Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Gaining and losing. 
Moreover, Losing- a theme that keeps recurring in my daily discourse. It began with the whole MBA thing. Finance. Profit vs. loss. Cost-benefit analyses. And then- as I try to apply these lessons to life outside a spread sheet- I look at my own losses. My own gains. And every so often, I wonder if what I am gaining is worth the losses. The basic sacrifices of doing an MBA are abundantly clear- and were clear to me before I applied to MBA programs. You lose a year/18 months/two years of work experience- 18 months of income- 18 months of whatever it may be that you were doing before- what you had made of your life. But in the end of it all- you gain an MBA, and for those of us here in b-school, in Barcelona- we gain a life experience, new friends, new ideas, new perspectives. You lose a life but you gain another- and at the end…you have a Masters in Business Administration. As far as I can tell- the cost is high but the benefit is greater- which makes every day/every loan/every headache- worth it…for the most part.

Life is about gaining and losing. We are born- we gain an existence. We die- and that existence is lost. Everyday- we lose 24 hours- but we gain laughter, and tears, and knowledge and experience. Some days the loss is worth it- some days it isn’t. 

Breaking it down to the major themes of life- they can all be weighed by their gains and their losses. Birth, death, work, health, family, education, relationships. Love. In everything, we take risks. Greater risk=greater return, I’ve been told. But what if it all goes wrong? What if we risk everything, and in turn- lose everything. I do this in my relationships. I do this with love. I risk my heart, and sometimes I win. Then there are those other times- the times when it breaks. And for a period of time, I feel as though I have lost everything. This is, in my opinion, the human condition. It’s our curse. We are able to love- which is one of the most remarkable things to experience- love for a parent or a child, a friend, a companion- a lover. But every time we allow ourselves to love- we risk losing that love, or losing that loved one, or in many cases- we risk having that loved one not return the love- or we risk them taking it away. And then there is no benefit. The losses are so great that everything we have ever gained is shadowed by the pain of losing. So once in a while, as a result of these great costs- and the damage they cause- we decide that loving isn’t worth it anymore. And we close off. As for me, I’ve never managed to do so…no matter how hard I have tried. And once in a while- I feel like I keep losing and losing and as the losses compound- I begin to feel as though I am losing myself. And that's the greatest loss of all. 

I cant say that this contemplation has come out of nowhere- admittedly, there have been a few instances of late in which my love for someone or something has eclipsed the balance sheet of my life- and I forget to look at how much I could lose- when all I can see are the gains. And then last night my best friend called me and told me that her step father had been hit by a car. She said, through her tears, that “he was hit as he was walking during the evening. He’s conscious and has very serious injuries but he’s alive. Just wanted to fill you in. Remember- you can never be too careful. The most precious things can slip away so fast without any warning.” Another loss- a loss that can’t be predicted. A loss that is thrown at us so quickly and abruptly “without warning.” A scary reminder of what we can’t control- but in that, a reminder of what we can control. We can only lose someone we love if we had allowed ourselves to love them in the first place. And that love- while it lasted, while it lasts- is far greater than the possible loss- it's the most exquisite thing in the world. Our hearts are capable of the most exquisite phenomenon in the world. The phenomenon of love.

On that note, today is my uncle’s birthday. He’s 72, acts 25, and looks around 50. He’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever known in my life. He’s one of those rare family members who you feel blessed to have- not the ones (like most of them) who were thrust upon you and you feel you have to love them because they tell you over and over again, “blood is thicker than water.” Although at this point in my life- I beg to differ. 

Nevertheless, a few years ago my uncle had heart surgery. The doctor came out and gave the news that it had gone well and that he was in recovery. However, before he left the room, the doctor added that during surgery, they found that my uncle has a “huge heart.” When asked if this was the reason for his illness, if it was dangerous, the doctor said “no, its just larger than most people’s.” 
Which explains a lot. 
So taking a look at all the jumbled thoughts clanking around my head- all these ideas about losing things- losing love, loving, gaining, our hearts and the pain or pleasure they cause us…I have to take a look at my uncle; one whose heart is bigger than most, who love is true and constant and kind- and one who, because of all he gives and all he risks- is loved infinitely by so many people. One who has only gained.

Happy birthday pookster. Love you.

Friday, February 20, 2009

To Exchange or Not To Exchange

That is the question.
(The question that has to be answered by the February 23rd deadline). 
The question, that is, whether to go on an exchange program or not.

