George Clooney Has Nothing On These EMBA Road Warriors

Consider Christopher Min, an American-born consultant for Accenture who lives in Seoul, South Korea. Every other Friday and Saturday, he sits in a San Francisco class studying for an Executive MBA at The Wharton School’s West Coast campus. Nearly one in every five students in that program is from outside California, but mostly from nearby states such as Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon and Washington.

To attend Wharton's San Francisco EMBA program, Chris Min endures a 12-hour flight from Seoul, Korea.

Min clearly has the longest commute in his class—a 12-hour flight. “On Thursday, I board a flight to San Francisco, study eight hours on the plane, and arrive in California early afternoon on Thursday, rest and prepare for classes on Friday morning,” he says. “I then fly back to Seoul on Monday and arrive there on Tuesday evening.”

The schedule eventually got so grueling that Min decided to rent an apartment next to the Wharton building in San Francisco so he could sometimes spend two weeks working from the U.S. “You learn to adjust and make time out of seemingly full schedules to get school work done,” says Min.

Why does Min spend an extra $3,000 a month on airfare and put himself through the extra pressure of travel when he could have gotten the degree closer to home? “I would be lying if I said I didn’t choose Wharton for the influence and prestige that comes with the Wharton brand,” he says. “In Korea, the name of the school one attends is a big deal.”

MAKING TIME FOR CLASS, WORK, AND, ERR, FAMILY?

Executive MBA programs are highly challenging experiences. In addition to holding down demanding full-time jobs, students typically devote 20 to 25 hours a week hitting the books, intense alternating weekends in long classes, and occasional residential weeks in far flung locales. Tacking on hours navigating airports across multiple time zones onto an already frenetic schedule can take its toll–especially on those who have families.

Arun Sasikumar Nair, who commutes from Singapore to Toronto’s Rotman global Executive MBA program—along with immersion weeks in Brazil, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Budapest. He has been engaged for the past year and one-half. “This experience has definitely tested our relationship and the strength of it,” he says. “Traveling every two or three months for extended periods of time is not easy on your partner or your family, for sure. They don’t get to see you…I think it would be extremely hard if someone didn’t have their partner’s undying support like I have.

“I compare the juggling of it all to riding a bike for the first time,” Nair adds. “You don’t get into something like this without knowing that you will give it your all; no less than 100%. It takes a lot of your time, but I’ve learned to set my priorities. One way to describe it is difficult, but unforgettable.”