This is the most important thing you should do during your master’s

Moving from Canada to Switzerland to do a master’s wasn’t part of the plan for Vivian Zhang. But, she has learned new skills, had some wonderful experiences, and met some amazing people. It has only been possible because of this one important thing she did.

In short

Life in Switzerland

Switzerland wasn’t Vivian Zhang’s first choice. After completing her undergraduate degree in Canada, she decided to make a leftfield move and do her master’s in Europe. Initially, she had planned on studying in the UK because of its linguistic links to Canada. However, after speaking to graduates of the Strategy and International Management (SIM) program at the University of St.Gallen, she realized Switzerland was the place for her.

“Originally I wanted to go to the UK, because that just made more sense since they speak English there, and it’s more connected to North America. But after talking to people who went through my current program, that made me realize that this is the place I want to be,” she explains. (00:48)

Vivian soon settled in Switzerland and found the country’s atmosphere to be open and welcoming to foreigners. It was perhaps her program peers who made her feel most at home in a new country.

“People here are so open-minded and nice,” she tells us. “I didn’t really expect people to be so welcoming to foreigners here. And I think I really built a community here, especially with the help of my friends on this program, who really made me feel at home in Switzerland.” (01:37)

The social impact of the St.Gallen SIM

While most universities and business schools make efforts to help students form close bonds with their classmates, it seems as though St.Gallen places a particular emphasis on this. For Vivian, these bonds were crucial – not just to maintain personal relationships, but also to expand her professional network.

She says, “St.Gallen really tried to have different social activities to bond a cohort. Thanks to that, you can connect with your peers and build a really strong network. This network really helps in terms of future careers.” (02:29)

The SIM program is ranked as the best MiM program in the world by the Financial Times. It’s number one for a variety of reasons, one of which is the diverse curriculum. For Vivian, the chance to combine business studies with social impact projects was appealing.

“They don’t only have business-related subjects, such as finance and marketing, but they also have this aspect of a social impact project that we have to do,” she elaborates. (02:12) The SIMagination Challenge is a two-semester course in which students plan and execute social impact projects in different parts of the world. The goal of the course is to bring value and sustainable impact to communities that need it. With the school’s long-term partnerships with local organizations and NGOs, each project is carried forward from one generation of SIMmies to the next. Through this experience, SIMmies learn to take on responsibility, work in diverse groups, and work toward a common goal in collaboration with partners, ultimately developing leadership skills along the way.

Where do St.Gallen SIM graduates end up?

Graduates of master’s in management programs tend to favor certain industries over others – namely, finance and consulting. However, that doesn’t mean they are pressured to follow this career path. According to Vivian, St.Gallen actively encourages SIM students to explore a number of different potential career paths.

“The majority of people do go into consulting, I would say, but I think that the career managers here really do a really good job introducing new career paths to you. For instance, we have a tech tea time, a healthcare tea time, and a VC tech tea time where you get introduced to past SIMmies who are in those fields. So you get introduced to different career paths, which I found really cool,” she explains. (03:00)

Encouraging its students to pursue these different career paths naturally leads to a more diverse and well-rounded cohort. As Vivian puts it, “In this program, people come from different walks of life. They’re successful. Men and women [who] have gone through this program and have gone through different paths in business. Through their examples, I was able to relate my strengths and build on my weaknesses. That made me more comfortable in my own skills, which I think is imperative in terms of anchoring my direction for my future.” (03:45)

The most important thing you should do in the St.Gallen SIM

The cohort at St.Gallen may be diverse, it may be varied, it may be international, but there is one thing that unites all students: being a “SIMmie.” It’s that feeling of being part of something special [that] is the bedrock of the program. Vivian has had the chance to meet some amazing people – and now close friends – through the St.Gallen SIM.

“I think the biggest gift of this program is the people you meet because my peers are some of the most wonderful people I’ve met throughout my 22 years. I think these are the people that can support me both in my career as well as my personal life. Without this program, I wouldn’t have met these people,” Vivian states. (06:18)

There are a lot of things that all SIMmies have in common, but the most important one might be openness. SIMmies have an openness to try new things and a willingness to take on new experiences. Vivian believes that keeping that open mind is the single most important thing you can do in a program like this.

She concludes, “Keep an open mind, because you never know what you can expect. And once you have an open mind, I think everything you receive in return is more than you would have imagined.” (07:28)

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