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I’m getting pretty tired of acting like my country’s unofficial government spokesperson in BGIE [Business, Government, and the International Economy]. I mean there are 325 million Americans — are each of them experts in the geopolitical history, demographic trends, currency exchange rates, corporate governance laws, and macroeconomy of North America!? How can I go back to being just another non-token student?
– Interrogated International
Given that election season just passed, I feel you – having to explain the middle-America appeal of Donald Trump to foreigners is not exactly easy or fun. The lack of international exposure that many HBS students have outside of Starwood Hotels, however, means that it’s unlikely you’ll go back to a non-token student anytime soon.
The way I see it, you can approach this one of two ways: 1) be flattered that your classmates view you as an authority figure on all things having to do with your country, or 2) take the opportunity to perpetuate (or invent) whatever myths and stereotypes you want.
In the first approach, you can honestly tell your classmates that while you appreciate their curiosity, you majored in liberal arts, hated history, and don’t have a damn clue how to start answering their questions. You can then politely direct them to the helpful folks at Baker Library Information Services. Or, you know, Google. Back in my day we had to use card catalogs… to find books! And sometimes those books would talk about countries that no longer existed!
In the second approach, which would likely be a lot more entertaining, answer with the first thing that comes to mind. Alternative facts are all the rage these days. You could invent a tragic family tree of former aristocrats overthrown by the current regime, or how your ancestors lost their fortune betting on the rise of baobab exports as the next big thing in landscaping. You’ll hopefully surprise and befuddle the BGIE faculty enough that they eventually stop bothering you.
If neither of these approaches is effective, volunteer a 2+2 sectionmate who did an oh-so-transformative foreign study in your native land to serve as your official representative. They’ll be more than happy to oblige.
My token of appreciation,
My section had a community values meeting to discuss people speaking twice in class. A lot of my section were upset by the practice — frustrated perhaps that the “double speaker” were eating up low-hanging fruit and preventing them from getting airtime. They proposed a new norm formally banning the practice. I’m not sure how I feel about it. What do you think?
– Hemming in Hawes
We’re all here for our own reasons and seek to get different things out of the classroom experience. Some people are intense about sucking the marrow out of the case method — and that’s okay. But the feelings of your classmates matter and no one should disregard them. After all, HBS is not en episode of The Real World — you did come here to make friends.
Let’s make this a norm: if you are a subject matter expert, let someone else answer the question and gain that learning opportunity. Tiger Woods doesn’t shark little kids at the mini-golf course. I don’t hustle the new admits with 5-dollar bets on the shuffleboard deck in my retirement home. If you previously worked in private equity don’t blow your comment load by calculating a WACC.
What your angry classmates should do is ask themselves why they came to HBS. Was it for grades? Slow-down my half-baked scholars. Your future employer will never see those roman numerals, and if they did it would be all greek to them. Did they come for external validation? If so, tell them to save everyone a lot of breath and go buy a participation trophy from the exec ed gift shop.
Now let’s talk tactics. You know that the best you can do answering a case fact question is score a low-two, right? That’s the same grade you get for not talking. The only way to get a lower grade is to wind up on a case fact question and strike out swinging. Therefore, strictly speaking, your eager beaver classmates are helping your GPA by jumping on those case-fact hand grenades.
Lastly, I’m no lawyer, but I do watch a lot of Law and Order. And CSI:Miami. And — come to think of it — NCIS, Judge Judy, People’s Court, and I did used to go to paralegal school at night. Anyway, I’m worried about the effects of your classmates’ ill-advised “law” against participation. What do they expect people to do after they make a single comment, mentally check out of class? Do they think that shackling the hands of students in the classroom will raise the level of academic rigor? This is Harvard — it’s supposed to be hard. You should be uncomfortable when you learn. When you’re as old as me, you’ll be uncomfortable just sitting down! Competition raises the standard for ideas while blanket bans are usually clumsy — just ask that Trump fella.
In short, the norms your section should adopt are the ones it probably already has: be mindful of airtime and don’t be a jerk.
