With all the depressing news on the global economic front, there might not be a better time to start an MBA on the mainland. Or at least that's the word from students enrolled in International MBA programmes at Tsinghua and Peking universities in Beijing. Many, like Jeff Chien, 25, a first-year student in the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University, are betting on an economic upturn. 'The rules are going to be entirely different two years from now,' said Mr Chien, a Taiwan-born, California-raised student who comes to the MBA with a background in finance. 'Here we can brainstorm how these new frameworks will operate and how we'll play the game under these new rules. I feel like during every crisis there's an opportunity.' Raymond Cheng, 29, a first-year student on the International MBA programme at Tsinghua University who worked in finance in New York, has similar thoughts. 'I consider myself lucky to kind of take myself out of that environment,' said Mr Cheng. 'I feel a bit more secluded here.' But the foreign MBA students in Beijing really aren't there to dodge the economic tsunami. They are there because they see the importance of China as a major economic power and they want to better understand how to do business in China first-hand. Some are fresh off the plane and others already have some China experience. In 2003, Michael Frechette, a 37-year-old second-year student on the Tsinghua MBA programme, went to the mainland thinking he might stay one year. Five years later, he's married to a Chinese native and fully set on making his life there. 'It's my belief that MBA programmes assist you most in the region where they are located,' said Mr Frechette. 'The networking effect dissipates because of geographic location. I figured that I'm going to be working here, my family is going to be here, and I started asking around and almost everyone said to go to Tsinghua.' The former headhunter at Ernst & Young in New York was used to rigorous interviews and, even though he was interviewed for the MBA programmes at both major universities in Beijing, it was Tsinghua's approach that impressed him the most. 'There were three guys interviewing me and sort of playing good cop, bad cop and trying to razzle me a bit,' he said. 'I respected that they were doing this - it felt like they thought enough of their programme that they were screening people out rather than in.' Mr Chien, who was accepted into four MBA programmes in China, decided on Peking University, saying it was an easy choice. The networking possibilities he has with the Chinese students who make up half of the class of 80 students was one of the biggest reasons. 'I've had a lot of interaction with the local students - not only in the classroom, but outside as well,' he said. This is also one of the major draws for his first-year classmate Finlay Mungall, 27, who worked for the mutual fund company Vanguard before joining the Peking University programme. 'I was more interested in getting to know the Chinese people, to get more management connections and understand the history and culture,' he said. 'The types of in-depth conversations you have with students are very interesting professionally and personally. You can read all the books you want on the Cultural Revolution or emerging China, but you never really know what's going on until you're actually here talking to people who are making it happen.' Marshall Roslyn, 28, a first-year MBA student from the United States at Tsinghua, had already lived in Shanghai and travelled throughout Asia before deciding to come to Beijing because programmes in the US didn't have enough 'China exposure'. For this venture capitalist, half the equation in choosing and paying for an MBA is the network that comes with it. 'Not that this programme is the magic key - you need to put in the work,' he said. 'But it helps open that network in China. Just being at Tsinghua and being in Beijing, you're surrounded by great minds and people doing impressive things. It's real China experience in a risk-free environment.' The ability to tap into the networking possibilities of a programme in China was a common refrain among foreign MBA students. 'What attracted me was to be able to work with students who will be the next business leaders in China,' said Mr Cheng. 'I didn't have expectations because I knew what to expect if I went to a US business school. I knew that if I went to a business school in China the students would have a different profile and the international students would be more adventurous, a bit more risky. I wanted to be in that type of environment, hoping that there would be a lot of entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial mindsets.' Still, for some MBA students, adapting to life and study in China can be a culture shock. Most pointed to the style of teaching, based more on lectures than discussion, as something that took getting used to. Although 29-year-old Josephine Ai was born in Beijing, she went to grade school in Belgium and moved to southern California in the US when she was 12. 'Even though I'm Chinese-American and speak English with a Chinese accent, the schooling and work experience I've had is all in the western world,' said the first-year student in the local MBA programme at Guanghua. 'I'm just as clueless about the business life and the school environment in China as other westerners. There's not a lot of classroom discussion. Over here you're all facing the blackboard and face the professor. I'm usually the one who is always raising their hand asking questions.' Clifford Torrijos, 30, who came to the one-year International MBA programme at Peking University's China Centre for Economic Research fresh out of the US Air Force, said there have definitely been frustrating moments, but that has not dampened his enthusiasm. 'I feel it's a valuable and important thing for someone who wants to come here and do business.' Mr Torrijos' classmate Candy Wo, 31, from Hong Kong, said there have even been culture shocks for her. 'I didn't realise how bad my Mandarin was until I got here,' she said. Mr Frechette conceded there was a big difference in teaching styles between what western students and Chinese students might be used to, but that students needed to look deeper into the hows and whys of what the programme prepares you for - and for most, that's working in China, with Chinese employers and employees, after they graduate. 'What matters in China is a little bit different from what matters in the US. The trump card of this programme is that it prepares you for living and working in China, especially if you're new,' he said.