As summer starts to wind down and us RCs prepare to enter our first year at HBS, we all begin to wonder, What does this year hold in store for us? What is this transformational experience all about? Will people become competitive once they’re done being nice and friendly during orientation? And of course, the infamous Was I the Admission Committee’s mistake? Rest assured that these are among a myriad of thoughts dawdling through each of our heads these days. I assume that we have all set some goals and expectations for the year not only in terms of academics and career, but also in the context of love and life. I’d like to share some of what I conjecture these thoughts and hopes to be.
A few weeks ago, I spent eight days vacationing on the beautiful banks of the Nile in Egypt. I was awestruck by what I saw – the Great Pyramids of Cairo (the Luxor in Vegas does them no justice), the mummified bodies of ancient kings from 3000 B.C., a 300-person catacomb – or underground burial chamber – in the ancient city of Alexandria, and the beaches of a lovely resort on the Red Sea called Ain Sukhna. Before heading to African country, which to some extent was a war zone then, I remember feeling a similar type of anxiety to what I’m experiencing right now. I had developed expectations for my trip and was curious to learn about the Islamic culture. Were the women really treated as inferiors? What was the purpose of the pyramids? What were the ancient Egyptians’ values and beliefs?
I found myself intrigued by everything that the country had to offer, from its mighty temples and pyramidal structures, to its exotic belly-dancers, yet fully-covered women. What stunned me even more than the prominent mirages I saw in the Sahara Desert was how people leading such humble and simple lives managed to stay so happy. I came back to the US with a whole new appreciation for the luxuries and conveniences that we take for granted. For anyone that is interested in going, however, I should add that the food is phenomenal – hummus, falafel and babagannoush galore.
In many ways I consider my trip to Egypt to be a transformational experience. Every time we engage in a new cultural endeavor, it transforms us in some way. It opens our eyes up to new perspectives and ideas. It teaches us that there is life outside of the US, and that what we accept as conventional wisdom may not always be so. Being of Indian descent and having been exposed to several ethnicities, I have always considered myself to be pretty open-minded and culturally diverse. Nevertheless, it took one trip for me to realize how much more there is out there that I have never even pondered. Take for instance, the rationale behind why Egyptians preserve their deceased’s bodies. As fervent believers of the afterlife, the ancient Egyptians mummified the corpses of their revered ones so that the dead could live on forever in original form. The Egyptians viewed life as simply a passing moment, but the afterlife as eternal and therefore, instead of fearing death, they cherished it. In the Indian culture, we believe that the soul lives on forever, but that the body is merely a temporary ornament that we are granted during our lifetime. For this reason, most South Asians cremate the body and bury the ashes, instead of preserving it in original form. Although the South Asian and Egyptian perceptions represent contradictory ways of thinking, they both make sense to me, and each one adds a unique and interesting dimension. I expect HBS to provide me with a similar experience. I hope to learn new theories and strategies, and unique ways of thinking, some of which may even contradict each other. The fact that our classmates come from so many different walks of life – music, to athletics, to investment banking, to acting, and so on – is sure to spark some interesting debates and insights.
I just finished reading Freakonomics, by the renowned University of Chicago economist Steven B. Levitt. Not only does Levitt constantly challenge the status quo, but he also explores the most random, unheard of questions in his book. For instance, Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? If drug dealers are so rich, then why do they still live with their moms? Do people with distinctly black names such as Roshanda suffer an economic penalty? How does legalizing abortion in Roe vs. Wade result in a decrease in crime 20 years later? You’ll have to read the book to get the answers, but I must say that after going through 200 pages of such bizarre questions, Levitt has inspired me think in this Freakonomics-style fashion and become skeptical of the conventional wisdom. I expect HBS’s case method to augment this type of thinking and teach me to pose the right questions and look for hints as to how things aren’t quite what they seem.
Besides learning new perspectives and analytical thinking, I am sure that we are also expecting to get nasty cold-call on the one day we didn’t read that case. I guess all you can do is hope that it won’t be you! Most notably, I presume that by the end of our RC year, we all hope to land that dream internship (or in many cases, figure out what it is first) and experience one half of the “transformational” process, while also managing to make some good friends while we’re at it. What am I personally hoping this experience to be? Seeing as my goal is to work in Venture Capital – and I don’t doubt that 50% of our application essays read just like that – I am hoping to intern at either an early-stage VC fund, or take on an operating or product development role at a consumer startup. Entrepreneurship excites me, and I am eager to learn more about it so that I can someday start my own gig. During my internship, I also expect to be able to contribute in ways in which I was not capable of prior to my RC year. In terms of social life, I look forward to getting to know as many people at HBS as possible, as well as as many bars in Harvard Square as time permits! I want to meet folks who share my interest in entrepreneurship and perhaps launch a business venture later in the year. Once we learn more about what else is out there, we may even modify our trajectories a bit. And lastly, I hope to meet a tall, handsome quarterback by the name of Tom Brady.