Two cheers for participation,
What the heck! The weenies in my section didn’t choose me for Most Eligible Bachelor even though I wore my most flattering button downs during the nomination period. I think some people must have voted ironically. I mean — just look at some of the people in your issue. Even my BGIE professor has been making eyes at me. How can I rectify this injustice?
-Beauty in Bloomberg
It must be truly devastating not to get nominated for “Most Eligible Bachelor.” I am amazed that you have even been able to come to class after suffering such an injustice. It’s just as bad as Hillary winning the popular vote but losing the Presidency. I wouldn’t know, of course, as I was such a catch back in the 50s that they made me Most Eligible Bachelorette of Sloan and Wharton too! (I think there were also a lot fewer women back then)
It is important to recognize that the Most Eligible Bachelor and Bachelorette from each section are chosen through an extremely rigorous, lengthy, and scientific process that examines mental acuity, facial symmetry, earnings potential, quantity and quality of instagram followers, and even completeness of class card. Must like HBS’s own admissions process, it is simply impossible for any but the most deserving to be selected. Period. Semi-colon. Winkey face. Plus, looks aren’t everything—they can’t be when everyone at HBS is already so good looking.
But here’s some advice: First, go talk to your section’s LGBTQ liaison to get some OUTstanding makeover advice—your fashion, if similar to most men at HBS, most likely consists of your collegiate cargo shorts and Rainbow flip flops. Second, talk less in class—your comments must be insufferable, and I know this because you whine about not being voted most eligible bachelor. Third, lay off your BGIE professor—everyone already knows that cold call is going to be brutal.
Wishing you handsome returns,
I am surrounded by some of the most good looking, smart, and successful people I will ever meet in my life! Why am I still single?
PS – I am need analytics – consider this a case study style question.
PPS – don’t publish my name! or will publishing my name bring a lot of negative media attention?.. Or you never know positive media attention? There is an A/B Test that can be performed here. DON’T MAKE ME YOUR GUINEA PIG!! I DO NOT PERMIT YOU TO POST MY NAME!
-Nameless on North Harvard Street
It is perfectly natural to be concerned about still being single while having to watch humping rabbits on your walk to class everyday. You probably thought you would come out of Yacht week with something, but unfortunately the only thing that’s lasted from your brief fling in the Mediterranean is an increasingly concerning rash.
However, fear not: HBS can truly be a wonderful place to find a partner. As long as you stay away from the i-lab, any partner you find is almost guaranteed to earn a six-figure salary after graduating. Meanwhile, large Canadian Goose jackets help you cover up the “desk bod” you’ve developed as a banker before business school. Without having to compete with younger and much better looking women and men at the undergraduate and graduate art school programs, dating at HBS should be like shooting fish in a barrel.
The problem of course is that many of the students are not single. The fish may be in the barrel, but by going fishing in your late twenties and early thirties, you’ve come a fish market at the end of the day, when most of the fish have already been sold and the ones that remain are barely staying afloat on their side or are “sleeping” at the bottom.
But don’t be discouraged: there’s nothing more beautiful than seeing a 6 gain the confidence of a 9 after a particularly inspiring FIELD class discussion, and let’s be honest, you aren’t exactly sushi-grade anymore yourself either.
The key is to put yourself in situations where you can find the type of people you are looking for. If you’re a man interested in a woman, go to the retail and luxury club, where you will be one of 3 men and 40 women, and as soon as the other two males pair off you should be in a great position. If you’re a woman looking for a man, swing by the weight room in shad, and watch for men using 4 different mirrors to check you out through a reflection.
And if you are LGBTQ, don’t fret: the admissions office can provide a beautifully printed catalogue of all LGBT students in full color with biographies, otherwise known as the school admissions brochure. Even more conveniently, the school will print out life size portraits of all the other LGBTQ students and present them in Spangler so you can see if there are other LGBTQ students who want to do something similar with their one wild and precious life.
Harby is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated MBA advice columnist and the author of such bestsellers as Teaching Your Dog How to DCF and The Seven People You Meet at the Boston Doubletree. Want some advice from Harby? Email your question to [email protected]