Learning to Fly Online: A Letter to The Online MGM Students

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By Aaron White, Guest Writer

Here you are, on the precipice of a great journey—you are midway through your first set of courses as a Thunderbird Online Masters of Global Management (OMGM) candidate. Most of you are teetering somewhere between exhilaration and trepidation. I know this because I was there.

I imagine many of you, like me, have full time jobs that continuously stretch beyond typical 40-hour weeks. Ever-growing work obligations and family responsibilities constrict our already short weeks, and now you are about to pile an equally time-consuming commitment onto your metaphorical plate.

For myself, an average day starts out around 5:15 am, as the incessant screams of my alarm wake me up. I quickly get ready, scurry out the door, and head to the metro. I use the precious 30 or so minutes on the metro to catch up on some of the readings my professor has assigned. Once at work the day flies by in a flurry of emails, calls, and meetings. When I get home sometime between 6:00 and 7:00 pm, I immediately start a Chinese lesson via Skype (which never seems to go as well as I would like). Finally, it’s time for homework, jumping back and forth among readings, video lectures, and projects. In between, I try to chat with my wife, hang out with my puppy, eat, exercise, and unwind. Sometime between 11:00 and midnight, when I just can’t keep my eyes open any longer, I crawl into bed and am whisked away to the land of slumber. And then before I know it, the cycle begins again.

When I reached out to my cohort and asked them to write about their experience as an online student at Thunderbird — what their day-to-day life looks like and how they cope with the multiple roles that they inhabit — I was not surprised to learn that they had very similar experiences.

Brittany Hanes elaborated: “Being an online student isn’t exactly the same [as being a traditional student]. Watching a lecture online is hard because you are not immersed in that lecture setting… I half listen to the lecture videos, trying to take notes while constantly being distracted — and distractions are abundant. It seems I’m always being pulled in different directions that leave me less time to get my schoolwork done.”

I think I can speak on the behalf of all present and past OMGM students when I say that since we’ve started this program life has been a hustle. Some days it feels like everything blurs into a chaotic haze, our lives spent sprinting from one thing to the next, always playing catch-up.

But while grad school can be a roller coaster for everyone and you may feel like some things are slipping through the cracks, the relationships you form with fellow OMGM students will sustain you and help you overcome these challenges.

The real magic of the program lies in those moments when you feel like you’re drowning and you reach out to your group for XYZ class, your cohort from fast start week, or to the folks you meet on your trips abroad and you find a hand stretched out ready to help.

It will be subtle when it happens. In fact, it will probably shake out the way Amanda Parks explained to me: “I’ll check in with my group via WhatsApp to ask questions about homework… ‘You got what?’, ‘How did you get that?’… ‘I got this’, ‘Ok guys talk me through this question because I can’t even…’”

The funny thing is it won’t stop there. It will continue when you are on that work trip, when you need to take your kids to an all-day taekwondo tournament, or when a family emergency arises. It will continue when you reach your hand out and help someone else. As part of your day to day routines, you’ve started a cycle of communication, consideration, and camaraderie. This really hit home when Chris Jenkins told me: “I don’t think that any other school can combine this many students from various walks of life and build such successful relationships as Thunderbird does.”

While you may be miles apart from your fellow OMGMs, this cycle of mutual assistance sets the foundation for the relationships that are a large part of the Thunderbird experience. Some of these relationships may only last the duration of a single course, and some may stretch far beyond your time in the virtual classroom. But make no mistake that this cycle is where you cultivate relationships and see them blossom into friendships. It is through this process that you become a Thunderbird.

The OMGM students in Hong Kong. Photo by the Aaron White 

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