The Pros and Cons of Life at HBS as told by International Partners
From visas and jobs, to language and culture, Harvard Business School can be a real shock for international partners. For some, however, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience life in the United States. International partners share the pros and cons of life at HBS.
As I was sunbathing beside the river during Analytics, I remember an international partner crying in frustration over the difficulties she faced in securing a visa after spending hours on the phone and in person with less than caring U.S. government workers. I tried my best to console her although moving to a new country was something I’d never done and the difference between an F2 visa or J2 visa was something I could barely understand.
Another international friend of mine spent her entire first year here studying to get her certification to work as a nurse in the U.S., although she had extensive experience back home. Finally, after passing the exam at the end of the RC year, job searching in the fall, and waiting for the paperwork to be processed by her employer in December, what was the point, really? She would move back home in 5 months and so she never started the job. Most international partners I know can’t work at all.
So what is an international partner to do? While traditional employment may not be an option, international partners take classes from the Harvard Extension School or Berlitz language classes or work as interns to further their careers. Others have children and are stay at home parents. The Partners’ Club even formed an International Committee in the last two years to plan opportunities for international partners to socialize during the day time hours while their students are in class. In fact, the new Partners’ Club steering committee is made up of more international partners than domestic partners.
International partners enrich the world we know at HBS without even trying. Should I begin with the food? As I baked my traditional USA apple pie for our Section OB International dinner, I was dreaming of the Indian, Australian, and Mexican dishes I was sure to feast on. Not to mention, the homemade Mexican tacos and homemade Indian chicken tikka masala dinner I bought from section-mates and partners at our OB charity auction were to die for. Having international friends cook for you is like having your own private culinary tour guide.
Furthermore, the sharing of culture goes way beyond cooking. On a trip to India, guided by Indian students and partners in our section, I had the opportunity to buy a sari, the traditional Indian dress, thanks to a personally guided tour of the outdoor markets in Rajasthan by my partner friend Komal Guha (OB). As colorful bedazzled fabric was thrown around before my eyes, Komal negotiated in Hindi and I watched in awe.
On another occasion, I was invited to a traditional English tea party hosted by my partner friend Ellie McBarnet (OI) from London. I learned the proper etiquette to eat finger sandwiches first, scones next, and cake last while sipping on freshly brewed tea. To add a bit of sparkle, we finished the evening with a glass of champagne. I now understand the obsession with tea time after eating delicacies off of Wedgewood china and drinking out of dainty teacups.
But what is the international partner’s perspective? Do international partners get as much value from the HBS experience and from American life as we get from them?
A Brazilian partner in my section, Bianca Accurti Python, partner of David Python (OB), describes the challenges and benefits of being an international partner at HBS.
“Since my husband David received the “yes” from HBS back in 2009, my life changed a lot. I decided to move and live for the first time in another country where I didn’t know the language and I had no friends.
I knew this would be one of the biggest challenges I’d ever faced, but on the other side my husband helped me understand that it would also be a break from “real life” and he was sure I’d love it.
When we moved to Boston, I fell in love with the city, the student environment, the friends we made, and so on… but at the same time I felt I couldn’t be myself given that I couldn’t communicate and express myself the way I used to do in my own language. So I decided to take English classes to build my confidence to speak according to what I was feeling and thinking.
When I overcame this first barrier, everything became easier. I started taking classes at Harvard Extension School, making really good friends, learning about different cultures, and traveling around the U.S. and other countries too.
Having a student’s life for two years was one of the best things that has happened to me so far. It’s unbelievable how much fun I’ve had in these two years living abroad, and how this period has made me a better person in all aspects.
After two amazing years, my husband and I are going back to Brazil (back to real life), but we are now taking with us nice friends who became friends for life, a great life experience, and all the learning we had.”
Mika Kibata, partner of Koichi Kibata (ND), compares how life is different in the U.S. versus her home country of Japan.
“The level of “socializing” at HBS is so different from Japan that it was a big culture shock (especially for my husband who is a student). Surprisingly, some U.S. people in my section thought that it is “rude” not to be social. In Japan, we do not socialize as hard as they do here in the U.S. I was a bit hesitant in the beginning, but thanks to all the events hosted by the Partners’ Club and section events, I found myself being involved and socializing with many people.
One of my favorite memories is hosting a surprise baby shower for my Japanese friend. In Japan we don’t celebrate before the baby is born. After coming to Boston, I was invited to my first baby shower hosted by HBS partners. I loved the concept of celebrating being women. In the RC year, we only have three Japanese partners. So when the two of us planned a baby shower for our friend, she cried! It was a new, but a great experience for all of us!
The most touching and memorable aspect of life at HBS is the culture of charitable donations. Of course we have this in Japan too, but unless it is a cause directly related to Japan, it would be difficult for you to collect money by asking for donations on the street. So when I volunteered to collect donations in Harvard Square for Harvard for Japan (a non-profit run by Harvard undergrads), I was surprised so many people stopped to donate. Some people even gave donations over $200!”
It’s easy to see that international partners are a vital piece of the HBS community. Whether from Japan, Brazil, Texas, or Iceland, we are all part of one global community. Even more apparent this is as we all depart post-graduation to different parts of the world, a world that feels a little smaller now, a little more familiar, and a whole lot friendlier.