This article was originally published in the November 2020 edition of the Harbus.

Life at HBS looks different for every student as the campus is filled with people hailing from an array of countries, industries, and backgrounds. The lives students led before coming to HBS can play a major role in what they will gain from their time in business school and the experience they will walk away with. One group of people who attend school in a distinctively unique position are those who come to HBS with partners and families.

The Harbus often showcased stories on partner life at HBS, written from the perspective of the significant others who have come to campus with their students. Partners are often active members of the HBS community, involved in clubs, section events and may even audit classes. Therefore, students with significant others and families have a rather different experience compared to those of their single counterparts. For this month, we have decided to dive deeper into the perspective of those students.

A large part of the business school experience is building connections and forming lifelong friendships. It can be overwhelming for quieter, more introverted students to put themselves out there and many feel they benefit from having a partner by their side. For Uwais Razack (MBA ’21, Old Section C), the HBS experience has been enhanced by having his wife, Azrah, here by his side. “We are both quite introverted, so we often stay indoors and enjoy just spending time with each other. Azrah interacts more frequently with my sectionmates than I do. In fact, my sectionmates now reach out straight to Azrah whenever they want to make plans with us.”

Rishon Benjamin (MBA ’22, Section E) remarked that his wife Ina brings another dimension to his social life that single students may not benefit from: “As students, we are very busy—meeting up and socializing for our section events, discussion groups, recruiting events, clubs, and anything else we happen to be involved in. Having a partner who is involved in the HBS experience can only enhance the social experience as they are connected in a very different way to the HBS community. Just like in real life, they add variety to our social lives. I might meet a student because Ina knows a partner in a different section, who I might not have gotten to know otherwise.”

Additionally, having someone who realizes the importance of socializing during school is crucial for students’ overall MBA experience. “It’s a lot easier to come here when you have a partner who understands that networking and socializing greatly matter and is part of why we are here,” remarked Charlotte Lawson (MBA ’22, Section E) about coming to HBS with her partner Bethany.

Enjoying the business school bubble together can also be a bonding experience for couples at HBS and may bring couples closer together. “This is a once in a lifetime experience for both of us,” said Rishon Benjamin. “We bond quite a bit about the cases and discuss them quite a lot. Ina is interested in marketing as a subject area so at least once a week we have coffee chats and debates about the cases.”

John Harry (MBA ’21, Old Section B) expressed that he and his wife, Lauren, could not be happier about doing this together. After living apart for most of their relationship due to John’s career in the US Navy and Lauren’s career with the federal government, moving to Boston has allowed them to finally live together. “We viewed this as an opportunity to spend time together and we ended up sacrificing some of the HBS social life to do so.”

Coming to HBS with a significant other may also alleviate some of the stress of constantly having to make new connections. Charlotte remarked on how nice it is to have someone you can always count on. “I don’t get as lonely as someone who is coming here single. There is coming to school single and then there is coming to school single during Covid-19 so I am grateful that I always have someone. I think coming here with a partner relieves the feeling of ‘FOMO’ and I have such little ‘FOMO’ because I have Bethany at home.”

While having a significant other may boost the student’s social life, those who plan on expanding their families may find that socializing at school looks a little bit different, especially during COVID-19. Charlotte is expecting her first child with her partner Bethany so they have had to be thoughtful about social interactions during this time. “Socializing during Covid-19 is compounded by the fact that my partner is pregnant. For the most part, we have been doing events outside,” said Charlotte.

In a similar vein, when talking about his wife and newborn baby, Dylan Beil (MBA ’22, Section H) explained some of the challenges he feels Covid-19 poses. In his view, the biggest impact of the pandemic is having to commit to social events in advance due to limited availability. “You can’t just play things by ear. But it is the only way we are able to do anything because of the baby. We have to plan to attend events in advance and it’s hard to do that with a baby. That has been a big factor for us when socializing.”

Even without the new complications Covid-19 has inflicted, creating a meaningful HBS social life while managing family time requires students to be a little creative. Kuni Kambe (MBA ’21, Old Section F) explained that in order to spend time with his wife, Chihiro, and daughter as well as his classmates, he hosts dinners at his house. “Hosting is very comfortable for us because I can take care of my daughter and also talk to my friends.” Having classmates spend time with a student’s family can also foster deeper friendships. Kuni exclaimed that his section mates love seeing his daughter and talking to her which makes bringing her along to social events much easier.

