What do leadership lessons with LEGO, Quidditch in the park, and Varsity ski races have in common? They make you feel great and excited. They cheer you on to success. The friendly, inspiring and welcoming atmosphere at Oxford was a game-changer for me.
As a commander of the Austrian Armed Forces, I have had the honour of joining the peacekeeping missions of NATO, European forces and the United Nations in Kosovo, Bosnia, and the Western Sahara. These deployments have been exciting but, more importantly, they have given me unrivalled experience and provided me profound insight into these conflict-ridden societies, each with its own economic agenda and political entanglements.
As a liaison officer, I engage with people and listen to their differing points of view. The experience I have gained in communication and negotiation has inspired me to undertake a new direction in my career because military and organisational leadership skills in governmental and non-governmental institutions are greatly needed and are in high demand.
I had deeply admired Oxford University for a long time. The Oxford Executive Diploma in Organisational Leadership programme seemed a perfect choice to top off my MBA degree. It related to what I do as an officer in the military and it would promote a career in institutions such as the Austrian Armed Forces or the United Nations. This one-year programme fulfilled my goal of challenging myself while meeting inspiring minds in a globally diverse context at one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world.
I was afraid to apply. After submitting my application, I anxiously checked my emails day after day. I will never forget how ecstatic I felt when the answer finally arrived: ‘I am delighted to confirm that you have been successful in your application to join the Oxford Diploma in Organisational Leadership. The Admissions Committee were impressed with your overall application and are pleased to allocate you a place…’ I could hardly believe it! I had been accepted to Saïd Business School! I felt energised, grateful and blessed. I was so excited to book my first flight to Oxford and eagerly read in advance everything I could about the various modules and sessions.
I felt shy that first day of the first module because I thought my Austrian military background would make me quite different from the other participants, many of whom were from the UK, India, Australia, the United States, or Africa. But soon I realised, however, that my shyness was unfounded; that others were shy as well: and, quite the opposite, that my contributions to discussions were appreciated. This gave me a huge boost in confidence. I will never forget how proud I felt walking to Saïd Business School the next day. My fears had evaporated, and that experience was just wonderful!
The programme surpassed all my expectations. My peers were a fantastic mixture of leaders from around the globe, who worked in various fields. They were inspiring, driven and ambitious. Our sessions were thoughtfully organised at Saïd Business School’s beautiful campus and we were provided with ample opportunity to mingle. The experienced teachers skilfully took us out of our comfort zones, challenged our perspectives, and encouraged us to explore new ways of thinking. The atmosphere was wonderfully stimulating and energising from the very first day to the last. Being able to share professional experience was valuable but even more fulfilling was building friendships that I feel will last a lifetime. The welcome that Oxford peers and staff alike extended to me continued throughout the entire academic year.
On-campus and off-campus activities
Saïd Business School is a modern facility that stands in contrast to the old, medieval college buildings that make up the famous, picturesque Oxford downtown. I got accustomed to the city within a few days. The concentration of culture, academia, athletics and art is unmatched. As Saïd Business School is affiliated with Pembroke College, I also had access to that beautiful, medieval building and its facilities. In the Middle Common Room at Pembroke College, I relaxed during my spare time and enjoyed conversing with peers. Also, to be a member of Pembroke College is the best excuse to wear pink!
Afternoon teatime at various coffee houses and restaurants around town and elegant, evening black-tie dinners were highlights of my life in Oxford, but my favourite activities were the athletics. Much to my joy, I was accepted to train and compete with the Pembroke College Rowing Club.
To participate in the sport for which Oxford is most famous felt like a dream come true. I also joined the Oxford University Skiing Club. Skiing is the national sport in Austria – and one of my favourite activities – so I was delighted to train with them and to represent Oxford at the annual ski competition in France, where we ‘almost’ beat Cambridge! But probably the most fun (and funniest) sport I played was Quidditch – that game in which you run around with a broom between your legs. The Oxford University Quidditch Club plays at the University Park. I joined because I like Harry Potter, and it is the nerdiest sport one can possibly play in Oxford!
I was able to participate in these activities without feeling as if I was treated differently because I was a part-time student or because I was older than the average student. I appreciated how well the sports are organised and integrated into student life, and I felt blessed that I was able to be part of this kind of life as well.
A life-changing experience
My experience at Oxford was so motivating that it made me feel as if I am standing at just the beginning of the journey of the rest of my life. I feel proud and grateful for the many colleagues and friends I have made along the way and for having the opportunity to experience higher education and professional development at this renowned University and in a world-class academic environment.
Whenever I visit Oxford today, it still feels like home, like ‘this is my place’. I love the familiar streets and buildings, the museums and parks. But most of all, I love the friendly, nurturing, and encouraging atmosphere that has forever changed my life. I have more self-confidence than ever before. I have a new mindset of ‘now I can achieve everything!’ This self-assurance has given me the energy and the confidence needed to move forward on professional projects and along professional paths. It is wonderfully liberating, and it stands in stark contrast to the educational and professional culture from which I come. I have never received as much appreciation and encouragement as I did at Saïd Business School.
This Diploma in Organisational Leadership has opened doors for me that I did not even know existed. New and exciting opportunities in military, civil or academic institutions loom on the horizon and I am looking forward to them with newly gained confidence and pride. Leadership lessons with LEGO, Quidditch in the park and Varsity ski races: my time in Oxford was truly an experience that brought out the best in me!