I pictured the first year of my MBA program a little differently. Business casual clothing, sitting in lecture halls learning from professors, happy hour socials, and many nights working with fellow classmates on group assignments in study rooms. Alas, 2020 had other plans. “It’s OK,” I told myself in those early weeks, “maybe next semester will be different, or worst-case scenario, next year.” During the summer, I had connected with classmates from all over the world on a group chat. We would share links to resources that would help prepare us for the program as well as funny memes that resonated as fall approached.
Due to travel restrictions and bans, a number of international students had to make the hard decision to defer enrollment until fall 2021. One by one, they exited the group chat. However, even as they did, deadlines were extended and more students said yes to Maryland Smith. Uncertain of what our first virtual semester would look like, we braced ourselves and got to know each other during orientation week. And of course, we shared more memes.
We knew our first semester would be challenging because of the rigorous coursework and the fact that many of us had spent years in the workforce and away from school. However, being virtual added a layer of loneliness, especially during moments of stress. I remember back in undergrad, I shed a few tears thinking I had failed my physics final exam. However, after seeing others feeling upset and distressed while exiting the classroom, I felt reassured, knowing I wasn't alone; I guess misery does love company.
I quickly realized after my first term of the Full-Time MBA program that I could not do this alone. Thankfully, others felt the same. I’d like to take a moment to thank our second years for trying their best to welcome us to the Smith community through virtual events and couch chats. It helps. This spring, while virtual socials are still happening every week, I noticed that what I needed sometimes was a support group. Whether it’s about giving each other pep talks, sharing vulnerable moments of having a meltdown, or celebrating internship offers and life moments on Zoom, it makes life as a virtual student a little less lonely. It’s a lot easier maneuvering through life’s non-linear paths with a community that supports each other. The pandemic has limited how we interact as a cohort, but finding creative ways to stay connected has been integral to our success.
I am grateful for friends who send funny memes, Tik Tok videos, check-in messages, and Zoom links just to work silently together. And I am grateful for those second years who answer my lengthy text messages with reassurance that everything will be OK. Sure, it’s possible to do the program alone, but it’s a lot more fulfilling going through the journey with peers who become close friends, supporting and celebrating each other along the way.
–By Frances Ampah. Ampah is a 2022 MBA Candidate, Forté Fellow, and a Smith Fellow. Ampah was born and raised in Accra, Ghana, lived in Virginia, and worked for four years as a film producer and content creator in Los Angeles before coming to Maryland Smith.