The Harbus sat down with 4 International RCs about their experience transitioning into living in Cambridge. Their wise advice ranges from how to find kindred spirits amongst the busy bees that are HBS MBA students, to finding time between the multitude of HBS activities to explore Boston. For all of them, this is their first time living in the United States.
Tell us a bit about your background prior to HBS.
Azeem Shahid (AS) New G: I’m originally from Pakistan and worked in the oil field services industry for 8 years before coming to HBS. Although I started my career as a field engineer in Pakistan, my work with Schlumberger has given me the opportunity to spend time in Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, Scotland and Saudi Arabia. For my last role, I was based in Kuala Lumpur and my position entailed being the trusted advisor for our customers. I have to admit, although I have been to the US before, it was only for a short stint in Tulsa and Chicago.
Fernanda Almirao (FA) New E: Before coming to HBS, I was a Consumer Services Manager at Whirlpool Latin America, based in Sao Paolo, where I was living for the last 3 years. I’m lucky to be here with my partner who graduated from HBS last spring. So I’m excited to experience HBS as a student after experiencing it as a partner although I was living in Sao Paolo during that period.
Iulia Iliut (II) New B: Before coming to Boston, I was living in Vienna as a consultant for McKinsey and before that I worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organization that is part of the United Nation (UN). I’m also very lucky to have my husband here with me and we’re happily living off campus, enjoying the beauty that Cambridge has to offer.
Garri Juanda (GJ) New I: I’m originally from Indonesia but have been living in Japan since I was 17 years old. I did my undergrad there and then secured a job with Rakuten, which we had the opportunity to learn more about in the Englishnization case in LEAD. I’ve also travelled extensively in my free time, mostly to Europe and around Asia.
How do you find life in HBS and living in Cambridge so far?
AS: The pace on campus is very fast with many activities happening seemingly all at the same time – section events, recruiting, socializing, sports, pre-games, parties, and after parties! It’s really easy to get caught in the motion of these activities but I like to take time off outside the HBS bubble by attending interesting talks and lectures at the Kennedy School. It’s a chance to meet world luminaries and intellectual dignitaries from across the globe.
FA: I enjoy Cambridge very much; Harvard Square is super easy to reach and has nice restaurants at an affordable price, compared to Boston. I love having Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods close to campus! It makes grocery shopping so convenient. Another thing that is super convenient for me and my partner is the fact that you can buy almost anything online here. 1-click purchase is a real time saver and they deliver within 2 days! In the midst of the craziness of simultaneous activities that happened around the campus, I also enjoy seeing bunnies and squirrels roaming wild and free around campus. It is important to take a moment to enjoy the beauty of HBS campus.
II: I’m not busy with recruiting and therefore I have a lot of free time to enjoy myself here. I love that Cambridge is relatively quiet with a lot of activities that you can do around town. I enjoy running along the Charles river and do a little bit of kayaking. Unfortunately, winter is coming and it is getting darker faster which makes it more difficult to enjoy these outdoor pursuits. Fortunately, Shad is amazing. I fully recommend that you take advantage of the facilities and classes on offer.
GJ: As a long-time Tokyonite, I like that the street is clean and that Cambridge gives off vibes of a small and tight-knit neighborhood. The town is very pedestrian friendly although the drivers could do with a little bit of empathy for the rest of the road users!
What was the most challenging thing about living here?
AS: I understand that networking for international students can be a little awkward if you’re not used to the scene. It is time consuming and energy draining – especially if you’re not a natural extrovert – but absolutely crucial to getting yourself in the right place. Trust me, you are not the only one feeling anxious about conversing with all the people you thought you had nothing in common with. However, stay true to yourself, and many things will come up for you to discuss and you will find common ground with your fellow classmates. Before you know it, you’ll be surrounded by close friends!
FA: The biggest challenge for me has to be the infamous New England weather. So far I can’t complain, but winter is slowly encroaching and there is not enough preparation to make a Brazilian ready for the amount of snow that is about to pile up on us! Another unexpected challenge we found here is parking. Not only it is hard to find good spots on the street but also the parking garages here are simply over-priced.
