“Thanks to IÉSEG’s Excellence Program, Harvard allowed me to grow beyond anything I could have imagined”
Quentin AUFORT joined IÉSEG in 2020. Thanks to the School’s Excellence Program, he had the chance to live a unique experience this year as a “Visiting Undergraduate Student” at Harvard University. He tells us how IÉSEG opened the doors of this mythical institution to him and how he will grow out of it.
How did you hear about the School’s Excellence Program?
I first heard about IÉSEG’s Excellence Program when I was in my 1st year: I saw an Instagram story of a student who was going to Harvard University thanks to this program, and then I looked for information about it. Originally, I was going to go on an academic exchange in Beijing, but it was canceled because of COVID. I considered that it was in fact a blessing in disguise and I decided to apply to become a Visiting Student at Harvard.
As I already needed very good grades to be able to go to China, I was already very well ranked in my cohort. But to be sure to meet all the academic criteria, I worked even harder during the few remaining months before the official meeting where all students select their academic exchange. And finally, I managed to meet all the requirements. So I was able to prepare, with the help of the School, my application file and wait (with a little stress, I must admit) for the letter announcing whether I was selected… or not!
Why Harvard ?
Because it is Harvard ! It is the university that we see in all the series or in all the American movies. It inevitably makes you dream of setting foot on this mythical campus! I told myself that this was a unique opportunity and that I would necessarily grow from this experience. And that’s exactly what happened.
The first very special moment was when I received the confirmation letter from Harvard. When I received this letter with the logo of the institution, I felt a lot of emotions as I opened it: pressure (because you can be refused), enthusiasm, fear… It was really very special, and when I found out that I was finally accepted, I was over the moon! This mail, I will keep it all my life, that’s for sure!
Then, I had to finalize the registration file, and I must say that I really appreciated the help of IÉSEG, because we are not always used to filling out this kind of file: there are a lot of elements to request, to send over. And then, the Excellence Program also offers financial support and this is a real plus, because studying in the United States doesn’t cost the same as in France. And finally, the day arrives when I discover the Harvard campus.
What is the first thing you will remember?
As a Visiting Student, I live just off-campus. During the few minutes of cycling to the campus, I have a hard time realizing that it is finally my first day. And when I see the Annenberg Hall, the only refectory dedicated to freshmen, then the Gate of Wisdom, this huge yard and the famous statue of John Harvard (and touch his lucky foot, which has really become golden due to wear and tear), I think to myself: “that’s it, I’m really there!”
Each semester, I took 4 different courses. During the first semester, I took the courses “The Global Economy”, “Addressing the Global Climate Crisis: Challenges for Both Developed and Developing Economies”, “The Political Economy of Globalization” and “Sociology of Organizations and Institutions”. In the second semester, I took more varied courses, such as “Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Practical and Academic Insights”, “Economic Sociology”, “Public Speaking Practicum” and finally “Entrepreneurship Lab”, an MIT course.
Unlike France and IÉSEG, the courses were very theoretical, very didactic, of a very high level and therefore required a huge personal investment outside of teaching hours. For fifteen hours of lessons per week, I had a lot of preparatory work to do beforehand, papers of several dozen pages to write and sometimes up to nearly 200 pages to read before class. It really is another way of teaching, another way of learning!
In the end, even if the pace is fast, it is intense for everyone and, in the end, I managed to follow all the courses throughout the year! In fact, it’s just like in France: the most difficult is to integrate the institution, because once you are there, you adapt to the pace and the quantity of work required, you integrate groups of students, and you manage to follow the courses even if it requires stepping out of your social and intellectual comfort zone!
Beyond the courses, it is also the people you meet that make Harvard a unique experience…
Even if the courses are incredibly rich, it is indeed all the people I met during the year that have really impressed me! I have an anecdote that illustrates this well: one day, I was at the gym to relax, and I started chatting with a student who was working out with a machine nearby. He simply told me he was from Poland, and we talked a lot… Before leaving, we connected via Instagram. In the evening, I looked up for more information about him, and I discovered that he was, in fact, a winner of the Forbes Under 30 Prize in Science! Another world…
Another example of an extraordinary encounter, I took a course on globalization given by Larry Summers. He is a former President of Harvard, but this economist is above all the former Secretary of the Treasury of Bill Clinton (between 1999 and 2001) and the director of the National Economic Council (an organ of the Executive Office of the Presidency of the United States) under Barack Obama, from 2009 to 2010. And so he begins his lesson by telling us that the day before he was having lunch in New York with the CEO of TikTok, before carrying on as if nothing had happened.
A few days later, I had the chance to talk with Kenneth Griffin, an American billionaire who founded the hedge fund Citadel (one of the largest alternative asset managers in the world with more than 62.3 billion dollars in assets managed). He is the 35th richest person in the world and he donated $300 million to Harvard because he started his fund, at the time, in his dorm when he was still a student here! It was definitely a unique opportunity to be able to talk to him, ask him questions and have his advice!
Well, that’s exactly why I cam to study at Harvard ! To have the chance, once in my life, to be able to exchange with these people, to meet these personalities who usually evolve in worlds so different from mine.
If you had to sum up your experience at Harvard in one word, what would it be?
Clearly, that would be “growing up”. This exchange has allowed me to grow beyond anything I could have imagined before leaving, and I still have a few weeks to enjoy and make the most of it. Beyond the teaching provided by exceptional teachers, what really made me grow are all the perks, all these experiences that you can live alongside the lessons. These extraordinary people whose paths I have crossed, this network that I have been able to build, all these doors that I have been able to open for myself for the future.
At the end of my experience at Harvard, I will stay a few additional months in the United States to complete my end-of-3rd year internship in consulting, within a consulting firm. This will also be an exciting adventure, which I look forward to living.
I have no apprehension about returning to IÉSEG, on the contrary! Harvard was a magical interlude that the School allowed me to experience, and I still have a lot to experience and learn at the School during the rest of my studies, and in particular during my Master which includes specialized courses. Above all, as my goal is to pursue my professional career in consulting in the United States, I would very much like to be able to participate in the “Graduate” Excellence Program offered by IÉSEG to apply for the Stanford MBA. And there, clearly, I am really counting on the help of the School, on the support it offers, especially in preparing for the GMAT, to succeed in integrating this other mythical institution and continue to have extremely enriching experiences.