Reflections from Cambridge: Being a Dualie of Wharton and HKS

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When I was applying HKS in 2015, a MBA-MPA dualie friend told me: “I think you’ll enjoy HKS. The place is perfect for you.” I was glad to hear that, but also wondered if my friend’s hypothesis was indeed true. Now, two months into my fall semester at HKS, here is an exchange I have often:

Friend: “how’s HKS?”

Me: “good, good! it’s busy but I’m enjoying it! I love my classmates and am learning a lot, Cambridge is great…HKS is great!”

Each time I responded this way, I knew that the above wasn’t the proper way. After all, how could I squish down all the information into a few sentences, so I just get lazy and send. And what exactly is the HKS life like? Though it’s a personal experience and it may vary from one to another, I now deliver an in-depth answer to you, and hope it makes up for the lack of thoroughness in my typo-filled texts or email bursts.

Connections with people: What defined the experience

The defining part of my HKS experience has been the people I’ve met. I arrived a few days before the HKS new student orientation and met up with a few of my future classmates at a pond side picnic. Since most of us didn’t know each other before that day, we began our conversations through questions. The conversations skipped over the LinkedIn-style elevator pitch and soon evolved into a mini Storytellers showcase. The cooler became our podium, and we each took to it to share our stories. We shared what motivated us to apply to HKS, why we chose to combine HKS with our existing programs, and where we see ourselves down the line. The stories got personal at times, and I listened to each intently in awe. Aside from my classmate from Wharton, Won-Mo, our group had urban planners from the Graduate School of Design, a Divinity School classmate who wanted to enhance Islamic Finance, an aspiring dualie who wanted to revolutionize the education system through technology and business, and a central banker from Thailand who was as passionate about fitness as she is about monetary policy. At the end, we took a selfie by affixing someone’s phone with a hairband onto the cooler handle. It was just a great start to the term.

That experience was the first of many such gatherings of the HKS community. Because the MPA program had no cohort system, we organized amongst ourselves to have weekly lunches, monthly storytellers (proud to say yours truly imported this into HKS, and we’ve had two sessions already!), trips and outings, homecooked meals, small group dinner for foreign language learners, café gatherings, lady’s nights, workout groups, class retreat, and yes, even impromptu library study squads that get Venezuelan food afterwards. On top of these came the frequent birthday celebrations ranging from bar hopping, laser-tagging in costumes, to intimate house gatherings. The scene was never dull and folks had plenty of choices to stay meaningfully connected. These connections then gave rise to more informal 1-1 or small group interactions that blossomed into friendships.

But wait, what about the parties? Yes, parties exist, but not as comprehensive or grand as Wharton ones. Within HKS, the Latino Caucus are the folks who host parties. If you’d like to venture to another institution to party, you’ll soon realize that information asymmetry is a thing. Unless you live near HBS you may not hear about their Tuesday night parties (who hosts them on a Tuesday…I still can’t comprehend). Haven’t yet broken into MIT party scene yet (need to confirm there still is one). This past weekend, the Graduate School of Design hosted a Halloween party that people had a blast in (see Mitch Gainer picture here, master costume maker with over a decade of experience).

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Academics: FOMO from class discussions was real

I am taking three HKS classes in management and leadership and one Graduate School of Education class in education technology. One is lecture and case-based, while the remaining are project-based. Other classes dualies are taking range from influence, politics of energy, gender in politics, to a class that analyzes why countries are poor and underdeveloped. Half of my classes are electronics-free, and since most of the desks at HKS have no panel that cover student’s legs as we sit down, enforcing the no-electronics rule is much easier. However, even if classes didn’t mandate the no-electronics policy, a distracted student will suffer FOMO from class discussions as other classmates pounce on discussion and leave the one student in the dust. That has happened to me a few times, and the FOMO was real. Class discussions are structured that the learning is concentrated in the discourse, and it would a waste in class if students didn’t participate. Students are so into discussion sometimes that people often forget about time. Besides, class topics make frequent appearances in normal conversations. As my friend who graduated from the program once told me, “you don’t have to hide your inner geek at all.”

I also enjoyed the range of activities we get to undertake in class. Whether it was role-playing historical figures, building robots that walked, working with the alumni relations office, or partnering with a major beauty products company on a diversity and inclusion project, the learning is everywhere. Though lots more time is spent on the classes as a result, the learning that happens sticks.

Activities and events: No, not the recruiting ones

Despite rather heavy academics, HKS is also known for its wide range of student activities. From the more serious clubs like the various professional interest councils (PICs) to policy journals, to the fun clubs like In Wine Veritas, there’s a whole gamut to choose from. Joining the clubs is free, hence the much smaller average club budget, but the benefit is that folks can receive information from various clubs without paying on top for it. This term, I am an HKS Ambassador with the Admissions Office, Sponsorship Chair for the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, and the Graduate Liaison for Women in Power (HKS’s WWIB equivalent). These activities take up a good deal of time during the week. For example, this week I’ve been corresponding with over 50 applicants as they near the HKS application deadline. Still, I enjoy working on them.

The range of speakers that come to campus is great. Klaus Schwab (founder of the World Economic Forum), Yo-Yo Ma (acclaimed cellist), Christine Lagarde (head of the IMF), Kevin Rudd (former Prime Minister of Australia), Betsy DeVos (current Secretary of Education), Mark Warner (D-VA, US Senator), Sean Spicer (former White House Press Secretary) and many more speakers have come to campus to speak in settings large and small. I got to meet Yo-Yo Ma and that was a childhood dream come true.

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The recruiting part is super short for me—I’ve gone there once this semester to pick up business cards. However, the folks at the office are nice and helpful, and I am sure I’ll make it back.

And, the most important thing is…

So, was my friend right? I have definitely enjoyed my time in Cambridge thus far and have formed a community here, and found HKS to be a place where I can truly release my inner geek. But if I hadn’t had my first dualie year at Wharton, where I formed relationships that helped me grow and overcome some of the highest peaks I’ve had to climb this far, I don’t think I would have enjoyed HKS as much as I had. Without my Wharton community, I don’t think I’d have lived with as much intention as I did the past few months. I can definitely say though that choosing to become a dualie was the right decision, a decision that have helped me grow personally and professionally. Sometimes it takes a bit more effort while away to stay in touch with Wharton, but the experience is well worth it. I miss the Wharton vibe and the wonderful friends back in Philly, I miss seeing familiar faces around center city and the walks to and from school. I miss the bustling MBA café, the inevitable rush to class and the uber GroupMe’s, catching up the latest on potential Follies materials, and just Philly itself. I can’t wait to be back. Till then, from Cambridge with love.

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