On a gray evening in late April, I stepped off a bus and finally set foot in Oxford for the first time. The day had been long, but the journey has been even longer. Before the start of the school year, I made the difficult decision to complete the first term of my MBA remotely, planning to arrive in January. However, as Covid cases surged in December - prompting the UK to go into another lockdown and all our classes changing to online learning - my arrival was pushed back again, and I ultimately completed another term remotely.
Naturally, even my trip from California to Oxford was full of obstacles. When I arrived at Heathrow, I ran into visa issues due to my delayed arrival, and for a few tense minutes, I was not sure whether I would be allowed to enter the UK. Fortunately, they decided to let me in! The delay also caused me to miss my bus to Oxford and I was delayed another two hours.
But all that is behind me, and I am finally here and realizing why so many people think this place is so special. There is something about the combination of the diverse group of talented and thoughtful people that Oxford Saïd brings together combined with the awe-inspiring architecture and history of this place.
Trinity term flew by as I was able to attend my classes in person and most importantly, my classmates who I had only know through their Zoom boxes became real, three-dimensional friends. I regularly would find myself at lunch at a table with eight people from eight different countries and eight unique perspectives, but with a common interest in using business to solve global problems. And even better, I have been quite fortunate to have been invited to homemade dinners featuring authentic homemade dishes from so many countries: Osemhen’s Nigerian jollof rice, Kate’s Chinese dim sum, Raghav’s Indian curry and chapati, Albérico’s Brazilian barbeque, Nuno’s Portuguese creations, Salvatore’s pasta (which we thanked him for by force-feeding him pineapple pizza against his Italian values). And I have also really enjoyed playing on an MBA basketball team with teammates from around the world.
But perhaps my favorite part of the experience has been this summer. Having class requirements behind me has allowed me to dive into working on my venture - positivephysics.org - a physics and chemistry problem bank designed to be accessible to students of all backgrounds. I have been the fortunate beneficiary of the wealth of experience of my classmates (and their partners) who are always ready and eager to share their time and ideas. I have complimented my classroom learning from this year with coffee chats with Ludovic about legal structures, with Neha about marketing, with Shelby about UX design, with Arpan about analytics and with so many more exchanges with other students.
And somewhere beneath the spires of Oxford, I gained the confidence to take my venture on full-time after completing my degree, and Positive Physics is just the beginning. The 600 teachers and 30,000 students who use the materials that I created in my classroom is proof point that we can disrupt traditional education content by empowering other skilled classroom teachers anywhere to create and share their own courses, and ultimately create more unique and accessible materials for students who will benefit from these lessons. We call this project OneClassroom and, as I have discussed with my classmates from around the world, it is especially exciting to imagine the impact that this can have in countries with less educational technology created by their teachers and tailored to their students.
As I write the last words of my last blog of my MBA year, I have also realized that I am in the right place – a place where I only could have come with this scholarship. Recently, I have been thinking back to my first Skoll interview when I asked what kind of return on investment did the Skoll Center hope for from scholarship recipients (not thinking that I stood a chance of being one). I was a bit surprised when Peter answered that they had no expectations, but now I think I understand. There is no need to set expectation because with these people, and in this place, you can’t help but want to pay it forward. And I can’t wait get started.
Author: Jack Replinger, 2020-21 Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA