By Rafi Nulman '15
A good friend told me this story a few years ago. She was in graduate school and had been meeting with a therapist-in-training who interned in the student health center. After telling him that she was planning to visit her family in Israel, the young man quipped, “Well you know what they say… you can never go home again.”
“Watch me,” she replied coldly.
This past winter break I visited my family in my hometown of Jerusalem for the first time since Booth started. Walking into my parents’ home, I grappled with two identities: that of the competent adult I’ve tried to project to employers, and that of the kid who put clean laundry in the hamper to avoid having to fold it.
At first blush “business school me” is a lot more mature and focused than the teenager my parents see in their minds’ eye. And yet I wonder: maybe there is more sense in the kid my family remembers than in the person who spent days rehearsing answers and begging strangers for a shot at a job in their company. Questions from my Dad like, “What does it mean when you say a firm is ‘prestigious’?” or from my Mom of “Do you really have to drink that much?” keep me on my guard.
On the one hand I want to explain the Booth world to them - to tell them about all the aspects of this experience that I think that they would value. On the other, I’m confronted with the guilt that many of the choices I made leading up to getting an MBA involved a desire to escape their world.
I think that students who come from families unversed in the tropes of elite American institutions find it particularly hard to bridge the gap between their Booth lives and their home lives. It’s not that my father can’t understand why dropping two grand on the ski trip is a good idea. It’s simply that he’s spent his life alternately envying and pitying people who indulge in these kinds of extravagances and feels conflicted that his son is now one of them. “People that are out of balance,” he calls them.
The MBA is aspirational (recall the coveted salary bump). If we are to become better and more successful, we also need to shed the less successful elements of our old identity. I don’t think we are always careful about what we are giving up. Small things, like changing a verb in our resume from “analyzed” to “managed” signal not just our hopeful shift into a management role but also our desired transition into a more generally privileged elite, one that may or may not count our parents in its ranks.
I have to concede that my parents do make some good points. I don’t really know what it means to be “prestigious” and it’s undoubtedly true that I drink too much. This past winter break, going home raised questions for me about my decisions at Booth. For some students, the opposite happens: the experience at Booth challenges the lives they built at home. I wonder how true the statistics are about “black Friday” – the Friday after Thanksgiving where purportedly many students return home and, having been exposed to an exciting new world, find their significant other lacking by comparison. Whether this really happens or the concept only lives in the minds of students, it underscores the importance of thinking hard about what we take with us from our previous lives and what we give up. While it may be true that we can never go home again, it’s also surely true that there are parts of home that we can never leave behind.
Rafi is a 2nd year originally from Jerusalem, Israel; he spends his time searching for decent hummus in Chicago and tirelessly working on his Selfie Game.