The voyage from disappointment to Norwich Business School and beyond

My name is Babalo Jantjies and I am a Full-Time MBA student at Norwich Business School at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the 2019 academic year. I was born in South Africa but grew up in Namibia, and I have been fortunate to have had the career that I’ve had prior to the MBA programme. With 12 years of management experience in different roles for international companies, including a small stint running my own business which failed, I decided to make a career change by pursuing an MBA degree at UEA. There are many good reasons for everyone to go to a business school, but I decided to study an MBA because I noticed a skills gap in my work as manager, and taking on the managerial role in business is a challenge that requires good management and leadership skills.     

I remember my first day, I was so excited and I woke up at 05:00 in the morning and walked in the freezing cold for 45 minutes – just so that I could be early and and make a good impression on my first day. My state of mind that morning was a mixed bag as I met my cohorts; a fear of failure, anxiety, and uncertainty about whether I would complete the programme. However, I also had a sense of achievement and pride to be in the privileged position to do my MBA at one of the top universities in the UK. I settled in very well, and I remember my cohort were extremely friendly, and by the end of the first few days we had an MBA cohort chat group which helped me with critical information as we went along.

The UEA campus is a very good place to study, everything is within a 15-minute radius using public transport, or a 45-minute walk. Everyone is friendly in Norwich and on campus, and being together with my wife for 18 years, who happens to be British, I was able to settle in well at the school, at times putting on my Norfolk accent “hiya you orrite, yeah not too bad” mixed with a South African accent. My wife hates it when I do that, by the way.

My expectations were very high, especially considering that I spent my last 3 years running my own business, but had to close shop due to unforeseen economic challenges in my country. As a result of my business failing, I ended up taking the blame upon myself for not having had the foresight to anticipate changes in the business climate. During my skype interview with the Course Director about modules and course content, I was convinced that the management consultancy projects would play a pivotal role in rectifying my past business mistakes, thus could not wait to get started.

I was looking forward to the management consultancy projects as part of the course, which deals with real companies, with real life challenges. I chose to study my MBA at UEA because I believed it was the right course for me and for my career progression because of the structure of the programme, as well as the fact that UEA is ranked high amongst other universities. 

There is so much to take away from the programme that simplifying quantifying it will not give you the complete picture. The lecturers are all friendly, very supportive, and tremendously knowledgeable in their respective areas of expertise. I learned to identify my strengths and weaknesses and to build emotional intelligence, which is a key characteristic of a leader. I must admit, I started off slow for the first 4 months with the modules, although I engaged a lot in class and participated actively, the quality of my writing was not at the level of obtaining good grades and it took a while before I started obtaining distinctions and I never looked back.

The two modules that really stuck with me are ‘Sustainable Development’ and ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’. As the lecturers were discussing topics of corporate social responsibility in class, I would often find myself pondering, reflecting, thinking how to relay this information in my beloved continent of Africa. “How will I be able to apply these newly acquired skills about a sustainable approach to conducting business?” I have subsequently developed an in-depth understanding in the area of ‘Strategy, Financial Investment, and Consultancy Project Management’. It has helped me in my personal growth to take up leadership roles in any organization, more importantly because of the nature of business in the third world and emerging markets.  

The demands for this course are high, it is very intense and requires time management and discipline. You have to make sure that you allocate time for taking notes, being active in class, not skipping lectures, and not doing things last minute. I usually make my way to the library on days off to prioritise and optimise my time efficiently – sometimes I felt I needed to get another bed there because of the amount of time I would spend. I avoided wasting my time with activities such as watching television and parties. I asked help from my cohorts, family and friends when I needed to – and made sure I took care of myself to maintain a healthy focus on completing my studies.

If you are thinking of going for an MBA, I would say that UEA has just that and more. I am really enjoying the programme so far. The whole MBA journey is full of networking opportunities, as there is interaction with my cohort, with the faculty, the staff and alumni. Thanks to the focus on teamwork and group work during our management consultancy projects, I have built strong relationships with many members of my cohort. This has not only helped me to make more friends for life, but also contacts from different backgrounds and countries. I am looking forward to be getting wedding invitarions from cohorts.

I want to thank the entire Norwich Business School for this awesome journey, each and every lecturer who played a part in moulding me, they did a fantastic job. As one of my lecturers used to say “Babalo, if you want a distinction, I want a distinctive piece of work”. Overall, I count myself lucky to have been part of the MBA cohort of 2019, and look forward to my next chapter in life which is a PhD in Business. This is the voyage from disappointment to Norwich Business School and beyond.

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