US Master’s Degree Tour 2011: Harvard Business School Underground


In early 2011, I took my first graduate-school trip along East coast of USA. This blog post is a series of this amazing intelligent journey. Enjoy!

I was still in Boston. Still snowy and still stuck with my wet boots. This time I went to the school that everyone in the world is speaking about, the legacy of prestige, Harvard Business School. I had an interview with Professor Lassiter from Arthur Rock entrepreneur center and an appointment for info session with the school admission. I guess, because I was so excited, I came way too early to Harvard, but it was always nice, I could take sometimes observing the statue on the gate of the bridge that connected two Harvard’s area and mesmerizing white and frozen Charles River before entering Harvard Business School.

When i approached Harvard, i realized something was unusual. The area was somewhat empty and quiet confusing because Harvard Business School consists of many large and small buildings which serves different functions and during the deep winter like this it was even harder to find the right signs. I did had a map, but you know i am so bad in reading map. My mind kept asking “where are on earth the people?”, but then an angel in disguise appeared, he looked like a professor. “Are you looking for a direction?” he suddenly asked. Basically, he was the only one i saw along Harvard’s yard and finally he showed me a way to meet Professor Lassiter.

Joseph Lassiter is a professor from entrepreneur study at Harvard Business School and having a chance to interview him about the school program was a blast because factually it was so hard to get our interview’s request being approved by busy professors in this prominent school. Waiting in sweat for him, a tall man appeared after greeted his guest who just left his room. I observed him walking toward me and a cold but friendly tones strucked “Are you looking for Joe Lassiter?” while he offered his hand to shake my hand. Joe! he just called himself Joe! ūüôā by then i assumed he was a fun and humble man.

His room didn’t look like a professor’s room and more like a photography class lab in my high school in Seattle—orange and yellowish (ahh hard to describe). I started my questions about the school and about the program, but in minutes he interrupted, “C’mon! You don’t wanna know about it. You wanna know how to get to Harvard Business School!”

GENIUS. THAT WAS EXACTLY WHAT I WANNA KNOW.

“Yes, professor, that was what i mainly wanna know”, i replied non offensively.

So he began his explanation about “how-to-get” to Harvard Business School.

According to professor Lassiter, while some schools partially work by professors’ recommendation way, in which you met the professors and see if the professors wanted to you in the program, this wasn’t happening at Harvard Business School. Everything goes to the admission’s hand. The competition was tough, seriously tough, although there was no such thing as final research. This means that prior to graduation, students at Harvard Business School have no such thing as research, they just needed to finish all study credits which were super hard. He also told me his story about his former Indonesian student who went there in 1998. His student needed to fled back in emergency to Indonesia to save his family from mass murdering toward Chinese race by native Indonesian people (uuuhhh that must be hard; you know professor, i also hate coward action like that by our local people). Our conversation also hit to the talks about green business in which he thought that kind of that business, especially in USA, is going to face downward market, first because thing should go for mainly product’s and service’s value and second, everyone is gonna do the same anyway, greening their business.

Fabulous Baker Library, Bloomberg Center and a la Versailles Cafetaria at Harvard Business School

The first thing that i really obsessed to do after having an interview with Professor Lassiter was to walk in Baker Library and Bloomberg center. This most famous building (the two centers were located in the same building) contains all academic sources in business and economy, from the very traditional one dated back in 1800s in the form of preserved periodical to modern 2000s digital data.With Bloomber cornered their journals in Harvard, this school joys the unlimited financial access from Bloomberg. ¬†Baker & Bloomber’s, in fact, was the biggest and thereby, the most visible building visitor could notice at first place. Based on chess black and white marble floor, the library enticed a classy and elegant look, just like other buildings around Harvard Business School, only bigger and stunning.

I was actually walking back and forth around Baker to wait an Indonesian friend that I was going to meet that day. Doni, another Indonesian student I met at Harvard Kennedy School on previous visit, called him and recommended him to take me tour around Harvard. Yaah we, Indonesians, love to help each other because our close-knit culture. So, his last name was Tobing, and he asked if I could meet him at HBS cafetaria. Hmmm…sounded good as the clock already showed noon anyway.

I made my way to Harvard’s cafetaria. Once i got in to the right building, I wasn;t sure that it was cafetaria, because the building looked more like a royal feast place on a wedding bouquet rather than a “cafetaria” (paper cup, line, tray, and so on).¬†A la Versailles, i think is the right name for Harvard Business School cafetaria, to associate with Marie¬†Antoinette¬†palace at Versailles in France. The cafetaria was luxurious, decorated with crystal lamps, big and long seats, and long table; reminded me with welcoming ceremony for new students at Hogwarts in Harry Potter movie. Students were not served with glassed-show case foods like many other cafetaria, rather different counters of different foods from around the world were circled around like food courts where they had special chef who will made fresh foods from the oven for you. There were Thai, Japanese, American, Mexican, Italian, many many many. Consequently, I needed to pay extremely expensive price for one dish i bought for my luch. I went to Japanese boot to get Harvard’s sushi (ehhh weird name). The chef hand-made some nigiri sushi from selection of fishes i chose and also explained how he gained skill of sushi making with a “double fingers” technique which i wasn’t sure what it was. For six pieces of nigiri, one wrapped sushi, and two tiny roles of sushi, i needed to pay $10.95. Not much but not regret them. After all sushi is expensive foods and i was in Harvard. Minutes when I took water from the glass (the glass was made in America, not China! finally), I met Professor Lassiter again. This time he threw words, “Everyone i met from Indonesia, is always from Java. Ah not, is always from Jakarta.”. SMART. I just love him. He was fun but could deliver critical words which were factually true in a humorous way. Of course Jakarta, the burjois come from that sinking-city and pay their way to Harvard. Sorry, I came here under someone financed me before going to student festival in Norway. So I wasn’t one of them.

