Every year, Harvard Business School welcomes 900 new business students. The campus buzzes with excitement, which never fades as the days, weeks, and months pass. As relationships are forged, dreams shared, and ideas generated, well-placed ambition is fueled by the fact that fellow HBS students continually push you to achieve more and grow daily.

My entire HBS experience was built upon the warmth and encouragement of my fellow students, professors, and program support personnel. So, when people mention an “HBS network,” I become defensive. The term networking sounds cold and self-serving; however, my experiences were the complete antithesis. In an environment filled with Type A personalities, where one might assume you would encounter hubris and ego, I met the most genuine and thoughtful people. 

My first memory after arriving on campus was a party on Spangler Lawn. I was nervous for many reasons: particularly leaving my active duty Marine husband behind in San Diego and being in a group of 900 people. The anxiety turned out to be unwarranted. I more than survived the night, I enjoyed it. 

A few days later I was sitting in my section. My professor put the class through an exercise where we needed to introduce ourselves by saying one thing to our classmates to make us memorable. As each person took their turn, it was clear that I was surrounded by a diverse, accomplished, and witty group of people. Listening to my peers introduce themselves, I was in awe of my class. 

Then, I wondered how could I--someone with sloth-like relationship building skills--build authentic connections with these outrageously interesting people in two short years? In an environment built upon the strengths of individuality, what did I offer?

Luckily, HBS knows a thing or two about setting every student up for success – even introverts like me. Having the familiar comfort of my section as a foundation, I branched out and began to meet even more people. I joined clubs where I connected with classmates and their spouses who had both common and diverse interests and backgrounds. 

I participated in FIELD, where I naturally developed relationships that still warm my heart to this day. I even remain close friends with my RC dorm room neighbor. We bonded over similar challenges and never looked back. In EC year I ended up rooming with a very smart, very wise classmate. I still value and constantly apply her words of wisdom, and I intend to pass them on to my daughter. The list could go on.

While I developed deep and meaningful relationships in a short amount of time, I still become uneasy when people equate the generally ominous term of “networking” with HBS. As I grapple, I can only conclude that there are many levels of networking. At business school, many individuals do come together, who share a common ambition of wanting to make a difference in the world, and they leave with many more contacts that will help them achieve that goal. 

My experience at HBS could be summarized with the same basic description, but the word “contacts” is replaced with the word “relationships”. Relationships that are genuine, deep, and will undoubtedly continue to grow as years pass and joyous life milestones are met. 

The next time someone marvels at my “HBS network” again, I will smile and nod. I will know in my heart that I did not amass a bunch of email addresses; I gained an irreplaceable support network.