Saturday, September 22, 2012

MPA Registration and Orientation

Outside the New Academic Building
Yesterday, I became an official London School of Economics student! Starting off the day with a cup of coffee on my commute was much needed as it was the first day that I've been here with a set schedule. Finally, I've adjusted to the time difference and have gotten over jet-lag. Registration was fairly quick.

As an international student (sometimes it's weird to hear that phrase), I had to show both my passport and my visa. The UK Border is being serious in checking student visas lately as we learned that another institution in the UK was not checking, got in serious trouble, and had to send all of their students home. Once I finished registration, I went to pick up my student ID card. Even after submitting all my paperwork and photo online, it wasn't quite ready. I can pick up Monday which is fine because only a few buildings I have found so far require showing it to get inside.

After registration, we had a scheduled lunch at 13:00 (I'm getting re-used to the time writing), but since it was 11am, a bunch of us headed for a cafe on campus. The LSE Garrick will become my favorite place to eat, do work, and grab a coffee with a friend. It reminds me of Schine Dinning, but with a little more flare, for all of those from Syracuse reading this. It was nice being able to get to know some more first-years that are embarking on the journey as well.

Our lunch hour was the first time that almost all the first years were in the same place. Around 70 or so were there, and while the lunch fare was not the usual pizza that was given at free lunches at Syracuse, it was well worth it.  I finally got to meet Kaitlyn, another American. We have been talking literally since May on Facebook about everything in terms of preparations.

MPA Orientation came after lunch. I got my first taste of an LSE classroom. It was a lecture hall, but more compact than I am used to. Let's just say it reminded me of a typical classroom, with stadium seating and small desks. It was not a Maxwell Auditorium or HBC. But, it's another way that I am going to be getting used to the UK education system.

The Dean of the Programme, Lloyd Gruber, started off the hour-long presentation of what we need to know these first few weeks. He recently took over being the director of the programme and comes from a wide range of academia experience, on both sides of the ocean. Providing humor throughout the presentation allowed us to take in the seriousness of the program while also share a few laughs.

We started off our orientation with tabbing in anonymous answers to demographic questions. Regions of the world where were all from, ages, work experience, and fun questions relating to London. I was quick to notice after the age tab that I am one of the youngest in the program as that was almost the smallest bracket represented. At the same time, I also noticed quickly the difference in the years working. While I did a lot of internships during my time at Syracuse, I have never been in the "real world." Our Dean noted that those who have not been in school for a long period of time are intimidated by not studying in a long period of time. At the same time, he stated that those of us who had been accepted straight out of undergrad were "hot stuff." It was a nice compliment to receive as those of us in this programme are clearly all type As.

One of the more funnier questions that we responded to in the little quiz was our future career ambitions. Only five percent of the room want to be in an elected office position. You better believe I made up that five percent. #WALPOLE2040

The rest of our orientation hour was getting used to the programme regulations, hearing the phrase, "some of you will fail," course selection, and general information on how to use the online applications.  After using Blackboard for four years, I have to learn a new program called Moodle to submit documents, gather class information, etc.

We also learned about the new aspect that the Institute of Public Affairs is launching. The Policy in Practice Seminar Series is going to be a weekly Thursday evening event with those in public policy careers (government, non-profits, etc.) to discuss the more practical side of what we are learning in the classroom. As Dean Gruber mentioned the new series will feature discussions from the new director of LSE, Lords, and Nobel Laureates. One of the best things about it is that it is a MPA-only event. Other LSE events often fill up very quickly when distinguished guests come to campus.

Once we did all the academic work, we were divided into groups of about 15 to begin a 30 minute policy challenge. The question, you may ask was : "What is the greatest policy challenge facing the world? And, how should it be solved?" Yes, 30 minutes in a group of 15 had to answer that. Before our group began working, we all introduced ourselves-name, where we were from, past work/education, greatest accomplishment. My group only had a few people that I had already met. Let's just say this once again: Everyone in this program has a unique story that makes you want to sit down and keep asking questions. We all have ambitious goals.

2nd Year MPA Student Profile Booklet
As for the policy challenge, our group eventually decided on socio-economical inequalities between blocs. Our attempt to solve the problem resulted in four different actions.  Eventually, all the groups presented to a group of professors (who we will have!) to receive feedback. Much of the feedback was devoted to setting more benchmarks, defining the problem more effectively, etc. The challenge itself reminded me a lot of the mini-challenges we did in PAF 101, and yes, I did feel as if Coplin was somewhere snickering to himself.

And, for the cap of the evening, the MPASA (MPA Student Association) organized an open-bar in the Underground. The Underground is one of the several on-campus bars. And, while it was not Chucks, it clearly has potential to be.  Having a few drinks with my new classmates, I got to know a lot better. But many of us left early as it was raining, sleepiness, etc.

And, yes, if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm clearly very excited to get started. I have not started classes yet, and I feel I'm in one of those moments that I've only experienced a handful of times before in the world of academia. I had many moments at Syracuse where I was truly challenged and rewarded for hard work, but this is different. They say grad school is different, and so far, I have found that. I'm looking forward to the rest of this year (and next too)!