Monday, April 16, 2007

Student Perspective: Long Distance Relationships

Hello to all, congrats to the newly admitted students, and good luck to those who applied in round three!

Today, we’d like to talk to you about something – or better said, someone, who is often overlooked in the whole MBA process: the significant other. In particular, we’d like to focus on the long-distance relationship. Lo and behold, our target is not to give you some couple counseling – we are not qualified for that. But we would like you to profit from the experience of some students who are going through this.

To frame the problem and assure you that I know what I’m talking about, here is a brief portrait: I am French, and I worked in Germany and China before school. Now I am a second year student at the GSB. My better half is Swedish, and she currently works in Stockholm.

The first thing that we long distance people all see is that you need to count on each other. It sounds like a huge tautology but let me be more precise: she/he will support you. Make sure that this project is as much hers/his as it is yours, if you do not want to wake up one day with a break up email or phone call. Be sure that you let him/her know about the upsides of this program for both of you (a hopefully higher future income, Career chances etc.) and the downsides (distance).

Most of the people who choose the long distance relationship do it because of job constraints. In my case, my girlfriend loved her job. She was torn between her will to be with me and her job. As a foreigner, what would she do in the US? She did not want to quit (it is her first job, so quitting after 3 months might have had some resume repercussions), yet she wanted to be with me. Here is the first tip: talk about that together and be open. If you are the one leaving for the MBA, do not forget that by following you, your significant other might jeopardize his/her career too. Given that at the time you come into school you generally do not know where you are going to end up, this represents significant risk added to you, your life, and your relationship. Ponder also that you as an MBA student will be awfully busy. Our partners club here is doing an incredible job, but many wives/husbands recognize that they do not see their partner so much, while they spend some time with other partners of MBA students within the club activities. The reason is that the whole socializing, events, recruiting, etc. is as much part of the MBA education as sitting in class is. In my case, distance allowed me to focus a lot on school, job, etc. Some of my friends who live with a partner tell me about their constant time struggle. My girlfriend and I decided that she would keep her job and that after the MBA we would go to the same place together, our decision driven by the best of both job opportunities.

That being settled, the hard part starts – separation. Here are a few tips that many saw as critical:
  • By the time you part, always make sure that you know already the precise date when you will see each other again – ideally you will already have the plane ticket. This is critical because it transforms an otherwise empty horizon into a countdown to seeing each other again. It builds up the expectation and shifts the wait from an interrogation (when do we see each other) to an excitement (2 weeks to go!). To help you with this, the academic calendar is published on the school’s webpage and has a very substantial horizon – check it out.
  • Nowadays, communication systems make it really easy to talk together and even see each other. My girlfriend and I are avid Skype users. The network at the GSB is so good that we can also use our webcams with the wireless system. It works very well, and we talk once or twice a day. You will have to get used to the time difference. In general, your schedule as an MBA student will offer sufficient flexibility and breaks so that you can adapt to his/her working schedule – it does take a bit of planning and effort.
  • For you Gentlemen: Valentine’s Day IS important. Roses, sent by any delivery company are best. It will cost you 90-150 USD but hey, that’s no money compared to the 80 grand you are paying in tuition.
  • Look at job options early. Where do you want to go? Where could you go? Keep your significant other informed on a regular basis and take their input into consideration. It will help you to converge towards a mutually agreeable place more easily. Be creative in generating options – use the Career Services Office for help. In my case I discovered with amazement that my target company (Bain & Co) had an office in Stockholm… Maybe I could spend the summer there. If you are interested in the country where your significant other lives, ask him/her for advice. Brainstorm together: what companies are there in his/her place (and that works also if you are from the same country). My girlfriend sent me a list of 60 companies based in Stockholm. Then I cross checked with the list in our career services office – we had data for ALL of them. I ended up at Bain Stockholm for the summer, and when I got an offer, both Anna and I were thrilled to accept!
  • All in all, try to involve your partner as much as you can in your everyday life. If he/she stayed in a country for work, chances are that you will have a somewhat more exciting life than him/her. You will meet people from everywhere, go to receptions, cocktails, diners, parties, etc. Get her/him involved in the experience. Talk about what you do, whom you meet. Ask for his/her advice when confronted with some local problems. Basically, when he/she comes to visit you, he/she should be able to know a lot about all the people he/she will meet. Not only their names, but also if you like the guy, if you’ve worked with him, etc.
Of course this is not a simple recipe for success. Just a few things that people with long distance relationships keep on repeating between each other. Good luck to all!

Want to discuss this topic some more? Head on over to the Chicago GSB Discussion Forums