The following is a guest post from fourth year undergrad Jerome Tan, fondly known as the ‘serial winner’ of several competitions that our students have participated in. Jerome has taken part in eight international competitions up to now; he made it to the finals in six of them, and won five. His favourite? The Sauder Summit Global Case Competition in Vancouver. Here’s more from Jerome:
It always begins the same way: the euphoria of being selected, the excitement of meeting new teammates, the exhilaration of learning about a new country. All too quickly though, one gets dragged back down to earth. Overnight training on weekends becomes the norm, and the prospect of having to keep pace with academics while missing an entire week of lessons becomes more daunting as the dates draw nearer. There have been semesters where I was literally on campus every single weekend for something case-related — all this of my own free will and volition.
Many case competitions on the international circuit are 24-hour formats, and to simulate this, our teams train with similar timeframes. This usually means starting on a Saturday morning, and finishing on a Sunday afternoon (after presentations and feedback and so on). During the training, each of us hits “The Wall”. “The Wall” is a term I use to describe the moment when you start to question your life decisions: Why am I here, slogging away? Why am I not happily sleeping away the weekend? Why are my friends off having fun while I’m sitting in a cold, depressing seminar room? Do I not spend enough time in school already? So many questions, but so few answers.
This point normally occurs in the middle of the night. Three in the morning is when it usually hits me. Talk to anyone who has ever done any of these 24-hour cases and I guarantee they will know exactly what I’m talking about. It is usually at this point that one starts to question the work done so far, and it isn’t a coincidence that this is usually when arguments take place as well. So while case competitions are great opportunities, many forget this: it’s hard work and requires many sacrifices.
Even leaving Singapore for these places is always bittersweet – the excitement of travelling to a far-off location is mired with the nervousness and trepidation that comes with competing. The school and the seniors always say the same thing: just learn, have fun, and do your best. They mean it too. However, there is always a pressure to perform well, to showcase the abilities of our students, and to pay back the school for the trust that’s been placed on you.
What redeems the entire process are the competitions themselves. They are unique opportunities to see new places, meet people from fresh new cultures and broaden one’s horizons. In rare instances, you may even get to meet and dine with royalty! The people you compete with are wholly spectacular. I once met a gentleman who is a direct descendent of Leonhard Euler, the famed Swiss mathematician. His family has won three Nobel Prizes to date, and his grandfather had protested his enrolling in a business school because the “Nobel Prize winner for Economics sat with the Queen and not the King at the ceremony,” and was thus viewed as a lesser honour.
As my time with these competitions draws to its inevitable end, a quick reflection on the experience reveals their true value. In many ways, case competitions have been the most rewarding learning opportunities in my life thus far. But their impact stretches beyond academics. I have made good friends (both from NUS and from other universities), I have visited many amazing places, and my life has been vastly enriched because of them. I strongly recommend every business school student to try it out. You owe it to yourselves.