The Perilous and Sinuous Path Possibly Leading to Business School – PART TWO

April 16, 2012

So my friend took me to the Harvard bookstore on my way to the airport, and we scoured the shelves for THE book. I found it, Veritas, a noble navy blue with gold emblazoned crest on the cover, written by smart people for smart people. (I still thought I was smart at that point).

While my friend was shushing her infant, I quickly paid for it, along with the Beginning Turkish verb conjugation book, as well as a small History of the World that seemed impossible to pass up at the time. Everybody needs a way to relax while considering the treatment of exponents in algebraic polynomials.

Back in Argentina, I swallowed the navy blue book with the gold emblazoned logo, but I also detected dissention in my own ranks. Every time I opened the book, I would simultaneously log on to the online Turkish community and complete the next vocabulary learning unit. And why was it that when I finally did read the chapter on fractions, I understood it completely, and then got all the answers wrong? Was it that I’m not that smart after all? Could it be that I should’ve gone to the artsy high school and called my teachers by their first name and worn sweatpants for my entire adolescence instead of a khaki skirt and penny loafers? What was it all for?

Thankfully my powers of denial are just as developed as my skills of self-sabotage and I was able to continue “studying” with a moderate level of success – I learned how to tell if a number is divisible by 11 (a special trick shown in the sidebar for more advanced students), and I finally conquered the definition of “isosceles” (still hanging over me from 9th grade geometry). Decimals all look the same to me still, but I figured everyone has their weaknesses, even engineers.

Not so. On the second test I did significantly worse than the first time. Comparatively speaking, I registered among my test-taking counterparts as retarded.

This was unexpected. When I walked out of the air-conditioned cubicle of failure into the onslaught of lunch-hour in the banking district of Buenos Aires, I cried so hard that I couldn’t breathe. I sat down on the curb of the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city and wrote text messages to everyone I knew saying only “Fuck the GMAT.”

To my friends’ credit, every message that came back sang my praises and spoke of “good reason” but one especially jumped out and saved me. It said, “You are a natural born writer so be that.”

Really? That’s great news. So I answered back, Okay. I will.

And the dirty war with myself was over. I went home and sat on the couch and had a beer while putting my GMAT books on sale via facebook.

Now, of course, I didn’t entirely trust that kind of unambiguous confidence. And my ego still wanted to see if I had a chance at getting in. Just because. But there was no point in applying to Wharton, given their clearly stated value system: WE LIKE SHINY PEOPLE WITH HIGH NUMBERS SO GO HOME, LITTLE GIRL.

Berkeley-Columbia seemed a little more likely (1.5 x 10-5 percent more likely, for those with a quantitative bent) to wedge the window open for me, and so I sent in my application. Worthy of note was the simultaneous subsiding of my obsession with Turkish. I never again reviewed the Turkish flashcards I had made, and as such would probably say that I have one wild boar called Charlie when asked if I like the color red. But it’s a small loss.

Surprised then was I to receive two weeks later an invitation to the Berkeley campus in San Francisco for a personal interview. The cynical part of me knew that would happen simply because I had made a decision, and there was no better test for my steadfast will to be a poor and hungry writer than to taunt me with international travel and a gourmet cheeseburger. But the rest of me was still in disbelief.

When friends and family heard of my descent on the Berkeley campus to conquer dubious minds, the first and most salient question was: But what will you wear?? Sounds familiar. I realized that the astrologist I consulted via skype about what to do with my life was absolutely right: we have seven-year cycles that repeat themselves. Seven years ago, I was going to Italy to swashbuckle among high society on vacation, and now here I was, making room for myself at the table with their kids.

The morning of my interview, looking fine thank you, I walked to the BART, crossed the bay and wound my way through and around the entirety of the campus in my cursed heels. Observing with pleasure the doe-eyed learning creatures bounding down the tree-lined paths, I felt at ease though moderately overdressed. But as I approached Haas, I saw the jeans fade into khakis and the tattoos grew pearls; hats became helmets of shiny hair held in place with tortoise shell barettes, and t-shirts were ironed stiff.

In the reception area, there was a group of prospective students waiting to be herded to an informational lunch at the faculty lounge by the “admissions ambassador,” a second-year MBA student who is still living in the glow of his former title as the Student Body President in high school. They all shuffled off for lunch, each of them wishing me the best of luck as I stared down at the EMBA information packet. I discovered that the program started in May, not in September as I had thought, and that were I to actually get in, and go, I would have to go back to Argentina, sell my boyfriend, pack my antique typewriters, sign a power of attorney to continue getting sued remotely, and shuttle back to the states ASAP.

