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An international student’s experience pursuing an MBA and navigating life in a new country

August 22, 2017

Photo of Rotman MBA student Haolin ZhangThe night before Haolin Zhang (MBA ’18) headed to his first business dinner in Canada, he turned to YouTube for some help. Though he’d done his research and knew his talking points for the meeting, he wasn’t clear on all aspects of North American table manners.

“I wasn’t fully aware of all the etiquette rules at the dinner table,” he says. “I was learning about what to do and what to expect through these videos.”

"There’s a bit of a learning curve for foreign students, but there might be ways we can help out."

—Haolin Zhang (MBA ’18)

The dinner ended up going well and the experience opened Zhang’s eyes to how he could support his peers at the Rotman School of Management.

“As international students, we’re not always aware of certain practices,” explains Zhang, who has just begun his term as VP, Internal for the Rotman Asian Business Association and VP, Recruitment for the Management Consulting Association. In these roles, he’s interested in designing activities that educate foreign students on Canadian customs, so they know what to expect at business engagements and networking events.

“There’s a bit of a learning curve for foreign students, but there might be ways we can help out.”

From Beijing to Toronto

Like many international students at Rotman, Zhang gained most of his professional and academic experience outside of North America. Before going to business school, Zhang — who was based in Beijing at the time — already had a number of impressive achievements to his name. After graduating from Tsinghua University with a Bachelor’s degree in Science, he held various sales and marketing positions with P&G and Mars Inc. In these roles, he became proficient at data-driven approaches to marketing and eventually managed teams and oversaw million-dollar campaigns.

After working for a few years, he was looking to make the leap into consulting or finance, and started thinking seriously about business school. The Rotman School’s strong finance focus and close proximity to Bay Street won him over. He packed his bags and flew across the globe to enroll in the full-time MBA program.

For Zhang, the first year went by in a flash: his days were packed with classes, projects, exams, case competitions and extracurricular activities. Through all these experiences, he was also getting an education in North American work culture.

“In one of our negotiations classes, we observed how everyone has a different style to working out a deal. The approach we take is influenced by our personality, our experience and culture,” he says.

“Today, when you step into the workplace, you are working with people all over the world. It’s important to understand different customs.”

Paying it Forward

Most of Zhang’s skills in solving problems, leading teams and managing clients are transferrable to any marketplace. So, when it came time to apply for internships, he turned to Career Services to make sure key elements of his work experience and personality weren’t lost in translation.

“The interview preparation and support helped me become more confident about describing myself. The ‘tell me about yourself’ question comes up in every interview and it really sets the tone for the rest of the interaction.”

"Today, when you step into the workplace, you are working with people all over the world. It’s important to understand different customs."

—Haolin Zhang (MBA ’18)

In the coming school year, he’s hoping to support fellow international students with finding internship opportunities and by letting them know of the services that exist at the School.

In Zhang’s case, his efforts paid off and he landed a summer associate position with Bain & Co. in Toronto. He’s excited about working in consulting and tackling some interesting business problems.

“In this type of work, you’re always presented with new problems and every day is a bit different. That’s what makes it exciting,” he said. “The best projects are the ones where you can see your impact immediately.”

Written by Rebecca Cheung

Haolin Zhang

Class year

MBA ’18


Inner Mongolia, China

Previous employment

Customer Marketing Supervisor
Mars Inc.
Beijing, China

Senior Sales Manager
Procter & Gamble
Beijing, China

Previous education

Bachelor of Science
(Biological Sciences)
Tsinghua University
Beijing, China

From China to Canada: A Rotman MBA Story - Part 1

Erica and Ronnie moved to Toronto from Mainland China