A family journey, not a lone journey

4 minute read
Grace Ning Guan's children

It has been almost two decades since I bid farewell to my family in Harbin, China for a long trip via Singapore to England in pursuit of my dream of being educated in a world-class university. The early morning breeze of a Manchurian summer in a quiet metropolitan airport in 2003 during the SARS pandemic was the sensation that I remember as home for many years to come.

Fast forward almost 20 years, by Sydney Harbour on the other side of the planet, at 2am in the morning, discussing confidence intervals in business analytics. This is followed by 4am leadership change with some of the world’s most inquisitive minds, guided by Professor Sue Dopson, the Interim Dean, and it is a dream coming true. (This time of the day also played a part in this sensation, I’d admit.)

Like many of us, I’ve been working hard professionally, juggling many roles and responsibilities at work and at home. Having been in a delivery mode for so long, I had been (secretly) longing for some ‘me’ time to recharge and regenerate – that is out of the day-to-day hustle and bustle. Never waste a good crisis. When suddenly, seemingly coming from nowhere during the pandemic, the idea of going back to school popped into my mind and what followed was some slight guilt – the guilt that, as a mother, I would potentially take a big chunk of my time away from the kids and family; the guilt of spending money on myself studying and travelling between continents without the family. However, when I started to take the idea forward, the Oxford Executive MBA offered everything that I was looking for – diversity, sustainability, social responsibility as well as the possibility of inviting my children on the same growth journey with me.

With a business case of studying in Oxford presented in front of the committee (two boys, the rescued puppy and the husband, in this order) in one evening after dinner, our boys’ faces lit up:

'You mean THE Oxford University?' my eldest one Leo asked.

'The big uni..university we went to, back in England, isn’t it?' my youngest one Zac followed.

Three hands and four paws up in the air signified approval and the start of my application process, which turned out to be (dare I say) enjoyable and empowering.

Fast forward three months, with an admission offer and the 30% Club Women’s Scholarship in hand, I was congratulated by many, who came to tell me how inspiring it was – what a fantastic thing I’ve done for myself. 

I am indeed feeling extremely honoured by this opportunity to embark on a journey of self-discovery, self-fulfilment, and boundary testing. In the first two weeks since starting the course, I have already had two career coaching sessions, attended multiple webinars on industries that I would not have considered, signed up to Oxford Union (free for Executive MBA students) and, needless to say, exchanged ideas with some of the world’s most beautiful souls – my peers. However deep down, I know it is more of a decision as a family and, in return, it benefits my children’s lives in the long run.

Parents are their kids’ best teachers and, in return, they teach us all the time too. Leo got back home with a secretive smile on his face (those you see on a pre-teen, who tries hard to hide something that he’s proud of and to look cool). He announced that he was selected to be in the A-Team for tennis and 1st board for chess to represent his new school. This is a huge leap from that shy boy who missed half of the balls six months ago. 

That, for me, is a priceless non-Oxford, Oxford experience – that is to allow myself to grow, to challenge my own perspectives, to widen my own vision, to develop my own capacity as an individual; the children invited themselves on the same journey of self-motivation, commitment and dedication.

Today, the 18-year-old Eileen Gu won her first Olympic gold medal and I’m sure her parents would agree that to nurture an ‘other people’s child’, you would need to be ‘other people’s parents’ first.