II: The biggest challenge that I am still wrapping my head around is living in a smaller space at double the price we would normally pay back in Vienna. We had to leave our nice spacious apartment in Vienna where we’re surrounded by our daily convenience. Here, I’m still struggling to find places to get my breakfast pastries, artisan cheese, and desserts. I’m still adjusting so hopefully I will find my little corner of Vienna here in Cambridge.
Another big challenge for me was buying medicines. It seems that everything here requires a prescription, which is vary different from how we would buy medicines in Vienna. Unfortunately, Harvard Health Services (HSS) has not been very helpful and more often than not, I have had to go to online forums to figure out these things for myself.
The most memorable moment you have HAD so far.
AS: Over Thanksgiving break, I decided to stay on campus so I signed up for a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by one of HBS professors. Needless to say, I was extremely touched by the generosity and hospitality of Professor Malcom Baker and his extended family. I was introduced to his family’s Thanksgiving traditions, ate a lot of turkey, stuffing, and desserts –I definitely gained a few pounds from the amazing feast! More importantly, I’m grateful for being able to experience this amazing American holiday in its true spirit. I was impressed by how welcoming the whole experience was and for this very reason, Thanksgiving has become by far my favorite American holiday!
FA: I really enjoyed the Head of the Charles Regatta. It was a beautiful day and I had lots of fun being part of this annual event. The entire stretch of Charles River near the campus was abuzz with excitement throughout the weekend. Tents and pavilions were pitched up along the river bank, adding colors to the grey autumn sky. Rowers from various backgrounds and age came together to celebrate the sport. Some people rowed for a cause and some for pleasure but what everyone that day had a lot of fun, myself especially.
II: The biggest gem about HBS is the richness of experience of its student body. I love getting into intimate conversations with my section-mates to hear more about their amazing life stories. We have had a few MyTake sessions where it never ceases to amaze me how diverse and unique a set of individuals we are. We have NASA engineers, special-forces, entrepreneurs, social activists, scientists, and future doctors in our section! Over the long weekend, I was invited by a section mate to his home for Thanksgiving and I must say that small moments like these are what I will look back fondly once I left this place.
Best kept secret in HBS and/or around Boston from an International perspective?
FA: There are so many good restaurants offering unique cuisines from every corner of the world here. However, I would highly recommend Toro in South End. It’s a Spanish restaurant offering delicious tapas, cocktails and Spanish wines. It’s always full so be prepared spend some time in line but you know the food is totally worth it. Empanada de Cabra is highly recommended!
II: There is this really good ramen place at Harvard Square called Santouka, between Mass Ave and Bow St., where there’s always a long line for dinner. Pro tips: go there around 5 – 6 pm before the dinner rush. It also has good options for Vegetarians. If you’re into arts, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has fantastic deals for students.
GJ: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum or better known as the Fenway Court is a fantastic gem tucked away in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston. It has amazing collection, in excess of 2,500 art pieces from ancient Rome, Renaissance, Asia, the Islamic world, 19th Century France and modern America. You can go there to admire Manet, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, and Rembrandt without having to go to the Europe. Of course, if you’re wearing any Red Sox memorabilia, you’ll get a discount for admission and if your name is Isabella, you’ll get in for free!
Advice to other Internationals who are still figuring out HBS.
FA: Don’t just stay in the HBS bubble. Take the T to downtown Boston and explore Chinatown for amazing dim sums and noodles. Take a stroll through the Boston Common, the oldest public park in the US, and marvel at the exquisite art decorating the many museums and galleries around town. Do the freedom trail if you haven’t and definitely go on the duck tour while you’re at it. Boston is a city steeped in history and culture. The city is simply beautiful, so just enjoy it!
II: Don’t feel FOMO’ed into going to all the parties and doing activities that you’re not 100% sure about. Time is a precious commodity here at HBS and you’re better off finding people who share the same interests as you. You may think you’re the only one with this one particularly quirky interest but I can assure you that you’re most likely wrong! Build bonds with people who share the same passion as you but at the same time take time to appreciate your classmates’ different perspective on life.
GJ: The city has anything you need; fantastic restaurants and bars; you can go for a run or kayak. There are also many amazing treks around the New England area if you’re feeling more adventurous. If you’re missing home, there’s a Karaoke bar where you can go and sing your heart out too! Take a chance on the city and I can assure you that you’ll fall in love with this place before you know it.