As an Indian national who was working in the Middle East in the petroleum industry, my decision to apply for an MBA was fueled (pun intended) by two reasons. One was the obvious need to get a business perspective after staying in the technical domain and the second (which was the larger driving force) was the concern that massive job cuts loomed on the horizon in my industry.
Five months after I got the “YES!” letter from HBS, I landed in Boston armed with a million questions and unsure of what what was ahead. As an international student, what could I expect from my experience here?
I would bucket my questions and experiences thus far into three categories: social life, professional development, and the good ol’ Boston winter!
Walking into my section for the first time, I wondered - what was this hype around
section dynamics? Would I make good friends? Was I an admissions mistake? As a vegetarian and a teetotaler, would I find palatable vegetarian food and manage to survive the “social scene” without alcohol?
First of all, there are tons of social events on the calendar and of course FOMO (“fear of missing out”) is real. Looking back on my RC year, I have not attended all the parties or “pregames” (the latter was a new addition to my American vocabulary) but have enjoyed myself when I did. I have danced (terribly) to songs whose lyrics I still don’t know. I haven’t lost my voice (yet) by shouting myself hoarse to have normal conversations during the social mixers I’ve attended. I still do not understand why the Super Bowl is such a huge event and I have yet to come to terms with American football having much less foot involvement than real football - oops, soccer.
Yet, I have found the environment here to be inclusive and, most importantly, humbling. There are going to be some cultural faux pas – at least likely to be, if you have never spent time in the USA or an international setting before. Do not fret over them but do learn from them. As an international student, one must also realize that there are other students who are waiting to learn from you about your culture(s) as well. Hence, if they err on a culturally insensitive issue, be kind and try to provide your point of view to reduce the bias. Or as our professors would say, provide feedback!
There are certain things I wish I was made aware of before coming to HBS on the career front. As an RC, our initial professional priority is to secure that coveted summer internship offer. There are some firms willing to hire only American residents or international students who already have an authorized work permit to work full time in US. If that sounds depressing, it need not be. There are plenty of job opportunities for international students
in the US and abroad, and the Career and Professional Development Office
will work closely with you to help you identify various opportunities.
In terms of timing, it’s good to be aware that students secure internships at different points in the year – depending on what industry they’re planning to work in. A good chunk of students who are looking to spend a summer in the traditional sectors of consulting, banking or general management end up with an offer by early February (the third week of January is the official commencement of internship recruitment season). Corollary to that, many companies outside of those sectors typically make offers by March. If you’re looking to work in a startup (or a company that may not typically employ MBAs) the timing may be delayed further.
The process can get to you; your friends and peers might be landing internships while you are probably figuring out how to land interview calls. It’s important not to panic. Instead, find your own small peer group which keeps you motivated and can support you throughout this process. Reaching out to ECs who have been there, seen that/ done that is also beneficial. At the end of the day, you’re going to find an internship. If you are skeptical and need further reassurance beyond my optimism, imagine the above meme in Oprah’s voice.
After 9 months of staying here, I feel that the only thing predictable about the Boston weather is that it is unpredictable. Checking the weather app on your phone before leaving your room is annoying but necessary if you want to be “appropriately dressed” – for the rain or snow or winds. As an international student coming from a tropical zone and having practically zero experience with snow, Boston ensured I quickly learned how to select winter clothing.
If Game of Thrones were based in Boston, they’d definitely get one thing right.
To sum it, the RC year has been a great experience. I’m fortunate to have had a great section experience, have an internship at hand while writing this and surviving a Boston winter. I came in with a certain set of questions and I’m about to enter EC year with a different set of questions. Have I found answers to all my questions? No. Will I find the answers? I hope to.