outside class. Some of us also exchanged contacts. Some of my course mates in a particular province are even planning to have a get together. All of these are geared towards networking.

    During our class, the lecturers encourage everyone to go on video to see each other’s faces and ensure we all speak in class. Infact the lecturers make it a point of duty to even call our names so as to make the class as interactive as possible.

    At the start of the program, we were encouraged to do a video to introduce ourselves and tell the class about ourselves.

    Even though my program is online, it feels so in-person and active participation like you mentioned is very key. As a matter of fact, 10 marks is awarded for class participation in each course.

    Thank you once again.

    Reply
    1. Kemi O - Site Author September 27, 2019 at 5:54 am

      You are most welcome!!! I am so glad the tips I shared makes sense to you and is helping you out now. So good to know!

      All the best on your program and make sure you don’t backslide when things get hectic o – try to stay connected throughout.

      God bless you!

      Reply

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