Hola from Costa Rica

March 10, 2008

Last week marked the end of the third quarter for Darden’s first-year class, and as such, it was a week of exams. First-year finance? Monday. First-year global economics? Tuesday. First-year strategy? Wednesday. See a trend here?

To the outsider, Darden’s exams require a little explanation. First, all exams are take-home. You pick them up in hard copy (or, in a new trend, they are emailed to you to help reduce our carbon footprint) after 8 AM. You then have five contiguous hours (snack and bio breaks still count in your time; printing, thankfully, does not) to complete the exam. After you’ve finished and printed your output (which frankly is often the most stressful part of the exam, as printers always seem low on toner and paper and just plain on energy during exam week), you walk (run) to the library to turn it in by 2:00 PM (2:59 PM). The deadline is actually 3 PM, and half of the first-year class can usually be seen at a trot moving toward the library after 2:30. Technically, 8 AM to 3 PM is 7 hours, but you can only use 5 hours of that time on actually doing the exam, a constraint that is limited only by the honor code but that, in my observation, is strictly adhered to across the board. Although the exams are take home, many students will reserve a study room, or take them to the library or an empty classroom. I do take my home; I find the walk to be a good way to clear my head before I get started, and I like having my workspace set up on my dining room table. Take-home means that it’s open book and notes, which sounds great, but the exams are carefully designed to really push you in the given time, so time management is critical. You can’t expect to learn along the way in a five-hour exam… you’d really better know it before you get started and resort to your references only for the details (CAPM formula, unlevering your beta, etc.).

All in all, exams are actually a pretty decent time at Darden. For once, you get to focus on one subject at a time, and you’re finished at 3 PM when you turn the exams in. And, this time, we headed off on spring break once our final exam (Decision Analysis) was completed.

Many students take advantage of Darden’s highly recommended Global Business Experience (GBE), which is a sponsored trip (you actually get course credit) to a foreign country to attend a business school class there by day and enjoy the city/country by afternoon and night. Darden offers first year trips to Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Czech Republic, Spain, and some others. Second year trips can include South Africa or China (second-years get two weeks for spring break, which facilitates longer trips).

I decided not to go on a GBE this year… I may take one of the longer trips next year. This year, I am going on a GSE (Global Surfing Experience) to Costa Rica’s west coast (Tamarindo Beach). I’m taking surfing lessons from a guy named “Flash” and eating at a bar under my room that has an open view of the Pacific. The breeze is wonderful, the scenery is great, and the people are very friendly. The dollar still stacks favorably against the Colonaes (local currency) so everything is affordable. Best of all, the water is very warm (no wetsuit needed) and the waves are stellar (6 feet plus). I guess I just decided to leave class… in class, at least this week. Last night I went to a local rodeo, which was beyond authentic. I was one of only maybe two dozen foreigners there out of thousands of people, and the cervezas were cold and the tequila flowed freely. Our guides from the hotel made sure we didn’t eat anything too risky or throw ourselves into the ring. “El Toro es Guapo”… basically, respect the bull. It was a great time. Tonight we’re having a bonfire on the beach and we’ll get to meet other guests. I’ve already made some great new friends on the trip. I highly recommend Tamarindo and Witches Rock… when the plane lands at Liberia and you get off and see that the entire airport is contained in a series of what looks like picnic pavilions, you’ll know you’re in the right place. Sometimes life gets busy and coming to a place where the pace of things just seems slower is what is needed to refresh the soul. I hope to bring not only a bit of sunburn but also an improved sense of well-being home with me in a week.

 Well, I’ll leave you for now, my next lesson is in an hour and I have to make sure I’m ready for the instructor’s shouts: “Paddle, Mikey, Paddle!”…

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One Response to “Hola from Costa Rica”

  1. JulyDream said

    Sounds fabulous! I went to Costa Rica a few years back and we (friends and fam) visited with a friend’s son who had lived there off and on for a year. It’s great to get a local perspective. Enjoy it! 😀

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