Study abroad…yet again. Exchange, denoting change: a change of country, of home, address, of friends, cuisine, clocks, beds, schedules, exchanging everything that has become comfortable for everything that is wholly foreign- unfamiliar- unknown…one more time. 
To most, this great disturbance of life as we know it is nothing but an inconvenience- a hassle that anyone in their right mind would try to avoid. Maybe it's something I should be avoiding, especially given that I only moved here six months ago.

Be that as it may, this time- just like every other time- I have jumped at the opportunity to turn my life upside down. 
Study abroad? Porque no? A chance to further the breadth of my knowledge- of my understanding of the world? That's what I’m talking about. This is my territory…this is what I know. Throw me into any country, on any continent- without anything familiar in sight- and I’ll become a local. 
Put me in tax law class and I’ll forever be a foreigner.

There are, however, a few obstacles. There is, as always, the burden of choice. Where to go? When to go? And how the hell I’m going to get in. Seems the exchange thing is pretty competitive.

When to go? That's pretty clear. I’m looking at first term next fall. Yet there is always the chance that I'm going to pull a “Florence 2001” and simply not go back to my home school. Although- DC is much less alluring than Barcelona.

Where to go? That's where the big question mark is. Under normal circumstances- the criterion would be based on where I have never been before- or the furthest destination possible. This time however, there are other factors to take into account. Such as; courses offered, faculty, spaces available for exchange students, language spoken, language taught, curriculum focus, ranking (FT primarily), and so on and so forth. And then, of course, the be all end all of most major decisions while not earning an expendable income: The Mom. Here’s how that has gone so far:

Me: Hi, I think I’m going to go on exchange. What do you think?
Mom: Morgan, aren’t you already ‘studying abroad’?
Me: Well, yes. But it’s different. It's a good opportunity. Learn a new culture, a new language, a new experience.
Mom: Again Morgan, didn't you just get to Spain? Aren’t you still learning the Spanish culture, the Spanish language, isn’t everyday a new experience?
Me: Well, yeah, but I am ready for something new.
Mom: At this rate, in a few years, you’re going to be applying to a PhD on Mars.
Me: Anything’s possible
Mom: Morgan, what is it exactly that you want? Why is it never enough?

She does have a point. After all, she has never not had a point. And that, the “being enough” thing, has plagued me for as long as I can remember. It’s not enough. It’s never enough. I want more. To that end, I finished my application last night. We can choose up to ten schools to apply to. I applied to ten- just to be safe.

Here’s my list, in order of preference from one to ten. Please don’t try to find a rhyme or reason to the order- because I don’t have one:
1 China Europe International Business School – CEIBS (Shanghai)
2 HEC MBA PROGRAM (Paris- well, the outskirts of Paris unfortunately)
3 Chinese University of Hong Kong
4 Fudan University (Shanghai)
5 NUS Business School (Singapore)
6 Australian Grad. School of Management, Univ.New South Wales
7 SDA Bocconi (Milano)
8 Leonard N. Stern School of Business, New York Univ. (NEW YORK BABY!)
9 Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile (Santiago, I believe)
10 University of Melbourne (G’day mate)

So the decision of whether “to go or not to go” is no longer in my hands. “Where” to go is more like it. And “how” to afford it is yet another. But when there’s a will there’s a way…this I know, if I’ve learned anything.

“The undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveler returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than to fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all: and thus the native hue of resolution.”

There’s some food for thought.

It may be a bit dramatic of me to introduce the contemplations of Shakespeare, being that studying abroad isn’t quite as absolute as death- but “to exchange or not to exchange,” isn’t lacking in its own form of dramatics. And thus, this undiscovered country in which I hope to live- despite the “unknown”- calls me. “That I know not of” beckons. And conscience? Forget my conscience. Cowardice I know not of.

Sorry, mom. Again.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Preterito indefinido

I was held back a level in Spanish. I began in level four, I am still in level four, and there is a small possibility I will graduate in level four. As much as I feel like a tard, it was actually a mutual decision between my professor and I. I seem to have advanced a bit more slowly then the rest of my class. (cringe).

I always thought that languages were my thing- or that's what I told myself…and everyone else. Admittedly, my Spanish has gotten worse since I reached Spain. I seem to have regressed. I spend almost three hours a day, three days a week, on exercises; speaking, reviewing and somehow I managed to forget some of the Spanish I did know. Not to mention the fact that I go to sleep and wake up in a Spanish speaking country. 

Instead, I speak Italian. I spoke more Italian in Spanish class than the two Italians in my Spanish class. It’s as if my brain is filled to capacity with all this new information that there’s no room left for another language. Not cool. Not to mention the fact that I cant seem to grasp the vosotros forms of verbs. There’s no vosotros in Cuba, which means there is no vosotros in Miami, which means...I’ve never seen it before.  

And how many past tenses do we really need? Come on! Recent past, sort of past, past past, very past, continuing past, extreme past, past before another past event, the past after another past event, ancient past. 
The past is the past, isn’t it? At least I had assumed the past would be the past when we speak of languages.  

The past is the past. Lets look forward. Period.

Then again, my refusal to accept that the past exists in many forms may be the grounds for repeating a course. And due to my refusal to accept the past- I have to repeat the past. Level four. Dos veces.

I guess, with that understanding, with this consideration of the past- I’ve been forced to believe that maybe the Spanish speakers of the world are right. Because when I look at my own past- there isn’t one single past. There are many- and there are histories within my histories whose characteristics are all relatively diverse. And although my memories- my pasts- all have that one thing in common- they are over, they have happened- the fact remains that some memories are dimmer than others, some are more important respective of time and place- some are all but lost. I wonder if there’s a Spanish tense for this. And then there is the past that was a regular action- a habit, if you will- and instead of just being an event in the past, the habitual activity became a part of who I am…but how do you measure that? With an ending? With a conjugation?

This is where I get lost; trying to define with words, in any language, in any tense. There was a quote I used to repeat as my mantra- mind you, this was in undergrad days of philosophy courses and the days when I had time to preach my ignorant beliefs about life- in the days before I understood that the past I was living then, would only become a small fraction of the entirety of my past. Either way, I truly believed that “the past is history, the future is an idea, and all we have is now- the present.” Or something like that. I really believed this- but beyond personal philosophies, it was a convenient justification of all the stupid shit I did. Carpe Diem, right? I would say that the Diem is all we have…the present is all we have- but maybe that's not so true. Because without the past, our presents would be totally altered. Without our pasts- everything we have done and seen and felt would change- we wouldn't be who we are now. And without the past- we wouldn't know what not to do with the future. So instead of dimming the lights- or as I once tended to do, completely shutting them off- it may be in our best interests to shine a light on those moments that define us as we are now- these dimensions of the past- the ones that exist in Spanish and the ones that exist in my mind.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Grades finally came out about two weeks ago. It took the administration over a month to get it together and hit us with the sad truths that teachers in Spain consider 80s to be “very good” scores. Furthermore, I managed to finally learn that one, in effect, cannot bullshit on an accounting exam.

The delay in the release of scores caused an immense amount of anxiety for myself and my classmates. You would think that a 57,000 Euro tuition pays for a bit more efficiency. Needless to say, the daily calls from my mother- inquiring about my grades- insinuating that I did have them and was withholding information- well, that didn't help. And the rest of the student body, regardless of the motivation- overbearing parents or not- were trapped in the purgatorial uneasiness of not knowing what the last four months of our lives actually amounted to. Meanwhile, two students’ worst nightmares were realized as they were asked to pack their ESADE messenger bags and leave- a month into the second term.

I can’t say that I did amazingly. But I’m still here and with regards to the others, I suppose that's an accomplishment. I came into the MBA with ambitions...aims that are now relatively laughable. 
Reviewing these targets of mine now, with an acute understanding of what an MBA actually requires, seem not only incredibly unlikely, but quite bizarre. 
-I wanted to graduate valedictorian, or at least at the top of my class. At this point, I’m happy to graduate at all. 
-I planned to generate business plan after business plan- to be the most entrepreneurial person in Barcelona. 
-I had hopes of sketching out my life so that there would be no more uncertainties. 
-I wanted to effectively morph into a business superstar. Yet the fact that words like “superstar” are still in my vocabulary is most likely a slight indication of the incongruity of my objectives and the brain floating around in my head. 

I can’t say that I’m not learning. I am. I’ve already learned more than I expected- more than I had hoped. And with that realization, my frustration with the administration, and my disappointment with myself for not reaching the top with my grades- all that, is mitigated. Because that's why I came…to learn. And that's what I’m doing.
At least I know now what a business plan entails.

Maybe 2nd term will be my “luminary era.”
We’ll see. Anything can happen. And as my first grade teacher used to tell the class at the end of a week- “We’re all superstars.”

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mushroomy Elephants turn one!

I began writing this blog on my 27th birthday. I created it as a gift to myself- an outlet- an instrument of truth. Today I turned 28 and my blog turned one. I find it interesting to look back and see how much my life has changed in just a year- how much I have experienced. 
Reading through the posts- and the transformation of my thoughts and ideas and realities- it seems as though blog-years are more like dog-years. I aged 365 days- but from this view- it seems as though I've lived seven.
Anyways- onwards and upwards. 
Happy Birthday Bloggy (and to me!)