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Notre Dame MBA Student @ SAIF-2012

Editor's Note: Brendan Kelly, a 2nd year MBA student at Notre Dame, has become a pioneer in the school's relationship with SAIF. Brendan shared his experience of studying and life in Shanghai through a blog post.


Two Questions


Two months ago, my fiancée and I arrived in Shanghai with four suitcases, a couple of guidebooks, and maybe a dozen useful phrases in Mandarin. We had no place to live, no working Chinese cell phone, and only a rudimentary understanding of the layout of the city. Our friends back home were split into two camps, defined by two very different questions, “Why are you moving to China?” versus “When can we come visit?” The answer to the second question was easy: as soon as we sign a lease. The first question is more profound and requires further introspection, but our instinctive response was “Because we can.”


The Opportunity


In March of 2012, Notre Dame announced a new partnership with the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance (SAIF) at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The new partnership opened up an exchange program where Notre Dame MBA students would have the opportunity to take classes at SAIF and live in Shanghai from August to January.  My fiancée and I talked about the program, what implications it could have on our futures, and ultimately decided that the opportunity to live and study in a city as dynamic as Shanghai was too good to pass up. When we eventually received word that I was accepted into the program we were elated but anxious. We love Notre Dame and cherish the Mendoza community that first led me to believe that Notre Dame was the right place to further my business acumen. We would be loath to leave our friends and family more than 7,000 miles away. However, the more we considered the opportunity, we realized that spending six months in Shanghai was more than just a chance to study abroad, it was the best way to follow one of my favorite dictum’s from Mark Twain, to “never let my schooling interfere with my education.”


The Program


SAIF's MBA program focuses almost exclusively on finance so my seven elective courses run the gamut from Private Equity in Practice to Corporate Governance in China. While I often miss my classmates and professors from Notre Dame, my new colleagues at SAIF have all proven friendly, intellectually curious, and thoughtful. The bulk of my classmates are Chinese Part-Time MBA students. The insight that they provide to our classes after working full-time in many of China’s leading financial companies has been invaluable to my education. My fellow foreign exchange students, a mix of Danish, German, Canadian, Thai, Icelandic, and British graduate students have further emphasized the international make-up of Shanghai and have been a great support system as we navigate the waters of Shanghai together.


The Experience


During our first few days, we were truly overwhelmed by the size and pace of Shanghai. Skyscrapers dominate the business districts on either side of the Huangpu River and towering apartment buildings are as numerous as neighborhood noodle shops. The noise on the street is an endless cacophony of shouted conversations, continuous construction work, and thousands upon thousands of bleating car and motorized-bike horns. However as we spent more time here, became more acquainted with the labyrinthine streets, and delved into the rich cultural milieu of our new city we have grown to love it here. We have both been taking Mandarin classes and have learned enough that we can have brief conversations with friends, order off of almost any menu, and even read a few dozen Chinese characters.


While we occasionally miss some of the comforts of America, Shanghai is beginning to feel like home. And thanks to the Notre Dame Club of Shanghai, we have even been able to catch most of the Notre Dame Football games. It has made the world feel very small and interconnected to cheer on the Fighting Irish knowing that our friends and family are doing the same thing half a world away. Perhaps that’s been the most immediate lesson of my education so far: the world is staggeringly large, but the networks we create and the communities we become involved can help connect us, even 7,000 miles away.




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