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From Beijing to Toronto: An International Rotman MBA Student Shares Transition Tips

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We love featuring student experiences here in Fridays from the Frontline and couldn’t help but notice this great post from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management on second-year student Haolin Zhang (MBA ’18). A Chinese native with solid work experience in marketing at P&G and Mars, Zhang was looking to make the leap into consulting or finance. He was attracted to Rotman because of its strength in finance and its proximity to Bay Street, but like many international students at Rotman, almost all of his professional and educational experience was outside North America. He found himself boning up on North American table manners before his first business dinner in Canada by watching YouTube videos.

But now in his second year, Zhang is serving as vice president of both the Rotman Asian Business Association and the Managing Consulting Association and looking for ways to educate fellow foreign students on Canadian customs so he can share what he’s learned and perhaps ease their transition a little.

Read on to learn what helped Zhang land a summer associate position at Bain & Company and some of his advice for international students considering Rotman. Our thanks to Rotman and to Zhang for allowing us to share his insights with the Clear Admit audience.

The following post has been republished in its entirety from its original source, the Life at Rotman blog.

From Beijing to Toronto: An International Student’s Experience Pursuing an MBA and Navigating Life in a New Country
by Rebecca Cheung

The night before Haolin Zhang (MBA ’18) headed to his first business dinner in Canada, he turned to YouTube for some help. Though he’d done his research and knew his talking points for the meeting, he wasn’t clear on all aspects of North American table manners.

“I wasn’t fully aware of all the etiquette rules at the dinner table,” he says. “I was learning about what to do and what to expect through these videos.”

The dinner ended up going well and the experience opened Zhang’s eyes to how he could support his peers at the Rotman School of Management.

“As international students, we’re not always aware of certain practices,” explains Zhang, who has just begun his term as VP, Internal for the Rotman Asian Business Association and VP, Recruitment for the Management Consulting Association. In these roles, he’s interested in designing activities that educate foreign students on Canadian customs, so they know what to expect at business engagements and networking events.

“There’s a bit of a learning curve for foreign students, but there might be ways we can help out.”

From Beijing to Toronto
Like many international students at Rotman, Zhang gained most of his professional and academic experience outside of North America. Before going to business school, Zhang—who was based in Beijing at the time—already had a number of impressive achievements to his name. After graduating from Tsinghua University with a bachelor’s degree in science, he held various sales and marketing positions with P&G and Mars Inc. In these roles, he became proficient at data-driven approaches to marketing and eventually managed teams and oversaw million-dollar campaigns.

After working for a few years, he was looking to make the leap into consulting or finance and started thinking seriously about business school. The Rotman School’s strong finance focus and close proximity to Bay Street won him over. He packed his bags and flew across the globe to enroll in the full-time MBA program.

For Zhang, the first year went by in a flash: His days were packed with classes, projects, exams, case competitions, and extracurricular activities. Through all these experiences, he was also getting an education in North American work culture.

“In one of our negotiations classes, we observed how everyone has a different style to working out a deal. The approach we take is influenced by our personality, our experience, and culture,” he says.

“Today, when you step into the workplace, you are working with people all over the world. It’s important to understand different customs.”

Paying it Forward
Most of Zhang’s skills in solving problems, leading teams, and managing clients are transferable to any marketplace. So, when it came time to apply for internships, he turned to Career Services to make sure key elements of his work experience and personality weren’t lost in translation.

“The interview preparation and support helped me become more confident about describing myself. The ‘tell me about yourself’ question comes up in every interview and it really sets the tone for the rest of the interaction.”

In the coming school year, he’s hoping to support fellow international students with finding internship opportunities and by letting them know of the services that exist at the school.

In Zhang’s case, his efforts paid off and he landed a summer associate position with Bain & Co. in Toronto. He’s excited about working in consulting and tackling some interesting business problems.

“In this type of work, you’re always presented with new problems and every day is a bit different. That’s what makes it exciting,” he said. “The best projects are the ones where you can see your impact immediately.”

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