Walking into the lobby of the Dubai trek meeting point at 8am felt like the very first day of school. The excitement was palpable and echoes of “which college are you in?”, “when do you get to Cambridge?”, and “how many suitcases do you have” (the last one was mine) could be felt across the hotel lobby. Within a few minutes, I knew I would get to Cambridge four days later with 13 new friends. What a sense of relief.

Our schedule over the next two days was packed. We visited Abraaj Capital, a $9 bn private equity firm headquartered in Dubai, and Barclays Bank, where the regional and international heads of businesses briefed us on the financial climate in the region (that’s right, my MBA hadn’t even started yet and here I was interacting with the Head of Wealth Management for the Middle East, Africa, and Japan!) We also visited Bain, BCG, Mckinsey, and Monitor Deloitte, and had the chance to hear firsthand consulting stories from some of their associates (some of whom were Cambridge alums, go Cambridge Blue!)

One of my most memorable experiences however was our morning session with Al Tayer Group, one of the largest family-owned businesses in the Middle East. Al-Tayer oversees hundreds of brands across the retail, hospitality, and automotive industries to name a few (my credit card is all but too familiar with some of these brands unfortunately!). The interactive session had us split into groups to stress-test and refine three business plans being pitched to the company’s board of Directors. It felt great to not only be involved in a real project, but to also know that the leadership team truly valued our opinion.

And yes, obviously, it wasn’t all work. There is no better way to get to know your future classmates than over one or two drinks.  We met a group of alumni for dinner and drinks, and barhopped across a few bars until they all closed. Overall, as rewarding as the business/networking experience was, what really impacted me was the advice given by the CJBS alumni we met on our first night:

  • Always try new things
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Ask your classmates for help, you’re not alone