I sat anxiously waiting for my husband Andre to call with “the verdict.” I jumped as my cell phone practically vibrated off my desk. I crossed my fingers and asked, “So.?”
“We’re moving to Boston!” was the ecstatic response, followed immediately by, “I’ve got to go. Mom and dad are still waiting to hear the news.” I managed to squeeze in, “I love you” before he hung up the phone. Then I started to do a little dance. If anyone had walked by my classroom at that moment, they would have thought I was nuts! That was the beginning of my HBS experience.
When Andre opened his Admitted Students’ Weekend package, he found a schedule, the HBS Survival Guide (which we read cover to cover in a matter of hours) and a fleece scarf (a useful gift on behalf of the Harvard Presidents and Fellows but its humor was lost on us Canadians). Before we knew it, we were on a plane headed for the Hub City.
Admit Weekend was overwhelming for us both. We arrived late Thursday evening. After taking the “T” from the airport and getting somewhat lost in Central Square, we checked into our hotel and decided to take a stroll over to campus.
I fell in love with the place when I saw the famous Harvard towers lit up against the night sky. As we approached Baker Library, both of us wondered out loud, “Do we really belong here?” After all, we were just a couple of kids from the Canadian prairies. What did we know about Ivy League schools and networking with the social elite of Wall Street? The events held over the next few days helped convince us otherwise.
Aside from the beautiful campus, we were thoroughly impressed with the MBA program. The faculty and the students in particular were open, honest and inspiring. As a partner, I was concerned about how I was going to spend the next two years. Members of the Partners’ Club answered all my questions and made me feel as though this experience was as much about me as my husband.
We returned to Toronto feeling excited and confident in our decision. That’s really when all the craziness began! We soon discovered Andre wasn’t eligible for a J-visa; we were stuck with a seriously limiting F-visa. If I wanted to work at all in the next couple of years, I would have to find a way to get my own visa.
I didn’t think this would be all that difficult.Canadians and Americans have a lot in common. We’re the “Neighbours to the North,” the States’ little brother, right? Wrong! Despite political accords such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, immigration laws are just as strict for Canadians as for anyone else wanting to enter the country. Despite three job offers from public and private schools in the Boston area, I was unable to find a visa sponsor by the fall.
Over the course of the summer, I had several anxiety attacks. Was my life really going to be paused while my husband’s was on fast-forward? How were we going to cope with zero income for two years? Andre reassured me that things would be alright. If times got tough, we had wonderful families and friends who would help us make it through. More importantly, we had each other.
I decided to make the most of these two years. I joked that I was going to be a “socialite in training.” I also researched what I was allowed to do with my F-2 visa. I re-read some of the testimonials I received in my partner-welcome package and spoke with counselors at the Harvard International Office. I learned that with my F-visa, I was allowed to study and do volunteer work. This news helped get me through the rest of the summer.
During orientation I saw familiar faces from Admitted Students Weekend. I also met many new people at Partners’ and Canadian Club events, several of who were in the same predicament. I spent the month of September hanging out at Shad Hall and exploring the city with some of my new friends. Our discussions often revolved around getting jobs and/or sponsors. A few of my friends succeeded in finding employment and obtained TN and H visas. Several others discovered their students were eligible for J-visas due to the type of scholarships or subsidies they were receiving.
As they became busy with their new jobs, I felt like I needed to do more. I registered for courses that would contribute to my Masters in Education. I also began to look for opportunities to use some of my skills to help others (and help build my resume). I joined the Philanthropy and Book Clubs through the Partners’ Club.
I contacted Ronald McDonald House. It was a charity that meant a lot to my husband and I. We both had cousins who stayed at Ronald McDonald Houses as children, so we had volunteered at the Toronto RMH for several years. The Boston House is big and beautiful. The staff and families are warm and welcoming. I volunteer twice a week and do what I can to make things easier for families during a difficult time in their lives. I phone in prescriptions, get tickets to local events, make reservations and even reload the Coke machine from time to time. I have also organized two dinner parties at the House with members of the Partners’ Philanthropy Club. Working at the House reminds me how truly blessed I am.
Through the United Way website, I learned about Cambridge School Volunteers. I began working at Martin Luther King Junior and Amigos Schools in October. Both schools are located across the river, behind Peabody Terrace. I tutor second, third and fourth-grade students in Math three afternoons a week. I also help two primary teachers with their literacy programs and assist the Librarian. This opportunity enables me to help at-risk children while also utilizing my education background.
My days aren’t quite as full as my husband’s. My bank account balance is slowly but surely decreasing. (That’s what student loans are for though! Besides, isn’t this supposed to be an investment in our future?). But I am happy. I’ve made some amazing friends and have some great memories. I’ve managed to complete my Reading Specialist certificate and am contemplating returning to school full-time in order to complete my Masters.
Most importantly, I feel as though I’m making a difference in people’s lives. AND I’m having a great time!