Katherine Kucherenko


Diploma in Financial Strategy







By Katherine Kucherenko

Unrankable experience

This year Saïd Business School’s Executive MBA Programme was ranked second in the global ranking and first in the UK. For some, a good reason to open a bottle of Chateau Cantemerle from a good year, for others, a good reason to be as proud as a peacock. When it comes to me, well, I belong to both categories. Although I’m not doing the Executive MBA programme, our Diploma in Financial Strategy programme is a financial track of the EBMA, which is considered to contain its most challenging, quantitative subjects.

Immediately after hearing the news, after the dust of my initial excitement had settled and my left hemisphere took over, I started to wonder what it does really mean. In fact, I have always been interested in the way these annual rankings are compiled. What exactly did the judges measure and compare? The amount of adrenaline in students’ blood during the graduation ceremony? The percentage increase in salary after graduation? The amount of HBR articles students had to read during the programme? The number of esoteric questions they had to answer during an exam while having the feeling it had nothing to do with material they thought they were required to prepare?

Whatever the criteria might be, I wonder how many students do base their decision on the rankings. And, more importantly, how the experiences and achievements of students compare when put on the same scale.

Having said that, if I would have to write an essay on transformation from adolescence to adulthood, I would definitely elaborate on the idea that when you are young, you view your study as mandatory, whereas as an adult, it is a privilege to follow a course alongside your job; there is a clear-cut tipping point in motivation and you experience that your perspective shifts in a meaningful way. And my motivation to make the best of my programme at Oxford went above and beyond all standards.

Namely, during the summer, I decided to take four weeks off to take advantage of my student status at the oldest university in Europe and experience as much as I could all the University of Oxford had to offer.

Katherine in Oxford

To start with, I attended a course ‘English for Academic visitors’, an intensive three week course at the Oxford Language centre, which was not only designed to help non-native speakers write science research papers or publications in English, but also cast some light on utterly British traditions, which you would otherwise only learn the hard way, in the form of public embarrassments because of missing the point completely.

In the afternoon, after the lessons, I went, with a bag loaded with Oxford paraphernalia, to study at the Bodleian library. This mighty and grandiose architectural wonder is ranked as the third (yes, there is also a ranking for that) most beautiful library in the world. Inside the building, the serene atmosphere calms the confused spirit from the daily banalities, while thousands of antique books breathe wisdom into your mind.

Books in the Bodleian Library

Just across the street is All Souls College, with reputedly the most difficult entrance exam in the world. In the past, the candidates were asked to write the famous one-word free-form essay question on a single pre-selected word, coherently for three hours. Since 2010, the exam consists of four papers of three hours each. The questions candidates can expect are: “Does beauty lie in the eye of the beholder?”, “Is it immoral to buy a £10,000 handbag?” or “Does the moral character of an orgy change when the participants wear Nazi uniforms?”. The aim of this exam is to find the new breed of academic high-flyers, who can display exceptional abilities in argument and analysis. As the admission committee puts it: ‘Breadth and depth of knowledge, independence of judgment and thought, clarity and carefulness of exposition and awareness of unresolved difficulties are all especially welcome.’

One of the advantages of being an Oxonian, is that there many facilities at your disposal, such as, for a minor fee, being granted access to the acoustically isolated practice rooms at the Faculty of Music. Out of a dozen rooms, which are equipped with an upright Yamaha piano in an ideal state, there is only one room with a massive grand. Albeit these rooms are occupied on a first-come-first-serve basis, on Friday and Saturday evenings not only was the room with a grand piano available, but there were no other souls in the whole faculty building. While being the only person in this Kingdom of Music, I played my favourite works of Beethoven, Chopin and my beloved Einaudi. At those moments, I felt intense happiness; the feeling which is tremendously difficult to achieve in these increasingly turbulent days in our cursory lives. And I was genuinely grateful to Oxford for these moments, which I knew would get a special place in my heart for the rest of my days.

Faculty of music

And, of course, there are many beautiful colleges. During my stay, I tried to stay at as many of them as I could, which culminated in me crossing the city every three to five days with my two giant rolling suitcases, which were clattering over the stubborn Oxonian cobblestones. There are 44 colleges in total, each with its indescribable authentic spirit and beauty. I still remember waking up at Keeble College to the Chapel bells, going to breakfast in the breath-taking dining hall of Magdalen College and walking in the gardens of Christ Church College.

On a day off, I went on an extracurricular outing to London to visit the renowned Oxford and Cambridge Club at 71 Pall Mall. Much can be said about this overwhelming richness, which embraces you with its sophisticated interior and elegant wines. And amid this pampering exuberance, I found an island of solidity: an old chess board. My thoughts went straight to those early years when I used to play the game with my father, knowing that I would never beat him, and yet, it never held me back from fearlessly putting my figures forward into any battle, until I had lost them all.

Oxbridge C

During the last week of my stay, my mother came to see my new surroundings. You would think that during the summer, when most students are on summer break, this university city would die out, but the opposite is actually the case. The city is bustling with thousands of conference visitors, summer course students and tourists; the energy of the city getting a new lease of life from various concerts and exhibitions. Especially open-air theatre, in the colleges’ gardens, is extremely popular. My mother and I went to one of these, which took place at the one of the constituent colleges of the city, Merton College. We sat in its garden, with its foundations which can be traced back to 1260, watching King Lear, Shakespeare’s most dramatic play.

Albert Einstein once said: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” For an adept like me, always seeking ways to improve myself, undertaking a path from the darkness of ignorance to the light of wisdom, finding a place like Oxford, where I can turn my passions into virtues and my ambitions into advantages, meant more to me then than the judges, whatever their criteria might be, could ever comprehend. Studying in one of the most beautiful libraries in the world amid the massive oaken bookcases carrying the weight of centuries-old knowledge, walking through the corridors, upon floors which have echoed the footsteps of Oxonians such as Oscar Wild, sitting with my mother in the gardens of a medieval college, swathed in the last rays of sunset, wrapped in blankets to fend off the fresh evening chill, is an unparalleled, immeasurable and indisputably ‘unrankable’ experience.


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