Pre-Term at Wharton: The Fresh Prince of Philly:
The short version of this story is that I’m having the time of my life right about now. Here goes the long version… (I hope you packed a lunch!)
The Fresh Prince of Philly
I arrived in Philadelphia back on July 23rd, just over 3 weeks ago. While my flight had me landing several hours late, I wasn’t all that bothered. For one, I was feeling a bit euphoric after having only been in the air for about 2 hours. After 13 years of living in California, I had gotten used to not even looking at my phone to check the time until at least 3 hours into what was almost always a 4 or 5 hour flight. It definitely feels good to be back east again.
While this really hellish heat wave had seemed to follow me from LA to Florida, it finally seemed to pass me by in Philly. Apparently, they had just had a wave that I had missed. I met my landlord just in front of the building where the loft that I am renting is located. She just happens to be a 2008 Wharton alum who now works and recruits for Deloitte and couldn’t have been happier upon realizing that she’d be renting to one of her own. We me through TheRentScene, a housing start-up founded by Wharton ’14 entrepreneur Marvis Burns. Within 48 hours of “hello” my landlord and I had come to agreement, money had been exchanged and I had signed a 22 month lease to take me all the way through my Wharton experience.
I instantly fell in love with my new place; and after a few days of wandering I felt the same about my neighborhood. I live all the way at the eastern tip (probably even beyond the tip) of the most dense concentration of Whartonites. Most of them live between the river and 15th street in Center City/Rittenhouse with a handful living in University City (most married folks looking for more space with lower rent) and an even smaller handful living out in the suburbs.
My living on the outskirts of that density is no accident. I wanted to be close enough to my classmates to socialize with them (and I am) while being tangential enough to pull away and retreat into some privacy and, dare I say it, normalcy when I felt the need to do so.
Well, things could not have turned out better. My gym is 2 1/2 blocks away from me. I live but a stone’s throw from Philly’s Reading Terminal Market, where I’ve come to do most of my grocery shopping. Fresh product, fresh fish, foul, eateries, condiments, fresh squeezed juice and even wine and cheese are all available there–all locally produced. Then for those things that I can’t get there, Trader Joe’s is a 5-7 minute trolley ride away.
While most of my classmates get to class on a slow, crowded bus headed up Walnut St. to Wharton that stops at EVERY block, I zip to class either on the train or the underground trolley, either of which is about 20 minutes door-to-door, easily eating up any advantage they might have had from living closer to campus.
I’m in walking distance from China town and city hall and can get anywhere in Center City within 15 minutes or so by foot should I choose to do so. I”m in walking distance from what is reportedly Philly’s best breakfast spot (it wouldn’t be considered that in LA, but it’ll do) and am also a 5-10 minute walk from not one, not two but three ZipCar parking lots. After leaving my jeep in California. I’ve had to become accustomed to reserving ZipCars to run any errands that cause me to go to South Philly, such as IKEA, Wal-Mart, Best Buy or Lowes.
I’ve found (the good part of) Philly to be exceptionally manageable. There are tons of restaurants and bars that I can easily walk to on any given evening. The part of this city that’s worth going to is almost startlingly accessible. When the underground tavern that at least 600 of my 850 classmates descended on for our back-to-school bash got too crowded and hot, I was able to simply walk home in about 10 minutes.
Fat Backs and Smoke Stacks
My two major qualms with Philly thus far, of course, are health related. One is that while the food is really good, it’s super heavy. This irritates me because it defacto turns almost every day into a “cheat day/fatboy day” unless you are eating food from home. I had read somewhere that Philly was America’s fattest city; now I see why. I’ve also never seen so many women with a legit guy’s beer gut in effing my life, a fact that makes the people who are just here for work or school at Penn/Drexel et. al REALLY stick out.
My second issue is the prevalence of pubic smoking. In California, we shamed all the smokers into extinction long ago. Only immigrants from France and SE Asia smoke in Cali now, and they are quarantined into dirty alleys next to bums and rotting baby diapers to do so. Now that’s my kind of city. In Philadelphia on the other hand, every man, woman and child seems to be toting a nasty cigarette and puffing that shit into the air and right in the faces of like 20 people. Smokers should have to wear helmets that keep all of the smoke inside. Since they love the stuff so much, they should get it all to themselves.
