Meet the Oxford MBA Class of 2021-22: Grace Chou

7 minute read

We are excited to welcome the Oxford MBA Class of 2021-22 to Oxford this September. Get to know our incoming students in this blog post series as they prepare to join Saïd Business School.

Tell us about yourself:

  • Sector/Industry you worked in pre-MBA: Language services
  • Sector/Industry you are hoping to work in post-MBA: Technology or consumer goods
  • Country of residence before coming to Oxford: US and Taiwan
  • College: Exeter College

In one word, how would your best friend describe you and how would your manager describe you?

  • Best friend: Empathetic
  • Manager: Dedicated

Tell us about where you have come from and what has led you to Oxford and, more specifically, the Oxford MBA

Given my dad’s former career as a diplomat, the one constant I had growing up was transiency as I moved to and from six countries across five continents. Although, as a kid, I hated having to uproot my life every few years, as an adult I find it hard to not look for the next move after staying in one place for a few years.

With that in mind, some thought I would follow in similar footsteps when I decided to study International Affairs as an undergrad, with a minor in Journalism. However, I ultimately leveraged my studies with my passion for language learning to start a career at the world’s largest language services provider. 

As a project manager-turned vendor manager, I collaborated with talented linguists from all corners of the globe to deliver translations that were essential to setting up life-saving clinical trials beyond the English-speaking world. 

Over time, my role focused more on launching vendor-related process improvement initiatives, through which I worked more closely with tech and engineering colleagues. Being involved in pushing forward multiple tech integrations made me more interested in learning about the ways that technology could be leveraged to not only create efficiency, but also enable sustainability and responsible business practices in more diversified sectors. This was coupled with my tendency to feel an ‘itch’ after staying put in one place for several years.

There were two things that I decided early on as I looked to make my desired transition:

  1. Pursuing an MBA would be the best way for me to fill in my knowledge gaps and expand my network to a broad range of sectors and functions.
  2. Being in a diverse, international environment has always been a priority for me given my cross-cultural upbringing. Therefore, I looked primarily at schools in Europe where many of the MBA cohorts are 90%+ international.

The Oxford MBA stood out for the following reasons:

  • A strong impact and sustainability-oriented programme.
  • Most gender-balanced MBA cohort in Europe.
  • Focus on Africa: Although I spent little time living in South Africa, the country remains a special place for my family. I value Oxford’s efforts to increase the visibility and potential of the continent.
  • The people: Perhaps I was lucky, but the students, alumni, and admissions staff who I met were all incredibly warm and down to earth. A student even offered to have lunch with me during my visit to Oxford after I reached out to her on LinkedIn. Although I had thought the Oxford MBA was beyond my reach, the people I interacted with made me feel like I belonged to the Oxford community. Of course, being a Harry Potter fan, the incredible medieval architecture that set the backdrop for various Harry Potter movies certainly added some brownie points for Oxford!

What have you done to prepare yourself for the MBA?

  • Talking to current students, alumni, and professionals in sectors/functions that I’m interested in. For those who want to broaden their network beyond Oxford and are open to being set up on ‘blind’ chats with ambitious people from a wide range of backgrounds, I highly recommend joining Lunchclub.
  • Getting to know my future classmates through one-on-one mystery coffee chats. Since one year will fly by, it’s never too early to start making friends!
  • I read Designing Your Life and took part in weekly reflections/exercises with a few classmates last year, which not only helped me reflect and better articulate my values and goals in a group setting, but this was also a great way to connect with one another on a deeper level in a short amount of time.
  • To strengthen my quantitative and data analysis skills, I took an online Business Analytics certificate course. I have also been working through the Wall Street Prep courses, as well as the careers courses on Canvas.
  • The MBA is the perfect opportunity to try as many new things as possible, and it’s never too early to get into that mindset. Earlier this year I launched a podcast called Stories from a Nomadic Citizen. I had no podcast or audio production experience but, as a big fan of the medium, I thought why not try creating one myself? I seek to channel that same energy during the MBA and beyond.

What do you hope to gain from completing your MBA?

Because I come from a more niche sector and did not study business, I want to build a stronger foundational knowledge of management and strategy. This would enable me to better understand the effects of key decisions on various units within an organisation and beyond. 

With that foundation, I hope to be able to intuitively apply a systems-thinking approach to assess how certain business goals could align with maximising impact and sustainability, regardless of the type of role or sector I’m in. Most importantly, I hope to come away from the MBA with lifelong friendships with peers who will challenge me with their diversity of thought and experiences.

What is the best advice you received before commencing your MBA?

‘Maintain your independence of thought, and don’t get sucked into what everyone is doing, whether it’s career direction or social activities.’

Do you have any advice about the Oxford MBA application process for candidates thinking of applying?

  • Believe in yourself and your story. We all suffer from varying degrees of imposter syndrome, but we need to remind ourselves that we each have our own unique stories and motivations. Having strong self-awareness and belief in what connects your past, present, and future aspirations, and how the Oxford MBA fits in, are key to a successful application.
  • GRE (Graduate Record Examinations)/GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is important, but it’s not everything. Keep in mind that your application is reviewed holistically and that arguably the above point is more critical. Looking back, I would have taken it one less time and shaved a couple of months off studying to instead focus on the application essays earlier.
  • Talk to alumni and current students, especially those who are working in functions/sectors/locations that you are targeting. Doing so will give you a better idea about whether the programme is a good fit, as well as help you answer parts of the application questions.

Which part of the programme are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to the collective experience that the Oxford MBA presents: having the opportunity to deepen my understanding of various aspects of business management through core and tailored elective courses, while applying these learnings and new ideas through co-curricular activities and group projects, in particular, GOTO (Global Opportunities and Threats: Oxford) and the Entrepreneurship Project. 

What will make the programme even more special are the opportunities at the wider University: the college experience, Oxford Union debates, Oxford Foundry, the list goes on and on. The prospect of interacting with and learning from such a diverse group of peers, which has already started before the MBA, also can’t be highlighted enough.

What do you think will be the most challenging part of the programme?

Aside from courses that are more quantitative heavy, such as accounting and corporate finance, the most challenging part of the programme will be saying ‘no’ to the myriad of activities and being at peace with FOMO (fear of missing out).

How do you plan to take the learnings from the MBA to influence positive change?

This is a question that I hope I’ll have a more concrete response to by the end of the programme! With that said, my goal is that, with the combination of social impact as a key theme of Oxford’s curriculum and the exposure to a wide range of experiences from my peers and professors, I will learn to analyse and approach problems with a more expansive mindset that is oriented around positive change.

Are there any sports teams, societies or clubs you’re hoping to become a member of?

Knowing that I tend to overextend myself, I’ve been trying hard the last few weeks to not apply for all of the co-curricular opportunities that are already available before I’ve even arrived in Oxford. For now, I’m hoping to join the Creative Destruction Lab and the Tech OBN (Oxford Business Network). 

As a podcast enthusiast, I’d also like to help revive the student-run Future of Business podcast. As for sports, I look forward to exploring new running paths and improving in tennis. I’d love to give rowing a try as well – I hear it’s a must in Oxford!