This video was made more than a year ago. I have never shared it on social media because I do not want to be (too) self-promotional online. But I am posting it now to highlight the irony that I am being failed on the very thing the institution is using my face to promote: the “Global Business Experience” requirement at London Business School MBA.
This year, Myanmar is one of the six countries the school is sending students to under the “Global Business Experience” banner.
For my own requirement, I was supposed to head to South Africa about three weeks ago, but I could not board my flight because my visa was and is still being assessed by the South African High Commission in London. My classmates got their visa back within two days. Mine has taken more than a month, even after submitting additional documents not listed on the original requirement list. All of this began because I missed one cover letter signed by my bank branch manager. I had to reschedule, and I made an overnight trip to Manchester to snatch the first available interview appointment slot.
The more infuriating part is that the school is failing me this “course” supposedly for the fact that my evidence of visa appointment slips and receipts were considered “not strong enough.”
Yes, I should have secured a signed letter from my bank in the first place, but no, I do not believe that the institution should put a student’s track on the chopping block and impose additional financial penalties for this error. If an academic institution wants to feature students from obscure countries with obscure passports on marketing clips to highlight “diversity”, the institution should have a procedure that accounts for unpredictability associated with visa and paperwork unique to the case. Visa-related Extenuating Circumstances should be judged by someone who has visa application experience, not a white male who does not know where the VFS Global office is.
This frustration with the school administration is tangible. LBS is ousted by INSEAD in this year’s Bloomberg ranking. Compared to other top international MBA schools, LBS is scored most poorly in Alumni and Student surveys, while employers seem most pleased.
That being said, I would not write my entire MBA experience off because of this paperwork crisis. I learned a few things about myself.
In one of our classes, we discussed what it means to be a token member of something in a community. In a recent KKR event hosted by KKR’s Diversity Council, one person described himself as a diversity hire back in the day because he had a consulting background and he landed a PE (private equity) job despite a lack of investment banking credentials. People do not want to be a diversity hire, and get written off by the new, homogeneous set of colleagues.
At London Business School, this is how I feel at times. Myanmar has been hyped for a few recent years, and schools want Myanmar-based candidates, including expats with Myanmar experience since natives do not make it to some MBA institutions very often. When I get featured on events and clips, I do hear back about people writing them off as another diversity promo. When one of the only five black classmates makes a complaint, I hear whispers of other students write her off as a minority student wanting “diversity privileges” despite her Harvard undergrad record.
Beyond institutions’ “affirmative actions,” an individual’s skin color or passport type does cause a real setback. In 2016, I spent approximately £1,000 on visa fees as part of my MBA. My South African visa application was almost like a mortgage application, whereby the interviewer asked me to write a letter on the spot, reassuring the Embassy that I had not taken any money out of the bank between the date of the bank letter and the date of the appointment. I did my research with other Burmese passport holders, who went to South Africa last year. They were not demanded the same thing. My financial status is concerning to any country that wants to receive me as a guest partly because (1) I have no income as a full-time student, and (2) Myanmar is having a major humanitarian crisis right now.
Privilege is like a less deliberately assessed grid of personal opportunities and risks. The promo clip, Poets & Quant features and certain event invites forced me to be aware of my “opportunity,” but I got too comfortable at London Business School, among a diverse pool of peers, and during this process, I downplayed risks associated with my third-grade passport type during this sensitive period of Myanmar’s political turmoil.
To put things in perspective, however, my visa risks amount to nothing compared to the life-threatening situation some of my country fellow men and women are facing. What is the worst that could happen to me? I have to fill out more forms with London Business School, and receive penalty assessments and a “C” grade on one requirement. The karmic “tax” I pay for my Myanmar passport is less than £5,000 during a three-year period, but for others, it’s so, so, so much more. Among Myanmar citizens, I get things easy. I should always remember that. As an ever so slightly more privileged member of a country with a humanitarian crisis, I need to be more acutely aware of this awkward mix of personal risks and opportunities.
As David Olenick humor goes: