Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder.
Some of history’s greatest love stories are about distance relationships—two individuals thrown apart by adverse circumstances, serving only to strengthen their love.
Take The Notebook—lovers separated by war, only to rekindle their love years later. Or Titanic, where centuries of tradition can’t keep the two star-crossed lovers apart.
It’s surprising then that no one has written a best-selling love story about MBA students.
While an MBA can provide career success, salary advancement, and lifelong network building, it isn’t thought of as the best environment for relationships to stay alight.
For prospective students who are married or in a relationship, it can seem like putting a relationship on the backburner for the one or two years of study. Whether the relationship will come out the other side stronger is uncertain.
With a bachelor’s in computer science, and twelve years of experience working for multinational companies based in India, Karthik Acharya knew that it was the perfect time for him to study an MBA.
Working in human resources, he interacted on a daily basis with companies based all over the world—and a chance trip really spurred on his decision to study abroad.
“I travelled to Germany and Austria, and I really fell in love with Europe—ever since, I’ve known I wanted to work and study there,” Karthik remembers.
EMLYON Business School stood out for him—a renowned business school in a central European country. It ticked almost every box for him—apart from the fact it was nearly 5000 miles from his wife Vidya in Bangalore.
Initially, the couple weren’t too worried.
“My wife had already done a four-month stint in Singapore before this—almost like a stage rehearsal—which was completely okay,” Karthik mentions.
They were adamant of keeping to the promise which they made each other when they first began their relationship—that they would never let their relationship hold back their careers.
This mutual understanding made their relationship rock solid, Karthik reveals.
Yet stepping off the plane and settling into his new base for the next year, reality suddenly hit.
“To be quite honest, the first month was quite terrible,” Karthik reluctantly admits, “I was completely hopeless.”
He didn’t socialize, he didn’t leave his room in the evenings, and despite applying himself in the classroom, he found it very difficult to settle in this new environment.
The experience began to turn around, however, through the counsel of one of his classmates, who really stressed to him the importance of living in the present, being here both physically and mentally.
Ultimately, the support of his classmates helped Karthik to start making the most of his experience. The MBA cohort at EMLYON is a tight knit group, and he was able to get support from all angles.
As MBA classes go, the class at EMLYON is small, with only 44 students per year. A heavy focus on group work, meanwhile, means that relationships are formed professionally and socially.
Alongside the academic core of the MBA program, there is a large amount of experiential work, including an entrepreneurship project where teams have to plan and pitch a new business idea to a jury of faculty and professionals.
“You are working in lots of different groups of people on different projects, which helps you to forget about other things going on,” Karthik stresses.
Through this, he met several other MBA students who were in a similar situation, with a long-term partner or spouse living in a different country. This shared experience of suddenly being alone, he remembers, means that you can form new bonds and friendships in ways that you might not do at home.
The key to the survival, and strengthening, of his marriage was an aligning of their goals.
“Whatever one partner wants to achieve,” Karthik advises, “The other partner has to be 100% in support of the decision itself. If not, your relationship will suffer as you aren’t on the same page in terms of giving focus to that goal.”
For Karthik, it couldn’t have worked out better. He’s set to graduate from EMLYON this summer, and he’s now been married to Vidya for seven years. His relationship, he feels, has actually strengthened over the time they’ve spent apart.
“When you’re together, you take things a little for granted, and when they aren’t there, you realize their importance. It might even be small things, like the feeling of going home and knowing somebody will be there,” Karthik muses.