While boarding the flight from Kansas City to Philadelphia to start my MBA, I was anxious as well as excited. For the first time in my life I was going to live all by myself. For 26 years, I had lived with my parents in India and my move to the U.S. came with getting married to Adi as we started our lives together. I hadn’t fully comprehended the challenges that moving away from my country would bring.
Initially, this move caused a loss of self-identity. This primarily stemmed from the lack of fulfilling job opportunities that were accessible to me and hence drove my decision to get an MBA. My first instinct was to reach out to schools that were closer to my home in the Midwest since I was wary of managing a long-distance relationship. However, Adi in his ever-reassuring ways pushed me to strive for nothing but the top – the Ivy Leagues, and so I began my admissions process. When the Wharton admit came through, we were overjoyed! As the happiness settled upon us, we recognized that getting the next two years right would be important for us personally and professionally.
On that flight to Philly, I remember feeling anxious about Adi and I living apart, but also confident of what I was looking to get from my Wharton experience. I desired to establish a new identity in this country, one which was free of any fears or self-doubt. And my marriage became just the support that I needed to make that happen.
The first few weeks at Wharton flew by very quickly. Meeting tens and hundreds of people every day was often overwhelming, though always energizing. I experienced a sudden burst of social activity. Through this time, I would wrap up my long evenings at Wharton, and get home and Skype with Adi. We would excitedly catch up on our daily lives, no matter how tired either one of us had been. It was also within these first few weeks, that we realized our daily Skype conversations would not be enough.
In a moment of such realization, Adi gave me a blanket commitment – that he would come to Philly every weekend for the next two years. This was a tough commitment to keep, especially because the commute between Kansas and Philly is not always convenient. Often, there are no direct flights, and the ones which do operate directly can have difficult timings. At the time, I really appreciated the sentiment with Adi’s commitment, but reasonably believed that even if we could meet every other weekend the long-distance would become a lot easier to manage.
I was amazed at Adi’s determination over the two years of my program at Wharton. Throughout my MBA, there was not even one weekend when Adi missed to make sure we were together. Not even when storm Jonas hit Philadelphia. Every weekend, as promised. Adi’s commitment gave us the opportunity to have him participate in my Wharton life, which was extremely valuable to me. His commitment ensured that I was never hassled about being away from him and my only focus was making the most out of my Wharton experience.
Wharton provided me abundant opportunities to align with academic and extracurricular activities that I felt passionately about. It also gave me the opportunity to pick some courses which were relevant to Adi’s career, which I wanted to be better informed about. Overall, this enabled a vast and varied learning experience for me. On the other hand, it also introduced a new dynamic in our marriage, with Adi and I actively participating in each other’s career interests, making us stronger together.
My experiences at Wharton were further expanded by being a part of The Wharton MBA community – diverse with people from different walks of life, with wide-ranging passions and interests. I had the opportunity to live, interact and grow with some of the most incredible peers, who took pride in their individuality.
In many ways, The Wharton MBA community felt like a judgment-free zone. It was as okay to be the most dressed-up person at school, just as it was to wear a pair of track pants and come for your morning classes. It was okay to want to be a banker, and it was okay to apply all that we learned to pursue a passion that was off-beat. It was okay to be solely academic-focused and feature on the Director’s list, and it was okay to not be bound by grades and instead focus on the overall experience.
Wharton, and its community, taught me the valuable lesson of being comfortable in my own skin. That my search for a new self-identity was not required. Being in a new country, didn’t warrant a new personality. I learned that all I had to do was be the most authentic version of myself. This belief grew stronger with the time I spent at Wharton and positively impacted both my marriage as well as my participation at school.
At School, I enjoyed taking up leadership roles and responsibilities in activities that I was passionate about. At the same time, when I was home, I enjoyed being a suburban wife. My two years at Wharton accustomed me with both these roles which are integral to my life.
As at my time at Wharton, I know I will find myself switching between these two roles, sometimes even picking one over the other, through the rest of my career. But I will always embrace the two equally – a lesson I may not have learned if I didn’t get the opportunity to be here.
At the end of the two years, I feel stronger and more certain about what I want than ever before. And for this, I have both the Wharton experience as well as Adi to thank, as I excitedly wait for the next chapter of my life to begin.