3 Things that surprised me most about Cornell

  1. The beauty of the town and campus

Cornell University is located in the small town of Ithaca in the state of New York. It is situated in the New York Finger Lake region and is surrounded by mountains and water. It is about 4 to 5 hours from New York City and 3 hours from the Niagara Falls. The Cornell University campus is a very typical campus university, with huge spaces and many many buildings. It is impossible to walk around the entire campus without having legs pains. There are plenty of shops/places to eat, the buildings are old and very Hogwarts-like.

Throughout your semester abroad you will be able to experience the raft of Ithaca’s rapidly changing seasons. When you arrive in the summer, temperatures are usually very high, and the best activities are outdoors: hiking, kayaking, diving in the many (many) waterfalls, outdoor picnics etc. However, summer does not last very long as you pretty much arrive at the end of August. My favourite summer spot was a natural swimming pool with a huge waterfall at the back of it. The swimming pool is located at the end of a hiking trail and is the perfect way to end a long day walking. Autumn comes rapidly after and the changing colours will blow your mind (and your Instagram account with pictures!). As Ithaca is surrounded by mountains, all leaves turn into the most beautiful orange, red, yellow combination – something that you rarely see in London. Finally, winter comes and with it, the end of your outdoor adventures. You might have seen pictures of New York City hidden in a white coat. Well, Ithaca is the same – except with huge hills, just to help with the tripping and falling! However, if you have always lived in Western Europe (especially France) like I have, you would have rarely seen such amount of snow in a city – and that is a very pretty sight.

The only 3 things which bothered me a little during my stay were: 1) the number of hills is ridiculous, you’re always climbing hills, no matter where you go (especially if you live downtown); 2) the winter is very cold and dry and 3) everything is a super experience. I expected the US and especially a small town such as Cornell to be cheaper, but the prices are bumped up as there isn’t much competition out there. Plus, the supermarkets and biggest shops are fairly far and difficult to access without a car.

cornell 1

  1. The campus life

As a campus university, I expected a lot to go on during my stay at Cornell. What I really like was to be able to experience the ‘typical’ collegiate setting, participating in socials both with fellow MBA classmates and students from other departments, witnessing Homecoming (an American tradition whereby the university welcomes back all students by organizing weeks of celebrations topped with American football games etc.), going ice-skating with professionals, going a winter ball or going on trips to DC or surrounding areas.

In the MBA-setting, we had a weekly social very similar to the GMS one whereby we were offered a venue and time to socialize with the entire cohort with free food and drinks provided all afternoon. The socials were a great way to get to know your classmates on a less formal basis (plus the free food and beer every week is a huge plus!).

I would say the only (and probably biggest) downside of the campus life was the inability to access careers resources. Going on exchange in the Michaelmas term can be a stressful experience as most of us will be going through job applications for the coming year. The Johnson School of Management does not allow exchange students to participate in any in-house recruitment activities, that includes campus job fairs, meet the employer events, employer presentations etc. The only thing we were allowed, was a one-time 1-1 meeting with an international career officer from the school. They justified it by saying, employers were getting confused as to different types of student visas and statuses (indeed internationals who stay for a full degree are allowed to intern/work in the US one year after they graduate, whereas we do not have that right).


  1. The support towards entrepreneurial ventures

The last thing I wanted to highlight and THE MOST important one for me, is the attention of the university and more specifically the Johnson School of Management to foster entrepreneurial ventures. When I went on an exchange, one of the biggest areas I wanted to develop was entrepreneurship and getting more hands-on experience in the field of startups.

According to Forbes, the Ithaca region is the most promising region in the US for the development of tech startups (even before Silicon Valley!). We have 5 or 6 different incubators/accelerators, many development funds, a huge venture capitalist/investment fund as well as a modern tech campus in the middle of New York City and most of all, an incredibly supportive community.

Entrepreneurship is key to the development of the Business School which has itself fostered many successful ventures such as Lime, Rosie etc. I was lucky enough to be the winner of the Digital Transformation Hackathon in the Changing Lives segment, at Cornell with a team of 3 other individuals and received attention from mentors and big corporations for pursuing our idea further. I also attended the entrepreneurship forum where I met Cornell graduates who had themselves started their companies since leaving the MBA and offered me great advice and support in my entrepreneurial ventures. Furthermore, one of my professors, who had helped and guided several of his students to create their own company while at Johnson, was a great mentor and introduced me to many serial entrepreneurs as well as potential investors.


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