Life in Lausanne

It has been great living in Lausanne so far. Although IMD has kept me living in a bubble for most of my time here, my few ventures out have been very pleasant. Following is a brief survey of some aspects of this city that I have noticed.

The people are, generally, very nice. If I look like I’m not certain about where I’m going, someone will invariably stop and offer to help. The Swiss are very courteous to pedestrians. If I look like I’m even thinking of stepping into a crosswalk, cars coming from every direction will stop immediately. They’re all willing to work with my rusty, rusty French too, which is a plus.

Speaking of languages, I have found Lausanne to be very international. Walking down the street I can hear French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and other languages that I can’t recognize being spoken. There is a great little pizzeria around the corner from my apartment called Le Pinnochio; so far it has proven to be the best non-IMD venue for practicing my Italian.

People on the streets seem very . . . European. There have definitely been several Euromullet sightings and females wearing tight pants with high boots seem to account for roughly 85% of the population. Smokers are everywhere (What did this continent do before the discovery of tobacco?!) but one rarely sees cigarette butts on the ground due to the rigorous Swiss attention to daily street/sidewalk cleaning.

Dogs aren’t very friendly to strangers, which is a shame. I see a golden retriever out for a walk and I want to go say hi, pet it, etc. but I get the impression that such just isn’t the way here. Anywhere dogs might be walked is lined with pooper scooper bag dispensers every few hundred feet and owners seem to take their clean-up responsibility seriously. The risk of stepping in something unpleasant is very low–this will be important when I’m late and running to campus for an interview!

Half bottles of wine are widely available in both wine shops and restaurants. I am told that this is in reaction to Switzerland’s tough drunk driving laws. Whether I drink a full bottle or just a half, there are multiple recycling bins on each block. Recycling here is much more segregated than I have experienced in the US: glass, aluminum, tin/steel, oil, paper, plastic, and organic waste all have their own labeled containers.

Laundry in my building is a real pain. One must reserve a seven-hour time slot (morning or afternoon) for the laundry room well in advance. As I spend 16-20 hours a day on-campus, this limits my options pretty significantly! When I do manage to match my schedule with an open slot, I face my next challenge: crazyeurolaundrysystem!

The washer itself isn’t that bad. To use it, though, I have to pay 3 Swiss Francs. To pay 3 Swiss Francs, I have to hold up an electronic key in just the right position by a noncommunicative metal box. To procure such a key and add money to my “account,” I have to track down the concierge (an apartment resident who acts as the on-site manager) during the few, late hours I am at home. So it’s a challenge, but not insurmountable.

The dryer, on the other hand, is something else. Instead of a “tumbler” dryer, as I’m accustomed to, the laundry room just has lines for hanging clothes after they have been washed. With an ambient temperature of ~40 degrees F and poor ventilation, this doesn’t get the job done very well. Not to worry, though, there is an elegant solution: a giant fan/dehumidfier. Essentially you just leave your clothes on the line, turn on the machine, leave the room, and return when your time slot is up. I’ve found this approach to yield semi-dry clothes with the stiffness of cardboard–just what I’m looking for in my underwear and bed linens! Perhaps I’m just a spoiled American. Perhaps I’m doing something wrong. If you have any helpful hints, please send them my way!

Food, glorious food!

We made it out of our study groups early tonight so I just treated myself to a snack before settling into readings for tomorrow. This snack was so good it inspired me to post a quick entry about the food here in Lausanne.

My morning nutrition is based on a fierce devotion to my staple in the US, cereal and milk. Satisfying this devotion isn’t easy over here; most supermarkets carry only a few types of cereal and I had to scour the city to find skim milk. When I finally discovered the hidden cache of skim, I was surprised to learn that it comes in . . . a box. Naturally I have no idea how to open this box elegantly; instead I have found that cutting a hole in the top is functional enough for me.

So my day begins with cereal and milk, followed by second breakfast at school. One of the best “quality of life” features is that it keeps a fully stocked fruit basket outside our main classroom. It may not seem like much but this bottomless supply of fresh, organic produce supplies nutritional value and much needed energy before, during, and after classes. Bananas are the most popular; students swoop in before class and snatch them up. Most aren’t consumed immediately so they become a kind of currency: “Can you help me balance these two accounts before class?” “That depends; how bad do you want your banana?”

