Welcome to Oxford: global strategy, global friends

5 minute read

On a rainy London morning, in the middle of Storm Jocelyn, I arrived at London Marylebone train station with luggage in hand. I checked my train time, platform and grabbed a sandwich for the road. I then sat down, and thought:

‘What am I doing?’

It's been a long time coming, finally starting this new chapter. I didn't know it yet, but my soon-to-be classmates were also making their own journeys to Oxford from all over the world, sitting on planes, trains and boats - and were also wondering the same question.

I had no idea what to expect beyond the given timetable. I was looking forward to the content - it was what drew me to this programme in the first place - but I was nervous about being the youngest attendee there. What if I actually didn't have enough experience or knowledge to engage with the course? I remember being very confident (possibly a bit naïve) at undergraduate level - what if I'd lost that now that I was less naïve all these years later? What if this is just a crazy dream and I should go home right now?

Little did I know what I was in for.

Breaking the ice

After a 50-minute train ride and settling in, I made my way over to the Kings Arms - one of Oxford's most historic pubs. I had set up an initial icebreaker with some of my new classmates for dinner and drinks the night before our first module.

I highly recommend doing this! It definitely eased my nerves and I got to meet some of my new classmates. We talked about what we hope to get out of the next few days, some of our experiences and where we are from in the world (plus some of us had done some courses at Cambridge University's business school, and it was fun to compare with rivals...).

Back to school

The following morning, I was officially a student again.

Registration took place at the business school, and coffee and cakes were available in the Club Room. The Club Room sits in the wing of the business school specifically for Executive MBAs and Postgraduate Diploma students - a very fancy site indeed that feels more like a modern conference site than a university department.

The first day was packed with a welcome session from our wonderful professor, Mari Sako, the first two topics of the module and a tour of the school. The weather had finally cleared up and the tour made it sink in that ‘this is real and it is happening’! My favourite area was the Sainsbury Library, named after (you guessed it) the supermarket chain Sainsbury's founder, as it has a gorgeous view of the business school square.

I should mention here that I had come down with a very bad cold. I was getting through the days with a lot of paracetamol, and it was still such a great first impression. It did mean that I couldn't stay long for the drinks reception at the conclusion of the first day (hope my classmates reading this can forgive me!).

The rest of the week was an amazing, intense transformational time. Some of my favourite highlights are:

  • Preparing a business case analysis for the outsourcing of a Global Business Services Unit for Procter & Gamble in a real situation that happened in the 2000s - and then having Mike Power, who was actually leading this project at the time, come in and challenge us directly! This was possibly my favourite activity during the week as I had never done this type of analysis before, let alone been challenged on it.
  • The Chief of Diversity of Oxford University, who is also the ex-Race Discrimination Commissioner for Australia, giving us the academic perspective on the latest research on diversity and inclusion in organisations.
  • Learning more about my new favourite subject - non-market strategy. I may be biased (as I work in global risk management), but in today's divided world, it is absolutely fundamental that the non-market environment forms part of a firm's strategy. How can you compete in a market if you end up being locked out of it?

I probably had years of professional development condensed into just a few days. I took on this programme to enhance my strategic thinking skills, and it has certainly delivered.

Now for the fun...

Did you think this would be all work and no play? Oxford may work hard, but they know how to have a good time!

After the second intensive day of learning, we were taken on a tour of Jesus College, which is our associated college during our studies and as alumni. How often do you get your own personal welcome to an Oxford college?

A really touching moment was the bright and welcoming ‘Welcome to Jesus!’ greeting that we all received as we collected our new access keys.

The tour included being shown the newly built tower in the college and its private art collection. This was my favourite part - the art collection had interesting backstories, and I can see reserving this wonderful room for a special occasion in future.

After the tour, we headed over to Lady Margaret Hall for a private dinner. It was honestly breath-taking. The tables were beautifully decorated and we had the entire college hall to ourselves. Definitely a 'pinch me' moment. Our professor even made a speech, welcoming us to the programme and university.

The wine had been specially paired with the meal. As this programme is for more experienced leaders, you are not getting the typical student experience here, no way.

Fun fact: when I was 17, I was rejected by Lady Margaret Hall for undergraduate degree. So it was a fun reunion moment to be back all these years later, studying an entirely different subject.


As I sat on the train back to London (next to a new friend from my class), I almost didn't want to leave. It's true what they say - academia is a bubble - but sometimes you need that bubble in order to stretch yourself and your mind way beyond what you had ever expected.

The content has been exactly what I was looking for, and I already feel bonded to my amazing diverse cohort who are equally passionate. We will get through this year together!

I feel like a different person to the one who sat on the platform, waiting for the week to start. I can't wait to see what's next.

Let's see how the assessment goes…

*Alexandra publishes new editions of her newsletter every month. To be notified, subscribe to her newsletter on LinkedIn.

Oxford Executive Diploma in Global Business