Finally as if to save me from this realization, a friendly woman with normal hair came out and said, “Amanda, here is the most important question of your interview: how do I get a cheap flight to Argentina?” This put me at ease as she led me back to her office. She explained that she is a single mom and a house-swapper. Every year she and her kids go to France, but just a few days ago someone offered her a house in Patagonia in June, but the tickets are so expensive…to which I replied, “don’t I know it.”

On to business, she picked up my resume and waved it around like it was burning, and asked that I help her make sense of it. Wondering if I had sent in early draft by accident, I asked to see it and was both relieved and confused to see that in fact it was the right one. Unclear of what was so strange about it, we began with my brief study of German at Middlebury which lead us to the perhaps uncouth but realistic conclusion that Germans are everywhere, you just can’t get away from them wherever you go, and their omni-competency is annoying. Pleased to see I had a fellow cynic across the table, we moved on to Italians and their mothers.

Forty minutes later, after hauling her through my job at the immigration law firm, my semi-illegal trip to Cuba, the guiding work, my founding of Paragón, the hotel accident and finally the blossoming success of my tango-shoe bags, she stopped me cold.

“Let me explain something to you,” she said. “My job is to talk to you for a little while, get an impression and perhaps consider where I think you’ll be in five years, ten years. I write a summary and send it off to Columbia, and they decide.”

She continued, “I don’t know what to write about you, and my day just got a lot longer and I will not be going home at 5 o’clock.”

I offered to help her write it and she wasn’t opposed.

“So you already have three businesses in Argentina, what do you need an EMBA for?”

Crisis: at that moment, I realized that she hadn’t read my application essays. And if I had known that from the start, I would not have been so frank with my “unconventional” lifestyle, and instead would’ve tried to seem moderately “normal.” Noting my surprise, she told me that she likes to just get a sense of a person when they come in without knowing their story. Generally though, she does know them, she’s had contact with them over time, and they are usually software engineers from Silicon Valley, which she emphatically stated that I am not, as if I were in doubt.

Her reaction was measured about my four-phase (I added those in to seem more business-y) service academy idea, but she did seem pleasantly surprised that my plans for the future had any phases whatsoever, given my past. When she asked me where I would live during the program, I ran up on the time-old dilemma of “truth or self-preservation.” Do I mention my fermenting idea of living as an apprentice (uchi-deshi) in the dojo, or do I just keep it khaki? I didn’t want to go to school if it meant having to pretend to be someone else, so I told her straight out that I was going to live in a dojo. “A what???” A dojo. “Uhhuh.”

After giving her a brief explanation of the uchi-deshi concept and an overview of aikido, she simply said, “but where is this dojo?” And upon my answer that it is in The Mission, she sighed. “Fine, I will just say you will be living in San Francisco if they ask.”

Our interview having exceeded the time slot by a healthy factor, my new friend said, “I really must go now, but I have to say, it was a sincere pleasure meeting you and I really hope you get in just so I can see the look on their faces.” And with that, we shook hands and I strode tall out of the building.

Only the next day did I start to feel like a circus freak. Did I really want to pay egregious sums of money so that John and Bob and Hunter could point at the Girl with the Water Tattoo and ask how the shoe bags were selling? As the days passed after my interview and I talked with people about what to do, one wise friend asked me, “If you were given $170,000, is this what you would spend it on?” I answered “no” so quickly that I almost choked. And he said, well there you have it. And again, just as it had after the 2nd GMAT debacle, the relief flooded in and the whole thing like an incredible, distant past.

I went back to Argentina very happy to not have to pack up camp, and continued to grow my shoe bag business while resisting the constant temptation to exploit Bolivian labor. I started to write again, really just emails, but everything counts, and then I got a phone call. My interviewer left a message that she had very important news for me and could I call her back immediately on her direct line. “For some reason,” she said, “I only seem to have your Guatemalan cell number.”

I called her right back even though from my cell phone it was going to cost more than the plane ticket to the interview. No answer. I tried a few more times throughout the day from public phones all over the city, and did the same the following day. Nothing. I could not help but think she had called personally to tell me about the look on their faces. Certainly she would not have the gall to call and say that like Wharton, they only like shiny people.

So here I was again, being tested just as before. What would I do if I did get in to one of the most prestigious institutions in the entire world? Would I really give it up to continue price-shopping for toilet paper and ham in bulk?

I decided to go online and log in to the site as GaryA12x to check the status of my application. And when I did, the following message came up:

Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Program to Close in 2013.

The Haas School of Business and Columbia Business School have mutually agreed to end the Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Program in February 2013, when its last class graduates. The joint decision was reached in recognition of the growing differences in each school’s goals and future direction.

As a result no new applications will be accepted. Current students in the program will continue, with classes taking place at both schools until graduation.

We invite you to explore each school’s other MBA and executive MBA options at the links below. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Go home little girl, and stay there.


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