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Student Spotlight: Christina (China, Darden '23)

Jul 31, 2021

Christina Zhou - China

Darden Full-Time MBA '23



Q&A with B-Speak! Director Christina Ball 

Christina, tell us about yourself?

Instead of giving a normal self-introduction, I would like to use some fun facts to showcase a vivid picture of myself, which I like to call my “Three I’s”:

1. I am a foodie, and I have tasted all kinds of delicious foods during my journey to 20 countries worldwide. My favorite food is hotpot, which stems from Chongqing, my hometown in China. As a born and bred Chongqing girl, my personality is open-minded and hospitable.

2. I am a traveling enthusiast, and I have been to 20 countries. Such rich experiences enabled me not only to appreciate unparalleled and unique sceneries in different countries but also deepened my understanding of diverse cultures including local people, lifestyles, and religious beliefs. Specifically, I love sunrises so much that I made special trips to the Sahara Desert in Egypt, Boracay Island in the Philippines, and Cinque Terre in Italy to see it. I was also invited to join a local Sri-Lanka family party, when I was volunteer teaching in Sri Lanka. There I learned to cook local food such as curry chicken and potato salad with coconut.

3. I am an entrepreneur, and I started my “business” from college to work. Specifically, I co-founded a milk tea shop during college and sold about 400 cups of milk tea a day on average. Additionally, I was awarded the best performer in a highly selected management trainee program in Ping An (500 fortune integrated financial group). I earned one opportunity to assist a general manager to establish a new financial department, and I took charge of the whole internal operation from budget to human management, along with business cooperation and project management. Such opportunities enabled me to materialize a second “startup” in a company, and with joint efforts, our team successfully promoted Ping An Lufax, one Fintech company, completed its IPO.

What inspired you to apply to do your MBA in the United States? What attracted you to Darden, specifically?

I gradually shaped my understanding of the local culture and civil environment of the 20 countries I’ve visited, of which the U.S. is my best fit. I still remember a time in 2012:  I traveled from the east coast to the west coast across the US, and the atmosphere and natural environment impressed me most in places such as Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, etc. At that time, I was wholeheartedly convinced I'd return. Outside of my subjective preference for the US, it is undeniable that the advanced technology and education system remain at the top globally. Such resources made me further determined to study here, especially because MBA study stems from the U.S.

When talking about Darden, what attracts me most is its nice culture. I first heard of Darden in 2019 when the Darden Shanghai office held its offline MBA information session. Through the relaxed and comfortable interaction with Darden alumni and the dean, I could directly feel Darden’s sincerity and inclusiveness. Specifically, Scott C, the Dean of Darden, was a charming salesman with great humor who explained Darden in three “No.1’s”: educational experience, average salary, and supportive faculty. Besides that, all the alumni were so friendly and nice to share with us their true experience in both study and life. All in all, each detail displayed Darden’s heartfelt intention. At that time, I became determined to join the Darden community.

Coach Leslie helped you get ready for your interview, and you successfully got off of the waitlist. How did she help?

I believe that candidates who went through the whole MBA application process can understand how desperate we felt when we were informed that we would be on waitlists. That was the tough period I experienced and also my turning point. Knowing that my interview performance wasn’t ideal due to my nervousness, I decided to start from there. Leslie was recommended by my friend who learned from her during her MBA application. Therefore, I knew that she was experienced in dealing with such issues.

In the first course, I shared my understanding of my failure and the weak area I wanted to improve. She effectively spotted my strengths and weaknesses after analyzing my interview performance. She helped me to rephrase all my stories to each interview question in a more understandable way by focusing on my practical work and leadership experience, such as polishing my expression in story-telling and quantifying my achievements, along with deliberately slowing down my speaking speed, and correcting my grammar. In addition, she also corrected my updated essays before I submitted them, and we did rounds of mock interviews. During our lessons, I was truly encouraged and inspired by her, giving me the confidence to believe that the final result would be positive. Even though my learning was surrounding my MBA interviews and essays, Leslie also introduced other topics like American culture, idioms, etc. to give me a big picture of English learning, which deepened my understanding of how to use English in ways that Americans can understand.

How do you hope your summer B-Speak! course will help you get ready for Darden?

There are three aspects that I want to get myself ready for Darden: fluent communication and effective expression, application of the case study method, and professional writing, along with American culture. Specifically, as an international student, I know that good communication is a foundation to open my door to foreign contexts. Furthermore, the uniqueness of Darden MBA is its case study method, which challenges me to read with structure and output with logic. Hence, I worked on establishing my mindset and also practice before enrolling in Darden. Also, knowing how to talk and what to talk about is still important for me to quickly adapt to the environment and American culture as a whole. Lastly, as reading and listening are input, and writing and speaking are output, without enough input, it is impossible to have good output. Hence, I designed my course with a writing part, which can pave the way to strong speaking.

Do you have any advice for other international students who may be considering applying to an MBA in the U.S.?

Personally speaking, I made a decision based on bettering myself and even following my heart. Specifically, the reasons for me to study MBA cover three aspects: self-improvement, career-exploring, and life experience enrichment, among which I mostly aim to figure out “Who I am” and “What my inner desire is.” Such thoughts may sound illusory, but they indeed played an important role in my decision to pursue an MBA. When I talk with some admitted MBAs regarding their goals or reasons afterward, not everyone can tell it exactly, but most of them can grasp the general direction. Therefore, I believe that weighing the gains and losses is the key, and then you just need to take action.

Additionally, don’t mystify the MBA. I don’t mean that we don’t need to make all-out efforts, but rather there is no need to feed ourselves overwhelming psychological burdens or assumptions. Instead, it’s best to simplify the whole process into four steps: trying to get a relatively high score on standard tests, reaching out to more alumni, drafting and polishing your stories, and getting ready for English communication. Once you treat the MBA as an objective project, I believe that such work can be easier to deal with.

Last, I want to share the power of believing in and being yourself. This belief helped me to get off waitlists for two top business schools in this competitive application year.

As I mentioned in the prior question, the reason I decided to take B-Speak! online courses was to improve my oral English due to my great frustration in MBA interviews. Actually, I was not sure whether I could finally turn it around, but my inner voice told me to persist until getting the final result. Therefore, I simply focused on English learning with a peaceful state of heart. I stayed updated with admissions teams regarding all my new progress and also kept learning. Until now, I can still recall the time when I had a severe fever fluctuating from 38-39 degrees for nearly one week, but I kept reaching out to alumni to specify my career goal, joining school’s online events, and updating my essays. All the efforts eventually paid off. Understandably, judgements may vary from person to person regarding whether it is worth trying without considering the gains or losses. What I believe is how strong your desire is and how much effort you can make. For me, I can only accept the result that I have already tried my best to achieve with no regrets.


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