Saturday, October 5, 2013

First day

I just started a masters in consumer behavior at what I’m told by everyone is a Very Good School. I didn't choose it because it's a Very Good School, I chose it because it’s the only place in London that has a masters in consumer behavior. This is the first year that the program has been offered, and so I’m very happy that they didn't have to cancel it due to no one applying for it. There are eight of us (I’m told that one of the course directors PRed the hell out of it to some innocent other-program applicants just to flesh it out), and we’re in a department with several other small courses, including Global Leadership, Digital Entrepreneurship, Management of Innovation, and other business-jargony titles. So in addition to classes like The Psychology of Marketing, we take ones called things like Innovation Case Studies and Organisational Behavior & Health. I mean, I guess these topics are related, in the sense that you can relate anything to anything else, but so far the whole thing seems a little confused. This is fine by me, really. I’m generally confused about everything at all times, so it would be pretty hypocritical of me to begrudge an educational program for having this same quality.

On Mondays I don’t have any real classes, but we do have a Guest Speaker lecture between 4 and 5pm, followed by drinks at a local pub to continue the inspired discussion that Guest Speaker is sure to have initiated. So this past Monday -- first day of school, metaphoric pencils sharpened -- we assembled in a lecture hall to listen to a very distinguished lecturer who possesses many intimidating degrees and has written more books than I've read in the past three years. The premise of his talk was this:

There are qualities that we associate with good leaders. However, we should be aware of the difference between optimal and excessive levels of these qualities, because in abundance, they can be negative and lead to dysfunctional leadership.

We were promised that this speaker would be engaging, and he was! As in he managed to stretch that one fairly obvious thought into a rollicking hour-long talk. (To be fair, he also filled up some time name-dropping the Fancy Companies for which he consults). Again, how is this relevant to consumer behaviour? Oh hell, think about that later! Everything is relevant to everything, innit? Now off to the pub!

I grabbed A., the closest thing to a friend I had so far. At our departmental meet-and-greet the week prior, we had bonded over our mutual desire to sneak out quickly and quietly without having to say goodbye or to talk to any of our program directors.  

“I’m not going to go,” she said. “I just don’t know what I’d ask him.”

I didn't either, but I figured nodding and smiling while other people ask things usually works pretty well. At the pub, I found a seat next to two other girls whom I had yet to meet. Speaker asked us where we were from. The other two girls were English. “Ah!” he said. “God’s chosen people.”

He went on to ask how we were settling in, before following up with everyone’s second favorite thing to say about our Very Good School (after the part about it being Very Good). “It’s a beautiful campus here,” he said. “But what a terrible neighborhood.”

Nods. Smiles.

“It seems like a very political place,” the girl next to me said. “I think the other day there was some sort of demonstration!”

“Oh yes. Very political," Speaker said. "And this department is very international."

Were we very international, comparatively, I wondered? I just assume that any well-known university has a lot of international students these days. It’s our radically inflated tuition fees that are paying for all those shiny new Macs in the computer lab, right?

“It’s wonderful that it’s so international,” Speaker went on. “But the problem with the international students is, after they’re finished they want to stay here!”

Nods. Smiles. Wine-gulping.

Speaker moved on to talk to another group of students soon after that. All I really heard was, “Beautiful campus, terrible neighborhood!”

Always nice to be met at your new institution by the Old Tory Welcome Wagon.

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