MBA. Married But Available.

What a joke. I heard it well before I signed on the dotted line at the University of Auckland and it's been repeated to me several times since. But the truth is far less salacious.

No one has any time to muck around.

From the outside it may look as if opportunities abound. In my tight little group of four students as we prepare for our international trip and the research project that is driving it, weekend meetings, late-night phone calls and daily emails are essential. In a few weeks we'll be jetting off to Tokyo for eight days, staying in the same hotel as this year's other 40 MBA students and traversing the city for meetings and field work.

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If there isn't the odd drink in a bar at night and at least one big dinner out, I for one will be disappointed.

It's true that MBAs are guaranteed to drive your spouse a little crazy at various stages of the two-year degree. In fact, if they're not committed to your mid-life study then you may as well not begin.

This course, as least for me, requires two years of hard slog. Add in your daily paid work, a relentless 10-week, four-semester year and assignment or exam deadline every three weeks and the 'Married But Available' tag seems not just laughable, but a near impossibility.

The international trip is, I've heard, the programme highlight for many. Last year's intake went to Malaysia. The year before was South America. We were on track for a week in Colombia until the long hours required to get there swung the voting back to Asia, to the disappointment of a few.

Organised by the university but with airfares and accommodation paid for by the students, the international visit is designed to get us thinking about global business, touching on issues such as supply chain, cross-cultural decision making, foreign exchange management and risk mitigation. Two sizeable reports are required at the end: a strategic solution to a New Zealand company's issues in Japan, and an 'NZ Inc' look at Kiwi products or services that should be considering this market.

Negotiations are under way to get the companies we're working for in Japan to help with some sort of financial contribution for the work. What will be just as valuable, I think, are introductions, translation assistance and a willingness to be open-minded about the outcomes of our visit.

My group is working with one of New Zealand's large primary produce

exporters. They have an office in Tokyo and are well established in Japan but believe a fresh set of keen eyes on a sticky issue their business is facing will be useful.

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We're knee deep in research right now: demographic trends, consumption habits, competitors and new innovations in the sector. By the time we get to Tokyo, the plan is to be clued up enough to know what to look for and to see things in a way that those immersed in the business may not.

It's a big ask - but each step of this degree has seemed like a bigger challenge than the one before and the expectations (from ourselves and the university) grow as well.

By week's end in Tokyo, we hope to be raising a sakazuki of sake to reports well completed which means five-year action plans and financial predictions, risk assessments and in-market analysis. The most thorough teams, we're told, work during the day and write their reports at night.

No time available for anything else.