From Qatar Summers to Boston Winters

Anja Do, Contributor

Haneen Hindi (RC Partner) shares her personal story with Anja Do (RC Partner).

My friendship with Haneen began with a blender. True story, and I will get there!

When we left Singapore for Boston, we figured we would not bring any electric appliances because the voltage is different and so none of it would work in the United States. The moment we got here, I started my search to buy the same blender I used to own in Singapore. Being on a student budget, we have been looking on Facebook groups and Craigslist every day, but most of it was furniture—no blenders in sight. One week prior to START, an ad was placed in the Continuum marketplace, and there it was, the same exact blender I had from home. I rushed to contact the seller, and we immediately had a deal. That guy who sold me the blender is Yazan, an HBS student and Haneen’s husband.

Many weeks later I would find out from Haneen that I got myself a fantastic deal. Yazan apparently only used the blender once. He overloaded it and then concluded that he needed a bigger one! Hence I was a lucky buyer at the right time and right place. But to be perfectly honest, I am grateful for buying that blender off Yazan because I became friends with Haneen, the funniest girl I’ve met on campus. She is the real deal!

When Haneen first shared that she is originally from Palestine, I could not have guessed, given how fluent she is in her American English. She speaks with confidence, wittiness, and self-deprecating humor, if you can catch it. She was actually born in the United States and lived across many states in the South, including Alabama, Kansas, and Texas, and then also in Pennsylvania. Her parents moved here for work but relocated the family to Qatar when Haneen was 12. Her father, in particular, wanted to be closer to his family in Jordan, and so he took on the fantastic work opportunity in Qatar when it came knocking.

Haneen therefore spent half of her life in the United States and the other half in Qatar. “And now I am back!” she announced gleefully as someone who was excited to return to her childhood home.

While attending a high school in Qatar, she met Yazan (now her husband) in their last year, and they ended up going to university together. They both attended Northwestern University’s campus in Qatar. She majored in journalism, and he studied communications. Haneen was wonderful to interview because she was familiar with my reporting process and knew that I would want to record our conversation. She apparently used to go through the same process, and so here we were: a journalist interviewing another journalist!

After spending seven years in school together, Yazan and Haneen got married in January 2019, immediately after they received the happy news that Yazan was admitted to HBS. As someone who only met her better half only three years ago, I was intrigued and curious to know what it was like to meet one’s husband so early in life. She shared, with a satisfied smile on her face, “It was nice to grow up together because you become more compatible with time. Your personalities start to sync up and so you start enjoying the same things. It really made us very close.”

Haneen touched upon something that I have found to be the common thread among the partners. It is this sense of commitment and dedication to our MBA students, with whom we are on a journey of life together and therefore we might as well make the best of every chapter, including this HBS chapter.

Prior to coming to HBS, Haneen was at her former job, working at her alma mater for three years, which she enjoyed and with a boss with whom she was very comfortable. She informed her manager in advance about the possible move to Boston and was met with support. When Yazan actually got the offer, her manager encouraged her to move with Yazan, as it would be an exciting new start together. So although Haneen really loved her work, the reality of the distance between the United States and her home dawned on her. “Qatar is not 1 hour away; it’s a 15-hour flight,” she admitted. However, she was excited to have a new challenge after spending three years in the same company, and so it was a good time to leave.

While she was still employed at Northwestern in Qatar, Haneen also enrolled for an online MA in Communication at Johns Hopkins University. She figured that if she moved to the United States, she would have more time to work on the thesis. She knew she would have something to work on while Yazan was busy with HBS.

Yazan actually comes from a family of entrepreneurs, which sparked his interest in business. So as they were already engaged, Yazan was studying for the GMAT and starting his MBA applications, while doing all the preparations for their wedding. With a sense of gratitude, Haneen reminisced, “He spent so much time and effort applying. I’m so glad he managed to get in because he really deserved it.” His effort paid off, and three weeks before their wedding, they celebrated his admission to HBS and their decision to move to Boston. “It felt like good timing,” she shared with much fondness.