Lunch is, nutritionally, the highlight of the day. There is a culinary institute just down the street and I suspect that IMD has worked out some arrangement with them. Every day the food at our restaurant is fresh, delicious, varied, and plentiful–oh, and included in the cost of tuition! I begin each lunch with the soup du jour, which, after two weeks, has only repeated once. Today was split pea; previously there has been pumpkin, butternut squash, tomato, vegetable, mushroom, carrot, and many others.

After soup, I move on to the main buffet. This includes several salads, organic fruits, vegetables, and nuts, fish, meats, starches, and vegetarian entrees. Sometimes the menu is themed; last week we had a Mexican day, for example. It was more “Swiss Mexican” than “Mexican” but it was delicious. Each buffet item has a label listing any meats in it and their countries of origin.

This course leaves me pretty stuffed, but the desserts look far too enticing to resist. Freshly made (I believe they’re freshly made. The possibility remains that IMD has an external supplier, but, if they do, oh what a supplier!) tarts, custards, pies, cakes, pastries, and more fresh fruit are one one table; nuts and cheeses are on another. I really can’t stress enough what a highlight lunch is for me each day; the quality, variety, and nutritional value really keep me going and the time with my classmates is an invaluable break. Despite all the work and so little sleep, I feel very healthy, which attribute significantly to IMD’s food.

I spend the evenings munching on more fruit while I’m at school (Once there was a catered late-night event in our building and the leftovers were offered to us; you’ve never seen mammals descend on their prey so voraciously!), then I usually have a final snack once I return home. I’ve been cooking up batches of whole-grain pasta (with tons of garlic, of course) for quick snacks but sometimes I will go for bread/crackers and nutella as well. My most common snack by far, though, is yogurt, which accounts for a major percentage of shelf space at my supermarket. The yogurts here are almost all organic and much creamier than the Dannon to which I was accustomed in the US. Best of all, they come in funky flavors: chocolate, coffee, exotic fruits and berries, aloe, and hazlenut, just to name a few.

Labeling on prepackaged food here is incredibly detailed. In addition to being provided in several different languages, it includes the country of origin and exact percentage by weight of each ingredient. For example, the hazlenut yogurt I just finished included 10% cane sugar from latin America and 4% hazlenuts from Spain. As far as I’m concerned, it contained 100% awesomeness.

On that note, I’m off to start on homework. I’ll try to write some “catch-up” posts about the first two weeks in the coming days. Au revoir!

First day of class

It was a week ago already that I posted about our first day of class and promised to write more soon. Adapting to this routine, coping with consistent lack of sleep, and not being accustomed to setting aside time for blogging have interfered with my intentions, but at long last, here I am.

Our first day was great. 90 students from 44 different countries converged and began getting to know each other. Our excitement was uncontainable; it seemed like every other sentence from our professors and administrators was met with a full round of applause. There are eight of us from the USA (although several of the Americans have dual citizenship), seven from China, seven from Russia, and then the rest of the students are from all over–from Azerbaijian to Zambia.

The opening day experience here was, in some ways, similar to the first day of O-Week at Rice. Upon my arrival, everyone from administrators to professors to security personnel knew my name and background. Many of the students too had been more diligent than I in researching the class profiles and knew all about where I came from and what I had done. The marketing isn’t just hype; this truly is a personalized, intimate program.

I think my blogging will come more frequently if I can keep my posts to small, discrete chunks. For that reason, and because I have to be up in four hours for an outdoor leadership training exercise high up in the Alps, I will bring this entry to a close. I hope this finds everyone well and I look forward to posting more soon!

And so it begins

It’s 2 AM and I’ve just arrived home after my first day of school. For the last five hours I have been locked in a room with an Italian, a Chinese, a Portuguese, a Czech, a Belarussian, and a French student trying to reach consensus on the best strategy for Boblbee, an innovative Swedish sports gear manufacturer.

When we left, there were still two groups working, meaning we were 9th of 12 total groups to finish. To me this indicates that there are probably some things we could do better/more efficiently. Of course, that is why we are here: to learn

In six hours I will present our analysis and recommendations to the class. Our group number is seven, so we are required to meet in study room #007. Naturally James Bond will play a strong thematic role in our powerpoint. In the mean time, I have two more cases and some papers to read before class so I will hold off on more updates for now.