Forming relationships with their student’s section is integral for partners to feel included, a sentiment that was shared universally among the students whom our team had spoken to. Uwais understands that it would have been a hard transition for Azrah, if she had not formed her own friendships within his section. For John, it was important that “partners are a package deal at HBS” in reference to involving and including Lauren in many aspects of his HBS life.

As the composition of students varies across sections, naturally, each section approaches partners and families differently. Kuni remarked that his former section has more than ten kids (with more on the way) and that children are therefore a huge part of the section’s social interactions. “My section is very inclusive and open. Kids come to section events and we even brought our daughter along to the section retreat in Vermont last year”.

The social benefits of having a partner at HBS seem to resonate across the board as most students agree that having their partner here has been hugely beneficial for their social life. Although having a partner here may have been an asset for student’s social lives, many feel the pressure when it comes to trying to balance their school work coupled with spending time with their partner.

Kuni shed some light on the issue, recollecting that he barely got to spend time with his daughter and wife during his first semester at HBS. As a non-native English speaker without a finance background, it would sometimes take him up to nine hours a day just to get through his cases. “During the first year it was very tough. I had almost no time to take care of my family”. While every student approaches their workload differently, it is still an added responsibility that can detract from quality time with their partners and family.

It is not only classwork that can make balancing a relationship difficult as there are times in the semester when students are busier with non-academic activities. John remarked that managing his time became particularly overwhelming when he was recruiting for his summer internship. “Recruiting was tough. That was the only time where school felt like it was dominating our life.” Nevertheless, many students recognized that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that it just takes some time to figure out how to comfortably manage school with their personal lives. Thankfully for John and Kuni, balancing schoolwork and family life has gotten much easier in their EC year.

It is challenging enough to adjust to student life at HBS but leaving your hometown or moving to a new country can be a tough transition for students and their partners. Having a partner’s support while navigating this new life can make or break the experience. Uwais marveled with gratitude at how supportive Azrah has been of his choice to study at HBS and how willing and excited she was to move here all the way from South Africa.

What has also helped with the adjustment as an international couple arriving at HBS, is that Azrah has been able to take advantage of all that HBS has to offer. She has joined clubs, she is involved in her husband’s section, and she is even working in the HBS SA Products Office. The couple has been pleasantly surprised at how easy and seamless it was for Azrah, and partners in general, to integrate into the community. Uwais remarked that by being “plugged into the HBS ecosystem” partners can gain just as much from the business school experience as students do.

International partners may utilize these two years by dedicating precious time to their family while also taking advantage of Harvard resources. Kuni’s wife, Chihiro, for example, decided to take time off work and entered the Harvard Extension School to study business, which she was able to do by enrolling their daughter in the daycare provided by Harvard. The couple is currently expecting their second child and are excited that they can enjoy their time at HBS with the expanding family.

While moving to Boston from another country has its difficulties, coming to HBS from another city in the U.S. can also be a huge undertaking and may require the couple to revisit their long-term plans.

Due to the long-distance nature of their relationship, John knew that if he was accepted to HBS, he and Lauren would have to decide about where they want to live for the next few years even beyond HBS. Once he committed to HBS, Lauren and John decided to make Boston their home in the long term. This decision did not come easy as Lauren had to jump through many hoops to move her job to Boston. “It was a big leap. Lauren had to pull some strings and there were a lot of things that had to line up for us to live together. Once it did, it was a declaration that we would be staying in Boston for a few years”.

Navigating career changes is not the only challenge couples have to tackle before coming to HBS. Since Charlotte and Bethany are expecting their first child, they had to make sure that they found a doctor they liked and could trust in Boston. While Dylan and his wife Michelle decided to move to Boston months in advance so that she could deliver the baby here and not have to worry about traveling in her third trimester or setting up their new life immediately after giving birth.

The students who come here with their partners and families recognize that their significant other probably sacrifices a lot to come to HBS with them. Many partners leave behind jobs, families and the comfort of their home in order to support their student here.

Though HBS can be a simple two-year adventure for couples and families, it is also a dramatic shift in lifestyle and can alter their lives completely. While bringing along a partner or family to HBS has its own challenges, students who have brought their loved ones along reap the benefits of having a built-in support system here at school.

As Uwais aptly puts it in the South African saying “Ubuntu” which means “I am because we are,” this is a shared experience. He emphasizes how important it is to never take your partner’s sacrifices for granted because every student’s journey here was made possible by their partner’s dedication to the move.