The Big Bang
So last Sunday, Pre-term kicked off here at Wharton. I had NO IDEA what I was in for. It’s part power networking, part speed-dating, part bootcamp and part first day of freshman year all over again. One hand, its exhilarating. 850 of the brightest and most accomplished young business people in the world thrown into a common ecosystem to exchange ideas, learn and grow together, form life-lasting bonds and extend the global Wharton network. Former pro athletes, blue bloods, special ops guys and fighter pilots; white house alums, good ole’ boys, near foreign royalty and pretty much everyone from the farm to the penthouse to the projects to Slum Dog Millionaire seems to be represented in one way or another.
On the other hand, it is EXHAUSTING (but fun!). By day 2 my jaws were sore and my tongue weight about 1,000 pounds from the introductions, the shouting in bars and at parties, the laughing and the stimulating (or just drunken?) conversations that seemed to go on and on into the wee hours of the morning. Those who had gone to Wharton before me warned to “get as much done prior to pre-term as you can; you won’t get as much as a box unpacked once it starts.” I now see the wisdom in that advice. Wharton pre-term will definitely put you on lock down. I feel like an effing refugee sometimes as I’m herded from one workshop to the next with my peers.
Found Out and Put on Blast
By now, who I am and my connection to this blog is far from a secret. While there are still some folks finding out, I’ve been called out on several occasions about being connected. Dr. Kembrel Jones, Deputy Vice Dean of Student Life and a central iconoclast of Wharton culture took a pot shot at my age during his student life presentation a few days ago. I got a kick out of it.
The Wharton AAMBAA and Founders Retreats
A week before the pre-term madness began, Wharton’s African-American MBA Assoc (AAMBAA) had its retreat. While I already had about 20 or so friends and close acquaintances that I had met in LA and/or at admit weekend, AAMBAA provided me with my first big group of friends based around some affinity. In many ways, the AAMBAA group reflects the broader diversity of Wharton itself. The 40-50 or so of us are from nations all around the world and come from a full spectrum of backgrounds both educationally and culturally. Also, I had the honor of being the captain of the team that won the leadership challenge. Each member of my team won a prize from Wharton’s leadership department; additionally, I was able to correctly guess the exact order that the 6 competing teams would end up in. For that reason, I won free admission to go experience Marine-style leadership training at Wharton’s Quantico Leadership Venture this September.
I would imagine that my next close group will come from the Founders’ Club. My conversations with members of this group earlier this year heavily influenced my decision to choose Wharton over my other 2 options. About a week and a half from now, I’ll be at Wharton’s Founders’ Retreat, an exclusive 1-day boot camp for people in the class who are sold out and serious about starting companies while in school. Attendance is by invitation only and I was fortunate enough to have been one of those who received an invite. The retreat was started just a couple of years ago by Baby.com.br founder and Wharton ’11 alum Davis Smith. I’ve also been pulled into a small, informal group of entrepreneur-minded guys that are all learning how to code together. I look forward to the entrepreneurial connections to be had at Wharton probably more than any others.
Wharton: Where Opportunities Abound
During our pre-term kick-off event (pictured above), one of the speakers made a point about the vast scale and variety of opportunities that are available at Wharton while also being afforded the chance to completely individualize you experience. Truer words have never been spoken.
Whether your aspirations lie in a particular industry (such as consulting, banking or CPG), experience (i.e. global travel, immersion and exchange programs), research (Wharton has the most productive and decorated faculty of any business school in the world), social (let’s not even go there) this place is brimming with far more opportunities than one person could ever get a chance to experience. I feel as though I could come to Wharton and complete 2-3 MBAs and never had the same awesome extra- or co-curricular experience twice.
My top priority, of course, is to found a startup here. So that will 100% take precedence over any and everything else on the table. Period. After that comes both academics and my work in analytics. I have a meeting tomorrow morning with prof. Peter Fader and some Wharton administrators to discuss a new club centered specifically around analytics. If all goes well, it would be a body that, with the support of Wharton, could provide a space for increased opportunities on and off campus including both internships, full-time employment and startup support for people who are specifically interested in the data space. It’s pretty amazing to be in a place where you can say “hey, I had this wild hair idea to do blah blah blah” and some internationally renown expert in the field–who just happens to be your professors–is like “yeah, let’s do that. In fact, let’s get some muckety mucks on board to see if we can map out a plan to put a few million behind that in the coming years should things go well”. WHAT? Welcome to life at Wharton.
Shaking Hands and Disneyland
Along with the hundreds of introductions that you WILL experience as a new member of the Wharton family comes hundreds of handshakes. While I have yet to come across a fishy handshake (a professional pet peeve of mine), I have met a few women who almost broke my hand after I under estimated how tight their grip would be and loosed mine preemptively. Is that sexist? Someone call the ethics committee–and a doctor. I think I need a cast after that last one.
“It’s a small world after all…” So, I’m shaking hands at the reception that followed the pre-term kickoff event. Still hungover from too much scotch at a classmate’s house warming the previous night, I opt for a red wine to keep it light for the night. I’m staring into space contemplating how a Salvatore Ferragamo loafer bomb must have exploded at Wharton when I meet this really nice Korean (I think) couple.
As it turns out, the woman/girlfriend grew up in my old sales territory in an LA suburb called Torrance; pretty cool. Then things got downright creepy. As the conversation continued, it came out that the guy/boyfriend is from Tallahassee where I went to college. I even think we may have been born in the same hospital or something. Then I find out that his family owns the store that I used to go get AFRO PICKS from when I was in college in the late 90′s. WTF?!??? True Story: I used to have a huge afro in which I’d stick a gigantic metal afro pick with a black plastic fist at the end. As I’m gasping for air trying to tell this story, his the woman/girlfriend blurts out “oh yeah! We just ordered a new batch of those!”
* Blacks Out* *Spills Wine*
Clusters, Cohorts and Competition
At Wharton, a class of 850 students into broken into 4 clusters of about 210-212 or so. Then, each cluster is broken up into 4 cohorts of about 50ish. Then each cohort has about 8-10 learning teams of 5-6 people. I’m in cluster 2 and just found out yesterday that I’ll be in cohort E. I’ll meet my learning team next week during the learning team retreat. Two days ago we had our first cluster supper, a monthly or so ritual where you get a chance to reconnect with the larger group that you may not have interacted with while you’ve had your face down in the books or have hung out mostly with people in your major throughout your Wharton experience. My cluster meets in the Hall of Flags, where UPenn hangs the individual flags of each of the 8 Ivy League institutions.
I must say that I really appreciate Wharton for having instituted pre-term into the first year experience. While it can be daunting at times, it really does a great job of getting you acclimated to Wharton and puts a shot of urgency in your veins that kicks your butt into gear to give you the best chance of success once classes begin. Kudos to Kembrel and the rest of the Wharton administrators and staff for taking the time to do this for us.
This Saturday, we’ll have the Wharton Olympics, the first major event of the Cluster Cup, a year long competition between the 4 different clusters. While I signed up for flag football, I actually got picked for kick ball, which I guess is fine. Then later on I heard that the flag football team was open for new members, but I didn’t end up bothering to respond to the email because I was, well, engrossed in writing this blog point to be honest. eh.
How Hostels Make the Heart Grow Fonder
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been pulled into two groups that use the GroupMe app for iOS and Android. In the AAMBAA GroupMe, I learned about two incoming students who had literally just been accepted off the waitlist about 2-3 weeks prior to pre-term. One was headed to Tuck with money and the other was headed to Booth with money when they got the call. The both chose Wharton (good choice!) and then proceeded to turn nearly 100% of the plans that they had been making since last spring topsy turvey.
Knowing that most of my classmates either had roomates or significant others, I offered up my place as a home base while my new classmates scrambled the city for housing. A close buddy and classmate likes to joke with me and say that I’m running a hostel; lol…whatever man. At any rate, both folks have found GREAT deals on nice apartments–one in Center City and the other in University City. It has been really cool to get to know both of them and to do my part in extending the Wharton network to them right off the bat.
