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I flashed my ID and walked quietly along a pathway across a deep green lawn accented with purple and pink flowers. Drooping willows and tall cypress cast shadows across the sunlit path and a bubbling fountain as I approached glass doors and entered a building. As I walked across the marble lobby, lined with chestnut brown paneling and bright red sofas, it struck me how quiet the building was even for a Friday. In front of a grand spiral staircase, I summoned the stylish glass cylinder that served as an elevator and subsequently watched as the sofas and flat screens shrank in the atrium below me. The elevator slowed to a stop at roof level and I stepped out onto a glistening terrace offering spectacular views of hills, sky, city and sea.

Was I at the headquarters of a Silicon Valley tech giant? Trendy startup during DBi Australia? A rich relative’s summer home? None of the above: the view I took in was of the western Mediterranean and my vantage point was the campus at IESE, my host school for my MBA semester abroad.

Over the remainder of the semester, I will be acting as the Oppy’s first ever foreign correspondent and editor abroad, reporting on the B-School life in Europe, detailing the academics, the partying, the travel, the professors and the students. In doing so I also hope to shed light on that nagging question in the back of every MBA’s mind: what’s life like at another business school?

For this first installment, I dive into the first major difference that struck me: campus itself. IESE (pronounced EE-YES-SAY) is different from Stern in just about every way imaginable. Stern is conveniently located in the heart of the city, surrounded by everything and accessible by several busses and subways. IESE is perched high in the hills around Barcelona, surrounded by Spanish mansions (it’s rumored Shakira has a home nearby) and connected by the final stop of a solitary bus line. My commute is a solid 45 minutes and savvier students living closer can still expect to trek nearly half an hour.

The commute is worth it. The campus is removed from the constant din of tourists and traffic readily accessible to a network of hiking and running paths and the facilities themselves are stunning. You enter through a lightly guarded gate a compact complex of modern glass buildings centered around a 200-year-old cottage and separated from the rest of the world by an ivy covered wall. Flowers, trees, and ponds dot the landscape and cream-colored paths and steps lead off to various building entrances. 

The classrooms are outfitted with wooden semi-circular desks and comfortable office chairs, all facing a central projector screen and chalk blackboards flanked by two flatscreens. The projector can be shut off for chalkboard lectures while the flatscreens continue to display the presentation. Charmingly, the chalkboards are completely cleaned by a duo of cleaning ladies every passing period. The rooms are also immaculately clean, due in part to the strict ban of anything but water (and if you’re sneaky, coffee) from classrooms.

When I first arrived, I was immediately impressed by the clean, sleek spaces. But I was also taken aback a decorative element very different than anything at Stern; each classroom also features unsettlingly prominent Catholic icons, statuettes and paintings of various saints and Jesus. I later learned that IESE is a part of the University of Navarre and owned by the conservative Opus Dei arm of the Catholic Church. It also explains why there was an elaborate nativity scene on display in one of the courtyards.

One of the nicest surprises coming to IESE for me is the superb on-campus dining.  The entire ground floor is taken up by seating for meals, with a busy café in front and bustling cafeteria behind it. The café serves a variety of Spanish bocadillos, sandwiches and salads with coffee or beer and a quip from the friendly, fast-talking staff. 

The cafeteria offers several stations each offering a rotating menu of their respective cuisines, including American, Asian and local Catalan options. The food is good, not amazing, but coming in around six euros a meal, I am certainly not complaining. However, the IESE students disagree, having essentially no options to eat off campus since the start of school 18 months ago. Jealousy of Greenwich Village’s endless lunch options runs deep. 

Despite these complaints, the large lunchroom fills up every day with first and second year MBAs, professors, and administrators. Distinguished guests and speakers are often invited to lunch with students and staff, and one section is readily converted to a full-service restaurant for special events. In fact, students often have lunch with professors and career services staff. 

When the weather is even nicer than normal, we also have the option of eating and working outside on the rooftop terrace. Picture Stern’s Starbucks lounge if it were outdoors, complete with shaded tables, power outlets, and mountain views. Combine a sunny day with a couple beers from the café below, and project group meetings feel less like work than a vacation. If it is raining, we have the option of a modern quiet study space/library in the basement and a brand new “collaboration space” dubbed The Hub.

There are certain drawbacks to the campus compared to Stern. The location as mentioned before is inconvenient, particularly if you live in the trendier parts of town. I sorely miss my locker at Stern, lugging my backpack and coat along with me all day. But these downsides are quickly forgotten sitting in the shade watching turtles climb in and out of a small pond and listening to church bells ring in the distance.

With so many reasons to stay outside, why does anyone go to class? An attendance policy stricter than prison. Next issue I will dive into the culture at IESE, investigate the day to day norms as well as the etiquette for their crazy, only-in-Barcelona answer to beer blast. ¡Hasta la próxima!

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