Excel Monkey’s Journey to the West*

I was born in Shanghai but spent the last two decades of my life in Boston, and consider myself to be pretty stereotypically “East Coast”—pragmatic, competitive, and grumpy. My family, friends and professional network were all in Boston, proud city of the highest college/square mile ratio and home to some other excellent educational institutions. For all intents and purposes, I would have been the most comfortable staying in the city where I grew up, surrounded by fellow Patriots fans and pizza that was actually pizza, not casserole suffering from an identity crisis.

So why Chicago?

Let’s get one thing out of the way—yes, Chicago is cold. Yes, it is very, very cold.

But let’s stop pretending that other top business schools aren’t also in places that are downright sleety, snowy, and gross for five months out of twelve. The great westward pioneer migration happened because the US Northeast will never win the “favorite tropical paradise” prize.

First, professionally, I was fairly region-agnostic; while I understood that there would be more travel involved in recruiting, I entered Booth thinking that I would eventually relocate to Asia to fulfill my short term goal of gaining expertise in frontier and emerging Asian markets. The difference from Chicago to Asia vs. from New York to Asia was incremental. While this changed as I reassessed my long-term career prospects (see Excel Monkey Decides To Switch it Up), I still think my decision to move to the Mid-West was the right one.

This is because I liked Booth so much. I did my due diligence before applying, visiting all the schools I’d narrowed down in my search. While it’s difficult to quantify how much of Booth’s general atmosphere of awesome-but-humble is due to the Midwest, I can’t discount the possibility that the region informs the values that make Booth so awesome. The University of Chicago is an intellectual powerhouse (which Alex talks more about, here), where the expectation of rigorous critical thinking is almost a religion, and our career services (my #1 priority was to find a kick-ass job) is world-class.

Finally, Chicago is a world class city. It’s cosmopolitan and full of life, with some of the best restaurants and craft cocktail hot spots. Yet its proximity to the lake, general breadth of space, and gorgeous green parkways means it feels expansive, not claustrophobic. Also, for a major city, it’s incredibly clean and well-maintained.

 

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I’m not going to convince people who are enamored of New York that Chicago is better. It’ll be like convincing me that the Red Sox aren’t the best team in the world—logic will always lose out to loyalty and pride in this discussion. Unless you desperately want to be within spitting distance of Wall Street or if Big Oil is your calling, Chicago is a fantastic city to study and work in. Relative to any other city in terms of accessibility to jobs, economic growth, and general fun things to do, Chicago stacks up great. The restaurants are fantastic, the craft cocktails are even better, and if there’s anything better than taking a sailboat with friends out onto the lake with a basket from Pastoral and a growler from Revolution Brewery, you’re delusional.

 

*Yes, this was a pun, to fans of classical Chinese literature.

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