Bienvenue en Suisse!

January 1st, 2008: The first day of the new year marked a major step in my life. I boarded a plane to Geneva and kicked off this grand adventure!

Or not. Due to a series of unfortunate events (nothing serious, though), I missed my flight. I fly frequently and am used to a timeliness policy that can best be described as “running down the jetway.” This has always worked out very well, even for international flights. Apparently, though, for international flights on which I will be checking several very heavy bags, I need to build in more buffer time. Good to know.

So, as I was saying, January 2nd, 2008: The second day of the new year marked a major step in my life. Several hundred dollars poorer, I boarded a plane to Zurich and kicked off this grand adventure!

Bryan’s Move to Lausanne v2.0 went much more smoothly. 3:10 to Yuma was showing on the flight to Newark and I received a First Class upgrade. The crew on the flight to Zurich was excellent and we arrived significantly ahead of schedule.

A three-hour train ride through some beautiful country and I was [at last!] at my apartment. Still a bit nervous for having signed a one-year lease sight unseen, I was relieved to find that it exceeded my expecations. The kitchen unit is straight out of the seventies, but the rest of the studio has just been renovated and is more than adequate. As soon as I have stored my luggage and cleaned up the apartment, I will post new pics. There is no sofa for guest visitors, but upon rearrangement of furniture, there is a big open are in the center of the room that will easily accommodate a double-sized air mattress.

Night 1 in the apartment was an . . . uneventful one. Naturally one of the first objectives on my move-in list was to set up my computers and their accessories. At ~8 PM, I blew the fuse in the apartment, which fortunately didn’t affect anyone else in the building. With no light I decided just to call it an early night (really early!) and wait for the landlord, who was already scheduled to come by at 9 AM. He replaced my fuse with a larger one and was very nice.

Since then, things have been going smoothly. Due to my tardy arrival, I canceled plans to join the ski trip and have been focused on getting settled, completing assignments, and trying local restaurants. So far I am very impressed with the nice people here and their patience with my rusty French. How can you not love a country with this national sport:

I have wireless Internet access in my room now (thanks to a technician who spent most of his time cursing–I’m learning more French already!) and am starting to feel situated. I have stocked my small refrigerator with vanilla, chocolate, and ALOE yogurt. Now I am off for my next Swiss adventure: doing laundry in the basement. Let’s hope I don’t blow another fuse!

I have a Swiss bank account!

Unfortunately it doesn’t have any money in it yet and, when it does, it will all be allocated to tuition and living expenses, not to hidden savings. Still, it feels cool to have a Swiss bank account!

Along with the bank account I now have a Swiss visa and a place to live. My apartment is a modest, little efficiency located very close to IMD: See where. Following are some pictures sent to me by my soon-to-be landlord:

The view of the lake and mountains isn’t exactly as clear as advertised but it will still be refreshing each morning.

Tiny apartment!
The single room is small, but at least it is furnished. I am working on the landlord right now to add a pull-out sofa for guests. He is insistent that there is no room, but if we eliminate the TV stand (not pictured), as I don’t plan on watching any TV, I think we can squeeze it in.

Tiny apartment!
With this kitchenette I probably won’t be flexing my culinary muscles too much over the next year. Given the time commitments of the program, though, that may not have been an option anyway.

So this (or someplace very similar) is where I will be living for the next year. I depart on the 1st of January and, as soon as I’m situated, I will post pictures. In the mean time, I hope everyone is enjoying safe and happy holidays!

I’m moving to Switzerland!

If it seems like I’ve dropped off the face of the earth recently, I apologize; I’ve spent a significant part of 2007 wrestling with a major career decision. At long last, I have chosen a course of action:

On January 1st, 2008 I am moving to Lausanne, Switzerland to study and practice international leadership and business.

This may catch some of my friends, family, and colleagues by surprise so I have prepared a basic overview of my decision and what it entails:

WHO: Bryan Guido Hassin

WHAT: a one-year, intensive, full-time MBA program focusing on leadership and international business

WHERE: IMD, the International Institute of Management Development, on the shores of Lake Geneva in Lausanne, Switzerland

WHEN: 2008-1-7 – 2008-12-3

WHY (develop leadership): Not to be melodramatic but . . . to help save the world. We are becoming increasingly dependent on sources of energy that are bound to run out. We cause major damage to the environment. There is a worldwide increase in political and religious intolerance. We need strong leadership to overcome these challenges.

