Immigration Process Struggles Turned into Opportunity for Self-Development
Partners at HBS

Immigration Process Struggles Turned into Opportunity for Self-Development

Anja Do, Contributor

Adam Parker (RC partner) shares the story of frustrating visa applications to his love for soccer.

Adam Parker is originally from a small town outside London, called Berkhamsted. As Berkhamsted is not known to people outside (or even inside!) the U.K., he likes to explain it based on the nearest Premier League soccer team: “It is close to Watford.” Being completely uneducated about the Premier League and soccer in general, I still had absolutely no clue how to locate his hometown when he told me. But I googled it after we spoke!

Once he completed his economics studies at university, he got a job in London at ING, a Dutch bank. One of the perks of the rotational program he joined was being able to spend three of the first 12 months abroad. “As a Dutch company, they like people to go to the head office in Amsterdam.” Adam shared with a bit of satirical undertone. “But if it’s only a 45-minute flight away, it’s not quite that exotic.” So instead, he managed to get an opportunity through speaking to people internally to go to Singapore.

Adam worked in Singapore for three months and then returned to London, thinking that is where he’ll build his full-time career. But the universe had a different plan for Adam, and just two weeks after his contract switched from traineeship to full-time hire, his boss from Singapore called him and said “Hey, we’re really busy. Do you want to come back to Singapore?” Adam loved his three months in the city so he didn’t hesitate to take on such a rare opportunity. He ended up moving to Singapore in January 2015 and stayed there until last August.

In fact, if Adam did not end up in Singapore, he would have never met his partner, Brittany Becker (MBA ’21). Just two months after he had moved there, Brittany also moved to Singapore for an eight-month rotation with an engineering company called Emerson. Knowing Singapore very well from my own experience, I marveled at the timing coincidence and how they found each other in the sea of expatriates in Singapore during a beach festival. The story of how they met had so many twists and turns that I would not do it justice by summarizing here in this article. But if you bump into Adam on campus, do ask him about it because it is rather serendipitous!

Towards the end of Brittany’s eight months, both of them knew she would be leaving but that she would try to come back to Singapore. They had a long-distance relationship for about one year, but “eventually she amazingly managed to get a job offer back in Singapore.” I could tell from Adam’s voice that he was very appreciative of his partner’s commitment to return to Singapore for him so early in their relationship. Four years later, when Brittany received an offer from HBS, Adam viewed it as his turn to return the favor: “It’s just part of the next chapter together.”

To my surprise, Adam and Brittany did not talk about her going to business school in depth. However, by that time, Adam had been with the same company for five years and was near the point when he would either leave or never leave Singapore. At the same time, Brittany also reached a plateau at work where she was not learning as much anymore. It was the right time for both of them to move on to the next stage in life. Although they did not discuss it in detail, they had a shared understanding that they would make the move together wherever she was going.

Naturally then, Brittany began her application to MBA schools in mid-2018. “She did the GMAT. Nailed the GMAT!” Adam told me with pride. “She was really surprised when she got into HBS. It’s just unbelievably competitive.”

Adam had his concerns though, as business school is a huge financial commitment. That being said, he also acknowledged that Harvard is a more globally recognized name than any University in the U.K. is. Therefore, despite the heavy financial cost, Brittany viewed this opportunity as a worthwhile investment for her future. Another consideration that influenced her choice of HBS over another MBA school in Europe was the fact that U.S. companies rewarded MBA students with significantly higher salaries than non-U.S. companies did. 

As a spouse to a U.S. citizen, I originally thought it would be easy for Adam to obtain a Green Card and work permit. With slight frustration, he told me that “it can not be understated as to how time consuming the immigration process is.” They immediately began preparing the paperwork for a fiancé visa as soon as Brittany accepted the offer from HBS. Although this was a relatively straightforward process to research and submit the documents, it still took them seven months to obtain it, just in time before school started. Adam naively took the view that the hard part was behind him. He declared a bit defeated that “adjustment of status to a Green Card is equally laborious and time consuming. We arrived in late August. It’s now mid February, and I still don’t have work authorization, so I can’t earn any income. I don’t have travel authorization, so I’m not allowed to leave the U.S.” His Green Card interview has been scheduled for early March now, so he hopes it goes through and he will be finally allowed to apply for jobs and travel internationally.

