When I first stepped in Cambridge, in October 2011, I had the best impression I could: it was unusually sunny and warm, everyone was out on the streets wearing skirts and short sleeves and happy that fall had not fully arrived yet. However, my time there was limited – I had only a week – since I was still committed to a PhD in Biotechnology and Bioengineering in Switzerland. Unfortunately, I could not stay to see the changes in weather. Up to that moment, I had thought about quitting my PhD several times. I was not satisfied at all with what I was doing: it was exhausting, disappointing, and recognition failed to cross my way. I was simply drained. However, I did go back and stayed for a few more months, insisting that it was the best thing to do. Except that it was not. In February 2012, I finally had the courage to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life: I quit. After facing what was my 6th move in 6 years, I filled up two suitcases and, with all the hope in the world and my F2 visa in hand, boarded into a plane towards Boston. My “intuition” proved to be right. At that first visit, I had taken the opportunity to visit schools and get information about courses and activities available to partners. And what I found was a myriad of options to engage. I had no doubt about it: my time in Cambridge would be the perfect opportunity to learn something new, improve my skills and prepare myself to the next step of my life: a career change.
By the end of March, I installed my belongings at 24 Peabody Terrace. My partner had been there for 8 months already, and I started to meet his friends and colleagues. The beginning was tough, as whomever I met would ask the fatidic question after the first few moments of small talk: “So, what do you do?”
It was a moment I wished with all my heart that I could say: “Oh, I will work at XYZ Company”, or “I have been accepted at XYZ Program”. I wish I had a work permit. I wish I had something planned. But I did not. The long explanation about my story would take place, and I usually left with the feeling I had to figure out what to do soon. Not for the sake of telling others, but for my own peace of mind – after all, a career change when you are 30 does not seem common or, even worse, easy. But I trusted that somehow I would find myself.
I started searching for classes at The Cambridge Center for Adult Education and found out several interesting and inexpensive courses of short duration. In three months, I learned how to play the guitar, deepened my knowledge on photography as an art and was led to realize the connection between mindfulness and creativity. The latter course was particularly enjoyable, as I broadened my understanding about meditation and how it could benefit several aspects of my life.
As summer was approaching, and knowing we would spend some time in São Paulo as part of my partner’s internship program, I did some extensive research on the possibilities available at Harvard University Extension School (HES). There, I discovered I could take part in several outstanding programs, taught by Harvard Professors, earn a certificate or diploma, meet different people coming from diverse backgrounds, and get out of the “Business School bubble” for a while. Since I was running away from the technical field (as the Dentist and Researcher I have been in the past), I decided to embark into a new challenge: the Certificate in Strategic Management. But wait! I still had to do the required tests. Harvard being Harvard, one of the best universities in the world, you would imagine that a rigorous selection process would take place. Indeed, English proficiency and critical reasoning and writing tests had to be done. With this final OK, there I was: waking up at 6am when already in São Paulo in order to secure my seat at the desired classes and register for the fall semester.
Not initially knowing if I would pursue a Master of Liberal Arts in Management (12 courses required) or stick with the Certificate (5 courses required), I took varied courses that would serve both. The experience was intense, but at the same time rewarding: exceptional teachers, eye-opening readings, valuable peer-to-peer discussions, extensive and practical group projects, new friends from every corner of the world. It was much more than I had imagined. Besides, it provided me with a novel perspective, abundant knowledge on a new area, and the hope I would be able to combine my past and present experiences in a unique job position in the future. In the following semester: more of the same, but different. Other subjects, professors, discussions, classmates. More knowledge, more readings, more assignments. And finally, due to the lack of time and other interests, I ended up asking for the certificate as a way to officially finish my role as a student at Harvard. Needless to say, I strongly recommend it to anyone! Not bad at all to have those 7 shiny letters sticking out of you cv, right? 😉
My time in Cambridge was intense, and studying at HES consumed most of it. However, this is a highly intellectually stimulating community, and there are unique opportunities to engage as a partner. You can keep yourself busy by subscribing to several clubs of interest at the Business School, and by participating in lectures, events and gatherings. I had partner friends helping to organize important events such as the annual Marketing Conference, for example. Others took the lead in the organization of social events of the Latin American Club. Stay tuned and you will be able to watch amazing people speak at Harvard and MIT, such as presidents, celebrities, thinkers, authors. On the charity side, you can get involved with volunteering programs all around Cambridge and Boston. I did such a thing, although through online tools, for an NGO in Brazil I had discovered during the summer internship. And last but not least, you can start your own blog… or, why not, your own online business focusing on a product or service that speaks to your heart? Mine was an admissions consulting firm dedicated to facilitate the life of talented, ambitious, young Brazilians who dream of studying in top schools abroad. And, guess what? It is growing!
See, the sky is the limit, and you should not restrict yourself due to a piece of paper saying you are not eligible to work in the US. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved within the community, and there are several people out there to help you too. The important thing here is: keep your mind open, look out for opportunities and do some networking. In no time you will be engaged and busy with whatever choice you make.
To finish, what better words than those of the late Steve Jobs about connecting dots…
“[…] you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”