“From the start, we wanted to take turns doing an MBA,” says Mona Bijjani, who, while her husband Jad was pursuing a full-time MBA at INSEAD, tagged along as a business school partner.
Mona, who previously worked for Microsoft in Dubai, put her corporate career on hold to spend six months in Singapore and four months in France for her husband’s MBA.
She threw herself into the business school community, networking with her husband’s MBA colleagues and even working on a freelance project with an INSEAD professor.
She made the most of it, but many b-school partners don’t. For many b-school partners, an MBA means an involuntary career break, a strange country, isolation, and exclusion.
With this in mind, Mona wrote a book—The Unofficial Guide to B-School Partner Life—to support the husband and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, of business school students.
The book provides a pragmatic guide for b-school partners looking to thrive in the b-school bubble. It’s already one of the Most Gifted Books in the Graduate School category on Amazon.
Mona’s husband graduated with an MBA from INSEAD in July 2016. He jumped five years in his career progression— he now works at General Electric in business development for the Southeast Asia region.
Inspired by her husband’s experience, Mona too chose INSEAD for her MBA. She starts in January 2018.
BusinessBecause caught up with Mona to find out more.
How did the idea for the book come about?
Around one million students enroll in b-schools worldwide every year. 30-to-40% of them are accompanied by their partners. It’s a global phenomenon. And, sometimes, b-school partners are not as happy as they can be—they’re shy, they seclude themselves and feel isolated.
No light has been shed on this topic. If you look at the world’s top 100 business schools, around 30 of them have active partner clubs. The rest don’t even have a point of contact on their website. There’s no support system in place, so when partners arrive at these schools they feel they’re not welcome.
INSEAD’s student life director reached out to me when I was a b-school partner, and asked me to write a guide to help others be as happy as I was. It started off as a blog post. Then, I did workshops, surveys and focus groups, and it just blew up from there. A year later, and I’m sitting here with a book on my lap!
How was your experience as a b-school partner?
I was quite happy as a b-school partner, but at the start I found myself in countless hit-and-miss scenarios. After much research, I found many partners felt the same too.
There were a lot of partners who did not take that step to show up on campus. By not showing up, you’re excluding yourself from the community—you’re not giving yourself a chance to make connections.
I loved meeting new people. INSEAD has quite a strong partner support network—the school organizes partner meet-ups and partner-related workshops. After my experience, they started to include partners in career workshops.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at INSEAD?
I felt the benefits of the program—I saw the power of the INSEAD network. My husband got his job in Singapore because of the network. And, because I saw this first-hand, I knew this was the school for me.
The opportunity cost of a 10-month or one-year program is great. Also, INSEAD ratio the world’s population to the class. There’s 1.3 billion Indians in the world, so there’s be between 35 and 50 Indians in the class—the diversity is incredible.
Did your experience as a b-school partner help your MBA application?
Absolutely. A student in my husband’s class was one of my references. Even someone within the administration also wanted to write me a reference.
After you get shortlisted for INSEAD, you have two interviews. The interviewers want to know that you will engage in the community, that you know about the school, have talked to alumni and done your research.
Definitely, getting involved helped. They were thrilled to hear about the different aspects of the school that I had enjoyed [as a b-school partner]. It brought back memories for them, and the interview became a casual conversation.