In hindsight, Adam reflected, “Had I known how long the adjustment process is going to take after arriving in the U.S., I probably would have stayed in Singapore, applied for a Green Card and only then moved to the U.S. after I got it.” He encourages incoming partners to do their research on the immigration process and be open to the idea that they do not need to move at the same time as their spouse. Partners need to take careful consideration of what they will do here, especially if they need a work permit to continue their professional careers.

Albeit the frustrating situation, it also presented Adam with an opportunity as well as a problem. The problem is you do not have an unlimited source of funds and Boston is an expensive city, even for a financially conservative person like himself. The opportunity is that both you and your spouse will happen to have an extended period where life is on hold. It might be the last time in your life before you retire that you are presented with an opportunity to do what you wouldn’t otherwise.

One of the downsides of HBS, Adam points out, is the difficulty to make friends. Coming from Singapore, where the international environment was conducive to facilitating and nurturing deep friendships, Adam has not found the same dynamic here. He observes, “At HBS, everyone is too busy.” I completely agree with him. Students at HBS are busy with studying or recruiting and socializing can be very siloed due to the Section set-up. Since there are so many people to meet in such a short time, every interaction feels very high level and you repeat the same conversation over and over again. No one has the time or seems to have the desire to make lasting connections and get to know people better. But Adam also recognizes that “it’s not people’s fault. It’s just a product of the situation. There are so many people and they are so career motivated. Making contacts seems more of a priority than making friends.”

The other downside is the living costs associated with being at HBS. Sharing a bit about his background, Adam tells me, “I come from outside the U.S., where the focus of education is not to make profit while here I get the feeling that it is very much a business and less of an educational institution.” This is something I can relate to as well. Growing up in the Czech Republic, my entire pre-university education was free. If I had chosen to enroll in any university in Europe, my tution fees would have been only a fraction of the costs in the U.S. 

As an example of small items such as parking fees on campus, I was surprised to learn from Adam that they were approximately 50% higher than at Continuum, the nearby off-campus upscale accommodation. Many of these necessary living expenses often do not have an alternative and therefore families moving to HBS have to accept whatever costs that are charged.

Another financial aspect of the HBS experience that is rather difficult to comprehend for Adam, is the size of expenses students are willing to incur, primarily for trips they go on. At the same time, Adam understands that “students here very much take the view, which is justifiable, that they are spending in anticipation of future income, which perhaps in hindsight is the right thing to do, but at the time, I struggled to take that mindset.” Despite his conservative view on this matter, Adam goes on to acknowledge that Brittany, his partner, is better than him at seeing the bigger picture in the long term and is therefore more willing to go out and build those relationships. 

And how is he spending his time here at HBS? For the first couple of months, he was basically just relaxing, working on immigration process along with sorting out housing and finances, playing soccer, guitar and video games, housekeeping and cooking, and going to the gym. But he concluded that “the novelty of that wears off quite quickly and then you realize you need to fill it with something a bit more meaningful in the long term.” 

One of Adam’s favorite aspects of partner life at HBS is the ability to get involved. He is part of the HBS soccer club which gets together twice a week for an informal practice session and they also play periodic games against other colleges. Recently, he just came back from a tournament in Texas with 33 teams across the country from different MBA schools. He admits that “it’s a nice way of meeting a different group of people outside of my partner’s Section. And also it’s just a sport that I can’t live without playing.” There is definitely a heavy soccer theme in Adam’s life as he recently obtained his soccer coaching license and referee license, whilst playing for an external team in Boston as well in addition to the HBS club. On top of all this, he has been volunteering with a local soccer charity in Boston as an assistant coach for children of disadvantaged immigrant families.

As if that was not enough, he also signed up to take the CFA Level 3 exam which will take about 500 hours of studying over the next five months. If I did not know Adam was a partner, I would have thought he was a busy MBA student. What I can say with certainty though is that Adam truly embraced the opportunity to pursue his passion for soccer while he still has time at HBS.

So, what is Adam’s advice for partners? “If you can, I wouldn’t hesitate doing whatever you want with your time. It’s that perfect window opportunity to do what you want to do and just try something different. And that’s the way I’m approaching it with soccer playing, refereeing and coaching. Taking the same long-term view that the students have with spending their future income, you don’t want to look back and regret not having made the most of a unique opportunity here to pursue your hobbies, interests and passions.”


Anja Do is an RC Partner at HBS who recently moved to Cambridge, MA, with her husband from Singapore. She identifies herself as a global citizen and loves meeting people from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and religions and learning about their personal stories.

March 7, 2020
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