Dec 1, 2016

The founding principle of all the activities of Zdenek and Michaela Bakala is, truly, the courage, which must, according to their belief, always go hand in hand with responsibility.
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Louis Emmanuel Grawehr 2015 - report

TIME PERIOD OF YOUR STAY

  August 27 – December 16, 2015

 

UNIVERSITY ATTENDED

  Duke University, US

FACULTY

 The Fuqua School of Business

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS

My semester at Duke University was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. Although located in the relatively small and dispersed town of Durham, North Carolina, the university itself is situated in a beautiful campus set in gothic architecture – including the famous Duke Chapel – and is surrounded by gardens and forest. The facilities, faculty and academics are all exceptional – you begin to realize why it normally costs so much to study here! What is also special about Duke is that the school is extremely strong in sports in addition to academics; the Duke Basketball team were the national champions in 2014. Attending basketball and football games in their giant stadiums thus very much allowed to me experience the “American college” experience that I was looking for.

All being said, however, I would say that the biggest highlight of my time at Duke was the people. I had the pleasure of meeting, learning from and engaging with very talented, passionate and kind people. In the business school, there was a wonderful sense of community and the culture was surprisingly collaborative and team-oriented. The classroom environment was a lot more informal, which allowed me to engage with my professors much more compared to Switzerland.

PREPARATION OF THE STAY

Despite the many things that needed to be done in preparation for my exchange semester, it was made relatively easy by the extremely competent international exchange coordinator at The Fuqua School of Business. I was sent a long e-mail in mid-March containing a timeline of all the steps that needed to be taken before leaving in August. This included creating all the required Duke accounts, getting immunizations, submitting the J-1 visa application, paying the necessary fees, searching for housing, etc. The visa process for the US is notoriously arduous, but should be manageable for anyone who starts early enough. This required collecting all the necessary documentation and then finally going to the US embassy in Bern (and waiting in line a few hours!) to submit the application in person.

 

ARRIVAL

I arrived late at night in Durham and was picked up by Sky Shuttle, a relatively cheap taxi service that Fuqua’s exchange coordinator had recommended to pre-book before departing. I slept in a motel that night as I was only able to move into my apartment the next day. The next day, I moved into my apartment in downtown Durham and also took an Uber to Target in order to buy all the things I would need for the next five months (e.g. dishes, bed sheets, pillows, towels, etc.).

The next two days, we had an orientation for ca. 50 exchange students from all over the world studying at The Fuqua School of Business that semester, in order to introduce us to life at Duke. This was fantastic to meet people from all over the world and make many of the friends I would be spending my time with in the coming five months.

ACCOMODATION SEARCH

Finding housing for my five-month stay at Duke was surprisingly difficult, mainly because graduate students are not allowed to stay in on-campus dorms and I tried to find something furnished. Fuqua’s international exchange website has a long list of recommended apartments, which I all contacted 1-2 months before arriving; however they all had minimum rental periods of 12 months and/or were unfurnished. I had also planned to share an apartment with another exchange student, but unfortunately he had to pull out in the last minute – which complicated the housing search. In the end, I had to opt for a studio at 605 West, a relatively new apartment complex in downtime Durham, but it was relatively expensive. My advice: try finding other exchange students to share an apartment with (but do so early!) or try finding full-time Duke students who are subletting their rooms for a semester while they are doing an exchange semester.

UNIVERSITY LIFE

The Fuqua School of Business has roughly 800 full-time MBA students. In addition, there are roughly 50 exchange students from all over the world each semester. Given that it is an MBA program, courses at Fuqua are generally less quantitative, more interactive and further away from the ‘ivory tower’ compared to my home university in Switzerland. The full-time students have 3-5 years of previous work experience on average, and hence there is a lot more focus on ‘learning from each other’ through classroom discussion. The student-professor interaction is also a lot more informal; everyone is on a first-name basis and you talk to your professor as if they were one of your colleagues.

In terms of style of learning, there is a lot more focus on case studies and class participation compared to Switzerland. I took five courses at Fuqua:

Detecting Earnings Management, a fantastic course focused on advanced accounting topics and how to detect whether managers are manipulating the numbers. After taking this course, you are essentially able to pick up any financial statement or annual report and understand it.

Project Finance, an interesting course dealing with how to finance large infrastructure and energy projects.

Corporate Finance, taught by renowned Professor John Graham.

Valuation and Fundamental Analysis, which taught us different methods to value companies.

Negotiation, a practical course which taught us the art and science of being a skilled negotiator. Every lesson, we were required to negotiate a specific case study with fellow students – which was extremely beneficial.

FREE TIME AND SOCIAL LIFE

Aside from academics, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in extracurricular activities at Duke. I joined three clubs at Fuqua, namely (1) Improv Club – where we played fun improvisation games in order to develop our presentation and communication skills, (2) Tennis Club – which involved weekly practice sessions, and (3) Asset Management Club – a club focused on helping students with recruiting in the asset management industry. Getting involved in these clubs was not only a fantastic opportunity to develop my skills, but also to meet other amazing new friends. Moreover, I participated in a four-week meditation course at Duke’s psychology center. We had weekly classes teaching us the basic skills of meditation, which we practiced at home on a daily basis. This was probably one of the most useful skills I have ever learnt, which is sure to help me in reducing stress, being more aware and generally increasing happiness in the future. Aside from this, there were many other fun activities such as attending basketball and football games, many themed-parties hosted by various clubs, as well as weekly “Fuqua Friday” gatherings, where the entire business school came together for free food and beer on Friday afternoons. Lastly, I was lucky to be able to travel during my stay in the US, for instance going to New York City for Thanksgiving and Washington D.C. during a weekend. 

MISCELLANEOUS

My eternal gratitude goes to the Fondation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala for supporting me during my time at Duke. Go Blue Devils! 


© Fondation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala