An international student at Harvard Business School says that his fellow classmates from his home country live in a pricey party culture, treating the MBA experience as a “two-year vacation.”
“A lot of our social interactions center around expensive dinners and outrageous drinks where people chit-chat about their section mates, hook-ups and drunken shenanigans,” the first-year student writes in The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper. “Personally I’m unsure if this is the veritas I had come to seek at Harvard Business School.”
The student, who did not identify himself nor his home country, said the party atmosphere often starts at Park in Harvard Square, where the bar serves up 27 different bourbons and 19 different rums. It extends to dinners at Sorellina, a chic modern Italian restaurant in Copley Square, where the grilled octopus appetizer costs $19 and the lamb chips will set you back $48. And then ends up back to Park or Kong, also in Harvard Square, for which a Yelp reviewer asks, “Do people ever come here not drunk?”
‘MY EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN ASPHYXIATING’
“I am an international student and there are several students from my country,” he wrote. “Yet, I don’t fit into this international community and it hurts not to get along with my people. I signed up for HBS and the opportunity costs associated with it – most importantly spending two years away from my aging parents – to get a quality education and to learn both inside and outside the classroom. Unfortunately, my experience in RC (required curriculum) year has been asphyxiating and has often made me wonder: what should I do to fit in?”
His comments appear under the headline: “The Section X in all of us,” a reference to a secret society at HBS of ultra-wealthy, mostly male, mostly international students known for decadent parties and lavish travel. The group was first publicly revealed in a controversial New York Times story published last year. One commenter on the story noted that Section X is largely composed of about 100 MBA students from South America, the Middle East and Asia, out of a total enrollment of more than 1,800, “most of whom were making up for the fact that they did not have a ‘college experience.’”
The Times said that even though Section X is hard to pin down — some students said they did not believe it existed at all — it is a source of significant resentment on campus. Every HBS class is organized into 10 sections labeled A through J, and the name Section X suggests a separation from the broader HBS community. “The Section X dynamics really deteriorate the section togetherness,” said Kate Lewis, a 2013 graduate who edited the school newspaper, in an interview with the Times. “By the end of this academic year, Section X had become an adjective on campus for anything exclusive and moneyed, with one student talking about a “mini Section X dynamic” within her real section,” according to the Times.
‘I AM OFTEN THE BUTT OF MANY JOKES BECAUSE I AM TOO ACADEMICALLY INCLINED’
Writing in The Harbus, the MBA student says he often feels like an outsider because he is something of a teetotaler who is more interested in studying than drinking. “I like spending time on cases although it makes me an outcast in my international community,” he wrote. “In social interactions over expensive dinners, I am often the butt of many jokes because I am too academically inclined. I don’t party hard enough, seldom drink and have no idea about networking. Worse still, I actually take HBS classes seriously and the one thing that I have not realized after RC year is how to maximize my return on investment.”
The atmosphere he depicts is one in which little emphasis is placed on learning. “It’s not about treasuring resources at Baker Library, attending talks at the iLab, assisting fellow students with their finance exercises and trying to integrate our learning from the 200+ cases thrown at us during RC year that give us a return on our $90,000.
“It’s about pre-gaming at the Park, eating out at Sorellina, coming back to the Park and ending the night at the Kong (if you are not classy enough) that make our time at HBS worthwhile.”
‘WE ARE ON A TWO-YEAR VACATION AT HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL AND WE NEED TO LIVE IT UP’
He concedes he has yet to find his path at the school. “And I don’t blame myself for it because what I want from the school is not what the community is willing to offer easily, especially if you want to fit in.
“‘After all, we are on a two year vacation at Harvard Business School and we need to live it up.’ And there, I just said it, at Sorellina earlier tonight.”
This is hardly the first time that assertions have surfaced about the heavy partying at top business schools. Only last year, a highly prominent business school professor at Stanford University decried what he called a “booze, cars and houses” culture at top business schools that has taken the focus away from academics and learning.
Jeffrey Pfeffer, a long-time professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, said he believes that MBA programs have essentially become two years of vacation and partying for twenty-something students, a chance to have the college experience they may have missed when they were undergraduates.
“If and when business schools become more like many of their professional school brethren—where status comes primarily from academic/professional accomplishment, not from who can hold the most liquor or put on the best show—not only will less wealthy students no longer be disadvantaged, but the culture will change for the better—from booze, cars, and houses to ideas,” he wrote in an essay.