Thursday, November 26, 2009

O! Say Can You See...

A year ago, I may have lamented about being stuck in Spain during Thanksgiving- with a 7:30 wake up call, classes all day and not so much as a suggestion of a cornucopia.  What makes it harder though, is the thought of my fellow Americans at home with their four-day weekends, the company of their entire families and a table full of enough food to feed a small country. Today, however, during my second Thanksgiving in Spain as an ESADE student- I'm surprised to find myself with only a shy hint of homesickness. Instead of longing for traditions of the past, I have a new tradition in which to partake.

After class, I will be picking up the ingredients for the creamed spinach I plan to cook for 40 students at our second annual Thanksgiving feast. Being that the MBA lasts only 18 months, it’s infrequent that we have the opportunity to create traditions. This year, we're not starting something new- we're not trying something out that hasn’t been done before. This year, our Thanksgiving celebration will bring with it a familiar quality- Manu with his famous Sangria, Felix busily basting (or whatever it is you do with poultry) the turkey and Vicky with her fabulous all-American apple pie. Thanksgiving in b-school is a new tradition, but a tradition nonetheless. And for that reason, I welcome it into my repertoire of unforgettable pastimes- into my MBA memory bank.

When I was little, after sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table with my family for hours- full bellied and nearly ready for our early evening naps, we were all acutely aware of the fact that there was something to be done to signify the conclusion of the feast. Every individual- from Nana Annie to eccentric aunt Liss, would stand up on their chairs, place their hands over their hearts- and sing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the tops of their lungs. Being that the only person in the room that could actually carry a tune was my sister, it wasn't a pretty sight. However, our feigned patriotism stands out for me as the symbol of Thanksgiving in my home.

The Witkin clan chorus is family tradition that began at some point with my grandpa’s odd outburst of song, and will continue throughout the generations to come (on my part, at least).

As I got older and didn't live at home anymore- my mom never failed to fly me in for the Thanksgiving festivities. And each year, we continued the singing ritual. In later years, my parents divorced and although our Thanksgiving dinners took place in two different locations, at two different times- we still sang “The Star Spangled Banner” with gusto. And although, as the years have passed, we have suffered the loss of loved ones and welcomed new additions to the family, the custom holds strong and the neighbors can still hear our wailing from down the street.

At some point in the last decade, in addition to our singing, we somehow managed to add another tradition to the mix. I don’t remember exactly when it began or from whom we adapted it- but it is still maintained among family members on Thanksgiving regardless of how far apart we may be.

Now, after all the food and the subsequent singing, we go around the table and ,one-by-one, give thanks for everything good in our lives- everything we appreciate, everything we recognize as a blessing. We were never necessarily patriots, nor are we religious- but I was brought up to "Carpe Diem"- and to appreciate all that I have. Maybe this tradition began because amongst the wine, turkey, tofurky, the chatter, the airport runs, the days and days of shopping and cooking and preparation- Thanksgiving loses its meaning- that is: the day of thanks- the secular type.

I was thinking...if I stand up on my chair at dinner and attempt to hit the high notes shrieking “…and the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”, my classmates might finally consider me certifiably crazy. Therefore, I am simply going to stick with giving thanks.

We have about four months left in the MBA, so it seems that now is as good a time as any to define what I am grateful for. Last year, when our first Thanksgiving together came upon us- each friend filled the voids left by family members back home carving the turkey and mashing the potatoes. At that time, this year’s Thanksgiving felt like a lifetime away. Now it’s here and is most probably the last thanksgiving I will ever spend in Spain. That said, I know I have plenty to give thanks for:

I am thankful to Ray, my GMAT tutor, without whom I never would have rocked the math section and therefore, probably wouldn't be doing an MBA.

I am thankful to Mary, the career services dynamo who interviewed me 2 years ago. Not only did meeting her make me hands-down choose ESADE, but she let me in. She had faith that this artsy, creative non-business person would actually be able to succeed in an MBA.

I am thankful to my mom and stepdad Peter, who have given me all the opportunities in the world. They are the ones who pushed me to do an MBA and they are the ones who pay my credit card bill when I realize I have no money left in my Caja Madrid account because the stupid Euro has skyrocked.

I’m thankful to all my friends here at school, who made the MBA what it is- who made the tough parts bearable and the good parts even better. These are the people whose faces I see every morning on the bus when the sun has not yet risen and the faces looking at me from across the room with the same tired eyes or knowing grins.

I am thankful to Papa Louie who began the singing tradition, and who I miss more and more each year.

Most of all, I have to give one more shout-out to my mom who worked her ass off to  make every thanksgiving of my childhood and early adulthood extraordinary. We should all be lucky enough to have a mom like mine.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mustache Month

There is no doubt that an MBA degree carries with it a level of amusement. From unplanned social gatherings, to odd couplings, silly gossip, scandals, cultural celebrations and even the rare in-class excitement- we’re never at a loss for things to smile about (much of which I am not at liberty to even note.)

Being that we are nearing the end of the whole shebang, I’ve been tuning in a bit more to the odd and quirky things that happen around me each and every day.

With the help of my blackberry camera, I’ve had the opportunity to document two such notable occasions.

