26 Mar 2012

Glory Days

What's in a decade? In early 2002, the Euro entered circulation. The Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City. The US invaded Afghanistan. And I graduated from high school. From this perspective, it seems an awfully long time ago.

But in my own perception, it could have been yesterday, so present are the memories of the 6.5 years I had spent at KS Rychenberg. Only in recalling all the things that have happened since do I realize how much my life has changed from the day our headmaster (appearing on stage dressed as a Roman Emperor, no less) handed me that coveted matura degree. It certified me mature enough to ascend to universities and such. Back then, we thought that we would go out and conquer the world. This weekend, time had come to see how we did.

This 10th anniversary saw our class formally get together for the first time, and it was clear that I would not miss the occasion for the world (or, at least, the Atlantic Ocean). As I strolled down Winterthur's high street towards the café we had chosen for apéro, I found myself following a woman pushing a baby buggy. Turns out that this former classmate was not the only one to have progeny - amidst extatic greetings, questions on family life were the frst ones to be asked, and showed the most tangible progress. Two former high school sweethearts had even gotten married to each other just last month.

Transitioning to our dinner venue, we left behind not just a few empty bottles of prosecco, but also the verbal equivalent of swapped business cards. A surgeon and a lawyer, a banker and a theologian, a biologist and a singer, teachers and reportedly even a clown (no, not me!) today look back to the same secondary education. While we had obviously all grown up, the gathering produced an intense flashback.

For soon, we were right back where we had left off a decade ago: Joking, laughing, trading anecdotes, gossiping. It could have been any field trip or camp we'd had. The fact that we had all gathered again seemed to have turned back the hands of time, and I felt merrily immersed in a spirit of youthful camaraderie. Plus ça change, plus c'est pareil, as the French would have it. We were still all the same people, and it felt good.

A friend of mine recently quoted an article claiming that thanks to Facebook, everybody was up to date about everybody anyways, leaving nothing for reunions but bashing old teachers. But the article misses the point. It's not about finding out who's got kids and who makes the most. It's about letting yourself be taken back to a time when life was nothing but possibility, curiosity, and boundless optimism. Turns out matura is the pinnacle of youth.

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19 Mar 2012

LEADER

It comes complete with a scenic bridge over the River Thames, and even the typical morning fog (which delays my return). But this is where the resemblance of London, Ontario with its much larger namesake ends. The main attraction in this London is the University of Western Ontario, which hosts over 30'000 students and one of the country's most reputed business schools, Ivey. It is this fact, and not some English nostalgia, that brought me here.

Since 1991, Ivey has been running the LEADER Project, an initiative sending MBA students to developing countries for a few weeks to teach their freshly acquired business skills to entrepreneurs and managers there. For a while now, my employer has been the key sponor of the program, and as such gets to select one employee to travel along with the students each year. And so it is that this May, yours truly will be teaching business in Macedonia.

Unlike those of my young, bright and visibly enthusiastic student friends, however, my skills are a bit more of the "hands-on" versus the "freshly instilled" variety, leading to a desire to familiarize myself a bit with Ivey's famous case methodology before teaching said approach to a group of unsuspecting Skopje entrepreneurs. Which is how I found myself in an Ivey auditorium this weekend, duly having read the required papers (I've even applied that trusty combination of pencil and highlighter to them!).

Being there felt awkward at first, the classroom setting having grown somewhat away from me and the fashion trends having very obviously evolved a lot further since I last paid attention. Listening to a lecture, raising my hand to make a point, even chatting with my neighbour under my breath - these were not things I have done recently.

But fortunately, it has not been too long, either. As the second break was approaching, I was yearning for coffee and an opportunity to socialize with my fellow LEADERs on the patio. And by the time the day was done and we were hanging out over beers, memories of my student days certainly started to come back, just as excitement started growing about the opportunity to spend two weeks abroad with the fresh graduates. They graciously welcomed me to join their gang, giving me a taste of North American graduate school life - academic and otherwise.

With their motivation, no-fear attitude and infinite curiosity, they have what it takes to make this endeavour both successful and enjoyable. And to instill me with the energy to drop the corporate suit and wake up the student, err, the LEADER in me.

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