Case Study Method: 50% of Grades are Taken from Discussion and Debate

My conversation with Tobing revealed things that i didn’t know about Harvard Business School, more than school catalogue. He worked for Indonesian Central Bank before and the bank financed him to get in this school. According to his explanation, it was true that connection and network were inportant to get in Harvard and being someone from Central Bank was a benefit for him, though he just served in the bank for less than two years. To be able to survive in HBS academy, students needed skill of speaking in confidence as everyday, that was the thing students would do. Students would be divided into study groups, arranged by Harvard Business School, consist of 6-7 people; they would discuss about so-called HBS most famous teaching method of “case study” in the morning, assisted by one tutor. Then each study group would be matched with different study group from another class to debate and discuss about particular business issues. No lecture-based homework (wow! no homework) because 50% of grades would be taken from our criticism during discussions and the rest were taken from tests.¬†To verified what Professor Lassiter claimed, Tobing also explained that no research needed in order to graduate, but the day-to-day tasks were already like hell.

When he came across arranged study group issue, I remembered about my business school college. The same arranged group study method is used in my school, even since the day we entered the school. The same technique of case study was also used in my school, only that my school does not adopt entirely the method of discussion (we still have loads of homework), primarily because Indonesians students were somewhat afraid to talk and discuss critically (afraid that other people would label such critically verbal person as “annoying” and afraid of hurting other people through criticism, which i thought all of these stigma were non-sensed and deprived the spirit to grow) and not everyone is able to be prepared before entering the class. Later when I go back home, my professor claimed that my school initially used the same method like Harvard, but unfortunately, students confessed that they couldn’t understand the material brought from pure HBS method and felt uneasy about the method, thus the school modified the study method (well, afterall, different cultures need different methods to learn; some just do more efficiently).

Speaking about socializing, Tobing confessed that he had hard time mingling with American students at HBS and his friends mostly were foreign students. Due to his tight culture and religion to Indonesian custom, he explained that drinking and partying were not only expensive to maintain for foreign students, but also the things that he couldn’t be involved about. He asked me about this opinion he had. I didn’t mean to be separable; i tried to explain that I was only Indonesian by race, but my mind, behavior, attitude, and even belief were flexible and influenced by many different cultures around the globe, so i thought when it comes to American culture, I certainly had no problem. I reflected his story about socializing at Harvard and thanked to my exchange student program i took several years ago to United States and on going travels i managed to have so far for social and environmental projects that open my mind and heart, beyond Indonesia. However, i am happy, at least he still got some nice foriegn friends :).

Harvard Business School Underground & 2+2 Program

When I wrote “underground”, it was really underground, not only to illiteral meaning of “behind Harvard Business School” but also literal meaning that answered the question in my head why the school was so empty. Tobing explained that because this month was a super freezing month and snowstorm, everyone was in underground tunnels connected all buildings around Harvard Business School; and when it came to tunnel, do not imagine about dungeon and dirty tunnels. The tunnels at HBS were as luxurious as the outer buildings, decorated with pictures from old Harvard and student lockers, which Tobing whispered were so expensive to rent. The student dorms, which were also connected by these tunnels, were beautiful, wall carpeted, and the decorations changed every year to make students, who majorly spend most of their life at HBS, feel comfortable at the school. We also took a glance to HBS stores and class room, which shaped like Roman theater.

HBS tunnel

It was time for me to leave him for info session, after saying thank you and exchanging e-mails, i headed for more official know-how from the admission people. Basically. i already read or knew about information that i gained from this session, but there were two important things that I want to share to you, especially for students who are still in college.

1. Harvard does not accept applicants who have no working experience and what i meant was really after-graduation working experience.

2. But don’t worry. Harvard Business School understands that there are a lot of college students who are early thinking to prepare their journeys to business school. Thus they have 2+2 program in which college students, who are still in third year or about to graduate before the application dues, could apply early and safe their spot for HBS. If they are accepted, they need to spend two years working (preferrably¬† abroad) before start their way at Harvard Business School. To get to know more about this nice program, check out this information¬†http://www.hbs.edu/mba/admissions/2+2/

I looked on my cellphone and my boyfriend already texted me that we would meet at nearby Urban Outfitter store before heading back to downtown Boston. Alright, time to say goodbye to Harvard Business School. I myself plan to apply 2+2 program for January deadline, because i still have to fix my time for final seminar on my college thesis & GRE, errr….. Wish me good luck and I hope this information could help you getting to know about Harvard Business School.

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