My MBA Adventure: The first 6 weeks.

It’s official, I made it through my first six weeks at Smith, and I survived.

My MBA journey started in February, when I accepted my decision with Smith. Immediately, I began receiving, admitted student e-mails, connecting with current students, weekly incoming student e-mails, pre-skills, career coaching and searching, and preparing to move 7, 944 miles away from home.

My name is Janna Fernandez and my quest starts in the U.S. Territory of Guam. Right about here!

Guam, located 7,944 miles away from College Park, MD. Total time in the air, 18 hours.

Just to answer a few common questions before I go any further, Guam is an island in the Pacific Ocean, located about three hours South of Japan and seven hours West of Hawaii. It is an unincorporated territory of the United States, like Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. There are 160,000 people. The indigenous people of Guam are called Chamorro, unless they identify with a different ethnicity.  Lastly, living on Guam allows you to witness these (on a regular basis):


Surfers welcoming traditional seafarers for the 27th Festival of the Pacific Arts held on Guam, in May 2016.(Courtesy of Dee Fernandez. May 2016)

Okay, so back to business. I graduated with a degree in Communications with emphasis in Public Relations from the University of Guam. I worked for the last five years for the Government of Guam, trying to find a way to save the world. And I came back to grad school to figure out a better way to do it! Needless to say, I’m a career transitioner, trying to find a balance between my need to help people succeed and a career.

Like most of you beginning your MBA search or starting an MBA program, the decision to go back to school wasn’t easy. The idea of leaving a steady career and relocating (if applicable) to a new place is daunting, the process even more stressful. However, the value of undergoing an MBA program, outweighs the stress of starting over.

Finding myself in new places always tests the boundaries I’ve constructed for myself. Meeting new people and learning new things in a short time has challenged my cultural and social understandings, as I adapt in my new community. My blog will take you along on my MBA adventures as I learn new skills, explore new places, and define and redefine myself over the next year.

Today, I want to share with you five “gems” Smith has reinforced, for me, in just the past 6 weeks:

you-are-confined1. Remember to keep an open mind. You can only transform into the next best you, if you’re open to it. The MBA is a firehose (a common metaphor used in the program, and they’re not kidding!) of new, challenging experiences that are guaranteed to challenge your worldview and change your perspective. Like with all new things, what you do with those experiences is what makes your MBA journey different from your classmates. Some have a clear vision of what their end career goal will look like; others (like me) know they want a career change and that the MBA is the right fit for their goals. However, as you begin your program, be open to those concepts being challenged from the beginning. You may be keen on marketing when you arrive, and then discover a passion for finance.

dont-be-deterred2. Write your goals down. Not everyone has a clear picture of their end-goals when they arrive at B-school. Some do, but even then, when they’re challenged or exposed to something new, their goals may change. So write them down. Refer to them often, and don’t be afraid to erase and edit along the way. 

When asked what my end-goals were on the first day, my answer was an abstract: “Help people.” Five weeks later, the how and the why are slowly shaping themselves into a concrete, measurable statement. Having a vague picture of what you want to look like at the end of the journey, at the beginning, will help you meaningfully shape your decisions in your MBA journey.


3. Collaboration is Key. If you’re preparing to apply to Smith, let me just state, a “collaborative learning environment” isn’t just a marketing ploy on the website, it’s a core value of the Smith School. The minute you accept your decision, you are welcomed into the family, connected to current students and staff willing to answer your questions—academic or not, and it just gets better once you meet your classmates. If working with people makes you apprehensive, Smith will stretch your social skills and teach you to thrive. 


todo-lists4. Make to-do lists, in a portable notebook. I was never a list person. Handling multiple projects at once and executing tasks, never required a list to refer to…until now! This isn’t just an academic to-do list it also includes action items like:

  • Spend an hour reading
  • Call your mom (8/30)
  • Groceries needed: eggs, bread, fruit

The start of an MBA can be a bit overwhelming, especially for someone in transition, who isn’t familiar with all the business social norms of the United States. So far, it’s helped me prioritize the social activities, career searches, and academic learning objectives without feeling overwhelmed. The notebook is key in this instance, as technology apps are constantly failing me. As a potential business leader, prioritizing your tasks is essential to successful executions.

5. Take risks. Okay, so this isn’t something I learned here at Smith, but it is something that has taken on new meaning. Deciding to go to graduate school is the first risk you take, but it doesn’t end there. As a PR person, soft-skills and touchy-feely, abstract concepts up for discussion is right up my ally, so I found myself early-on identifying classes and clubs that played in my comfort zone. I have realized, however, the last thing I want to do, is shy away from the difficult things I’m not good at (for me it’s finance and data modeling).  While I may not join the Finance Club, I am considering taking additional classes even if it’s not in my general track. The only way to grow is to do things that scare you.

That’s me, Skydiving on Guam, February 2015.

Adventures aren’t supposed to be easy. They’re supposed to scare you a little. This is a new adventure for me, and I hope you follow me as I jump into new and exciting experiences.



I’d love to hear what you thought about the topics discussed in this blog post! Please e-mail

Janna Fernandez

I am a first-year MBA/MPP Candidate at the University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith, School of Business. I enjoy exploring new places and meeting new people. My blog will give you insight on my B-school experience, as well as how I, an island girl (from Guam), acclimate to the coming winter.For questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions email:

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