Tales of an ESSEC exchange student at Booth

Tales of an ESSEC exchange student at Booth

September 2019. I am finally boarding my United B787 from Paris to Chicago. 8 hours to go. I have already contacted many of the fellow exchange students to understand what weather to expect (spoiler: it was colder than expected!). Also, I have just figured out how to properly bid for classes. Finally, thanks to the help of an American pal, I am fully briefed on how to survive and thrive in Chicagoland. In my mind, I expect an extraordinary trimester.

My plane is finally approaching O’Hare. While the wide-body jet breaks through the clouds, I immediately spot one of the first American architectural icons: The Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower). The rest of the breathtaking skyline opens around the majestic skyscraper, fading progressively towards the Gold Coast.

The majestic Chicago skyline

After landing, I go through immigration and immediately catch an Uber. I look outside of the window, while downtown Chicago flashes by. I see the shops on the Magnificent Mile, Millennium Park, the Art Institute, and the blue Lake Michigan. Then, a quote comes back to my mind:

“Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world.” ―Frank Lloyd Wright

But instead of residing in the tall buildings of the Loop, I decided to live in Hyde Park.

I know what many of you are thinking. Trading off endless fun and tall skyscrapers for walking distance to the campus is an interesting choice. Nonetheless, as one of my Hyde Park neighbors (Michelle Obama) once said, “You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” And with those words in my mind, I started to explore the neighborhood.

A walk through the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park

Hyde Park is green (in September), larger than a comparable European neighborhood, and full of squirrels. The campus of the University of Chicago occupies an extended area and is composed of a series of architecturally diverse buildings, including a futuristic dome-shaped library (The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library), a Hogwarts-shaped library (Harper Memorial Library), and a gargantuan athletic center (Gerald Ratner Athletics Center). Ivy flourishes on the walls of churches and Gothic buildings.

After a few minutes of walk, I reach 5807 South Woodlawn Avenue and I finally see Booth. This incredible building, designed as an architectural homage to Wright’s Robie House just across the street from it, is embellished with hundreds of modern paintings and artistic objects. 

The roof of the Charles M. Harper Center, home to the full-time MBA program

I remember one art piece in particular—neon writing positioned on one side of the Winter Garden. It says, “Why are you here and not somewhere else (?)”

The question that nudges Boothies to constantly introspect

The first time I read this message, I thought it was just as bizarre as contemporary art sometimes is. But then, day after day and week after week, every time I descended the stairs to go to one of my classes, I started to ask myself more and more what this experience meant to me. In 10 years, how will this experience fit in the big picture? Which choices brought me here? What is waiting for me next?

Mindfulness apart, at Booth I learnt a lot of things. I was lucky enough to take some of the best classes in the world on Entrepreneurial Finance, Private Equity, Technology Strategy, Chinese Economy, and Leadership. I have seen Nobel Prize winners walking around the campus, and humbly answering questions from confused students. I have worked in prodigious teams that have helped me to achieve a lot in my quarter abroad.

In the Winter Garden, the center of all activity in the Harper Center

When I was preparing this article, I wanted to summarize the whole academic experience with a memorable phrase. Just a second before abandoning this idea, a quote came back to my mind:

“Entire careers are built in brief moments of intense leverage.” —James E. Schrager, Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

But how do you build this leverage? In short, you need to continuously confront yourself with the “top players” in order to receive feedback and to set the bar high enough. Having the honor to work and hang out with Boothies and exchange students from the best MBAs in the world was one of the great highlights of my experience in Chicago. It allowed me to receive feedback, be coached, and get a clearer perspective on my professional projects.

In addition, the University offers an incredible number of events that allow students to interact with each other: lunchbox meetings, workshops, conferences, and networking events. I still remember an intimate networking dinner in downtown Chicago spent talking about electoral colleges, Random Walks, and the wild Chicago weather!

Joining what is undoubtably the best MBA in the world is something more than joining a great university. It means being part of a unique culture. It means joining an environment of excellence. It means witnessing the history and the future of economic and business thinking. At Booth, I had the impression that no challenge is impossible to overcome.

Author bio: Alessandro Carletta is a student at ESSEC Business School in Paris. He exchanged at Booth in the Autumn Quarter of 2019. He is passionate about Venture Capital, Strategy, and Rock climbing.

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