Firstly, and this is a totally new concept to me, apparently the month of November is also known as “Movember”- the month for prostate cancer awareness. According to, “The idea for Movember was sparked in 2003 over a few beers in Melbourne, Australia.  The guys behind it joked about 80s fashion and decided it was time to bring the moustache back.  In order to justify their Mos (Australian slang for moustache), they used their new looks to raise money for prostate cancer research… never dreaming that facial hair would ultimately lead to a global movement that would get men talking about a taboo subject – their health.”

So when I saw a bunch of my classmates rocking mustaches, I just had to ask…

Anyway, the facial hair movement here at ESADE is providing some much needed comic relief. And here are a few of the winning Mo’s: (sorry guys…had to!)

And who ever said MBA’s lacked in social responsibility???

Secondly, during my “Transnational Manager” course, we were broken into designated teams in order to work with a given group of MBAs studying somewhere else in the world. Our assignment was to develop a new product- an “Egg Drop Protector (EDP).”

Sound stupid? Yeah, I thought so too. And when I was done complaining about the foolish assignment, I actually enjoyed it. Our trans-national teams worked for about a week designing, analyzing and executing our product plans. Today was the “test” where although the rules were strict (i.e. “NO parachutes allowed!” or “the egg cannot be taped, secured, strapped or tied into the vehicle”), we all somehow managed to bring our devices into class only to be tested in the school stairwell covered in newspaper.

Below are the pics. It was fab.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"I do"s and I don'ts

In the spring of 2002, I found myself halfway through my year-long exchange program in Florence, Italy. In addition to each new experience- and the fact that the world was beginning to slowly open itself up to me, I met two very special people- my friends Michael and Susana. Amongst everything that happened and all that we lived through that year, Michael fell in love with Susana.

Despite the years that have passed far too quickly to note- and the substantial geographic gap between what we independently call home, Michael and I have remained extremely close. He’s been a shoulder for me to cry on in bad times and shared in a number of good times. He listens to me bitch about my jobs or relationships and in turn, I found him a job and did some emotional coaching myself. Our friendship has been one of those solid relationships on which I know I can always count. Furthermore, his happiness has always been of great importance to me.

That is why, when after almost seven years since our “vita Fiorentina”- Michael called to tell me he was marrying Susana, I promised to fly across the ocean, miss a week of classes and attend his wedding.

I know we all think we know about love- or at least we have a certain amount of knowledge from our personal experiences. As I get older, more practical and less naive about love and relationships, I’m starting to realize that maybe I have no idea how to define love at all.

However, this past weekend, when I saw Michael’s face as Susana walked down the isle- I caught a glimpse of the kind of love I know I want- and this small realization, something so simple that I should have figured out years ago- awakened some kind of waterworks inside of me. I was one of those distressing individuals who makes a spectacle of themselves at someone else’s wedding. The unfortunate guests sitting behind me had to peer over my heaving shoulders, while the boy beside me timidly rubbed my arm asking me if I was ok as tears were seeping out from between my fingers.

As much as I would like to say they were all tears of joy for the happy couple, being that my friend finally “got his girl” after years and years of loving her, I was partly weeping out of self-pity.

It's not, although it may seem to be, that I suddenly need to get married, or that I want the big white dress and the honeymoon- there is no internal clock ticking, I am sure of this. But it was the look on Michael’s face that made me wonder where my Susana is. As the entire congregation turned to see the bride, who was absolutely breathtaking, I looked at one of my best friends looking at the girl he was promising to love and cherish forever. I saw his desire to take care of her, to treasure her, and to grow old with her. In his face, I saw how grateful he was to have her- and she him. And in this momentary exchange- I had flashbacks of all my boyfriends, all the times I thought I was in love and all the times I actually may have been in love. I scanned through my memories wondering if I let my “Susana” go at some point. I wondered if that person is in my life now- and if one day he will look at me the way Michael looked at Susana at that moment.

Eventually, I pulled myself together, ordered a stiff drink- congratulated my friends, and danced until dawn celebrating the union of two people who love each other unconditionally.

The rest of my time in Miami was spent visiting a number of other friends- consisting mainly of newlyweds, new parents, and about-to-be mothers and fathers. Considering the recent unease with my place in life and all the confusion with respect to where others are- weddings and babies may not have been the best move to make psychologically.

However, it did clarify a few things.

For one, I’m not ready to be a mother. No way. Secondly, as nice as having someone to love you each and every day, and as fun as one’s own wedding must be- I don't think I will even consider marrying until I am sure that the person standing at the altar with me will look at me the way Michael looked at Susana. Forever.

Lastly, I could not wait to get back to Barcelona- to my friends here who are all still figuring it out- to my classes where I haven’t yet ceased to learn from books and lectures- to my cover letters whose purposes are to initiate my next path- and to my Barcelonian friends and loved ones who fill my life here with their own individual brands of love- sans eternal commitments.

Last week was a break from school- but by day three, I realized I needed a break. I don't think I have ever been happier to get on an 8 hour flight with classes and group meetings waiting for me at the other end. And here I was, this whole time, thinking that I needed to get home for a bit- when all the while- I have been here, at home in Barcelona, exactly where I should be.