Whether on the athletic field, in the business world, or in volunteer organizations, I am constantly answering the call for leadership. However, if I really want to help solve the world’s problems, I must be a responsible, effective, global leader. Until now my leadership development has been purely experiential. I have decided to augment my background with formal leadership education and international experience to help me grow into such a leader.

WHY (this program): IMD is just what I was seeking. IMD is:

  • Small: only 90 students per class year. This allows the program to be highly personalized, providing leadership coaching and mentoring to each student every day throughout the year. Why only 90?
  • International: the 90 students come from 44 countries and speak an average of four languages. The IMD Class of 2007’s profile
  • Excellent: IMD is consistently one of the highest-rated MBA programs in the world; this year it even earned the global #1 ranking from the Financial Times “Ranking of Rankings.” I’m the first person to take rankings with a grain of salt, but I like that IMD does best in the rankings that reward schools for producing responsible, grounded graduates. IMD is elite without being elitist.
  • Selective: Attendees have the highest average work experience (over 7 years) of any full-time MBA program in the world. If I’m going to be learning from my peers all year, I want them to be experienced, accomplished, and knowledgeable! Applicants are subjected to two rounds of grueling applications: the initial application has 13 essays and those who make the second round are subjected to a full day of grilling interviews, ad hoc presentations, timed group projects, and case analyses. Accordingly, attendees are not only qualified, they also have to be highly motivated even just to apply–again, this is the type of person I want to be around! The IMD admissions process
  • Intense: 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, with the only vacation in July.
  • Real-world: Half of the program isn’t in classrooms at all; it’s spent on consulting projects for governments of countries with difficult business environments or for CEOs of multibillion-Euro companies. The IMD program structure

I wasn’t sure this was for me until I interviewed on-campus. The challenges were hard and I learned a lot from them. The other applicants (Most of the day’s affairs were conducted in groups.) were incredibly smart, successful, and diverse. I learned more that day than I had in probably my previous several months on the job–just imagine what I could learn in a whole year! Needless to say, I came back ready to sign on if accepted. Just a few days later I received the call from IMD’s Admissions Director and I was on board.

HOW (did/will this happen): None of this would have been possible without the tremendous support I received this year from friends, family, and colleagues. I engaged 50+ people in my “information gathering” stage to determine what my options for leadership development were and which would be most appropriate for me. Everyone provided incredibly valuable insight and I used all of it in my decision-making process.

When I finally made the decision to apply to IMD, there was only one week left before their final deadline. I had to mobilize myself (essays, GMAT, application forms) and others (recommendations) on very short notice. Without my recommenders and essay editors, I probably never would have been accepted; they were invaluable.

Now, as I prepare to move halfway around the world for a year (or maybe longer!), everyone’s support continues to be my greatest asset. As I rent out my house, sell my car, apply for a visa, find a place to live in Lausanne, read assigned books, prepare assigned writings, transition my R7 responsibilities, transition some (but not all!) of my Rice Alumni responsibilities, buy cold weather clothes for the first time in 10 years, etc., etc., knowing that everyone is behind me keeps me going.

What will I do after I’ve finished this program? I don’t know. For once in my life I’m not overplanning! My mind is open to all possibilities; in the meantime I am focused on personal growth. One of the hardest decisions a person can make is to leave a comfortable situation. I am leaving a life I love for a year of extremely hard work and no clear outcome. However, I owe it to everyone who believes in me if, by doing so, I can prepare myself to make the world a better place. I am eager to begin and excited to see where unknown opportunities will take me.

HOW (to stay in touch): My electronic contact information will remain the same and I will post new phone and address information once I have it. This blog will serve as the primary medium for me to publish updates, pictures, and stories. My plan is not to email everyone every time I have something to say. Instead, those interested can subscribe (using RSS) to this blog and be automatically notified every time I post. I hope to be able to catch up with everyone before I leave and, even more, I hope to stay in touch throughout this adventure!