Leaving Things Behind
So a part of this whole “no car” thing has been having to get used to taking EVERYTHING you need with you when you leave. There is no back seat to throw things in that you “might” need just in case. There is also no putting things in your car that you know you will forget; and thus far I’ve forgotten a few things. Yesterday evening I left the power cord to my lap top in a classroom. The cleaning staff graciously placed it at the front of the room so that I was able to retrieve it this morning. Then while on the subway this afternoon, I realized that I had left my umbrella in a bathroom. Oh well, I just got another box today from my parents in Florida and it had…..drum roll…..an umbrella in it–so I should be fine.
About this class I’m in. I’ve heard at some point that Wharton will find a way to infuse quant into just about EVERYTHING that you do here. I now know that to be true. And one of the things that is done to make sure that you are in a position to handle all that good ole quant is a math proficiency exam that is due over the summer. I estimate that about 40-50% of the class did well enough on that exam to meet the requirement. Well, I”m in the other half. In my defense, I hardly prepared for it until the last minute and figured I needed the review anyway. I was right.
Going through this class has quickly brushed away the MANY cobwebs that exist over my memory of functions and the calculus of single and multivariate functions that I haven’t looked at in nearly a decade in half; but even though I haven’t seen this stuff in a long, long time, I had enough repetition of it back in the day such that it is really coming back to me in a major way while enrolled in this class. Kudos again to the administration for institution this during pre-term.
FOMO, FOFO and Managing Time
If you’ve been reading this or other MBA blogs for a while then you are probably at least marginally familiar with the concept of “FOMO” (fear of missing out). At Wharton, I’ve recently been introduced to “FOFO”, the fear of FAILING out. It seems that FOMO is not a force in a vacuum, but a dialectic to FOFO such that they must both be balanced in order to maximize your results. While I was tantalized by the many options that Wharton has offer during the first few days of pre-term, I’ve more recently begun to draw back and re-focus on what I’m really here for–to start a business. Then are are clubs and activities as well as the freelance writing I do along with giving support to my admissions consulting clients so that they’ll have their best shot to end up at a great school like Wharton next year.
Plague and Pestilence: When Shaking Hands Goes Wrong
Earlier, I talked about the incessant shaking of hands in this place. Well, despite the obvious networking benefits, that activity has a definite down side. About 2 days ago, I came down with a miserable cold that I am sure came from the hot cauldron bubble of germs that I’ve been in since Sunday with everyone in the class in such close quarters for much of the day. Since then, I’ve been somewhat quarantining myself. I’ve sat in the front a lot to avoid breathing on people, washed my hands constantly and in some cases just not showed up at all to not put other people at risk. If only someone had shown me the same courtesy.
A Better Shave, Courtesy of Wharton
I divorced my beloved Dollar Shave Club about 2 weeks ago and began ordering form Harry’s, a startup founded by a Wharton alum (the same one who co-created Warby Parker glasses). Thus far, I am beyond impressed with the quality and affordability of this product. I strongly recommend it to any guy out there who loves a great shave the way that I do.
Doing What I the F Want Today (and Probably Tomorrow Too)
So, in all of this Wharton amazing-ness, I have a dirty lil’ confession to make. I have hit my limit. While many people in my class see me as a fairly extroverted person (based on this blog and some of my practices in the class Facebook group) I am actually an introvert. I can only take so much of crowds before I need to retreat away for some me time. I hit that mark today and totally began to space out. Add to that my temporary illness and you have a perfect formula for my pulling away a bit.
I’ve really been a trooper in pre-term thus far; and I plan to return to being one in a day or so when my illness subsides. In the meantime, I’m going to do excatly what the F I want to do. I”m not self-segrating for lack of interest in my classmates; I just know that I need some balance if I am to be as strong of a member of the community as I can be. Today, however, I decided to skip out on my afternoon seminars. Instead, I’m blogging, putting together cheap IKEA furniture, unpacking boxes of books and going for a hour long run tonight at the gym. Tomorrow, it’ll be back to Pre-term…