Given the current political climate in the United States, I wondered whether Muslims like Haneen and Yazan would find it challenging to come to places like Boston, where most people are of Christian heritage. Much to my surprise, they feel very lucky to be living in Cambridge because it is very international and diverse. Especially within the HBS community, Haneen truly appreciates that people here, including partners, section mates, and the HBS administration, go above and beyond to make them feel welcomed.

With small gestures like offering them cranberry juice at parties, because they do not drink, everyone is trying to make the couple feel included. “No one makes us feel weird, so I don’t feel like I stand out, or that I am the only Muslim.” With those words, Haneen concluded that her experience so far has been very positive and that she has made great friends at HBS.

Beyond the HBS community, she also has a few close friends from Qatar at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Education School with whom she meets on a regular basis. She calls them “a mini-home away from home” because it feels good to meet people who are going through the same transitions and to whom she can relate. Haneen also enjoyed meeting an HBS partner from Kuwait and bonding over a home-cooked Arabic lentil dish that brought the two of them closer.

Not surprisingly, she used to intern at Cosmopolitan in their Manhattan office, and she has also been freelancing for fashion magazines in Qatar. Media have always been her main interest, but her specific curiosity for fashion led her to find a way in which she can combine her love for these two things. With her professional aspiration to be in academia, she of course chose the “nerdy” path of making it into a thesis!

In the Gulf nowadays, it is common for many people to get their information about trends from influencers. As one of the many women who grew up there, Haneen has always been drawn to influencers on social media, whether it is makeup, fashion, or other areas. As such, she was particularly interested in understanding what “modest fashion” trends meant to Muslim women. As a Muslim, she explains, it can be difficult to dress modestly because “modest fashion” can sometimes look too mature. But some influencers in the Gulf have successfully introduced styles that make you look young, fashionable, and trendy, and yet not compromising on modesty. She hence observed that what these influencers are doing is equally challenging and important to the fashion trends in the Middle East.

What she hopes to find out at the end of her thesis is how the influencers define modesty in their own unique way. Since they are creating their own definition of modesty, their styles might not necessarily be what you think of when you think of a Muslim woman. Through her thesis, she would like to understand how they channel this through their content.

Her primary focus at this stage is therefore to finish her thesis and complete her master’s degree while Yazan is still at HBS. Second to that is to get a job. Her Plan A is to eventually become a professor, so she will be applying for assistant research jobs. However, given how challenging it is to get into research without experience, she has a Plan B as her backup. Thinking out loud, Haneen hopes to get more experience in the media field, communications jobs, journalism jobs, or even freelancing or part-time work. This would still be aligned with what she did and enjoyed doing prior to coming here. Finally, she recollects that it was rather hard to leave Qatar and leave all her friends behind. So in the same way, she hopes to feel the same when they leave Cambridge. She would want to make such good friendships that she would feel she doesn’t want to leave.

What she likes most about HBS is how inclusive they are of partners. There is enormous effort to include partners in almost everything because the school has realized that an MBA is a big commitment for couples. So they do not want to just bring the students along; rather, they want to help both the student and partner integrate socially into HBS.

What she likes the least is that there are too many great things happening not only at HBS, but around Harvard as well. She then finds herself spread so thin, trying to do a bit of everything. The FOMO is real because she wants to take advantage of everything, and it has been hard to say no.

Her one piece of advice to HBS students and their partners is: “Have each other’s back!” It is not easy for students because they are adjusting to a very demanding schedule. All of that is a huge adjustment. But it is also not easy for the partners who have relocated their life essentially to come to a new place. So always support one another!

Anja Do is an RC Partner at HBS who recently moved to Cambridge, MA, with her husband from Singapore. She identifies herself as a global citizen and loves meeting people from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and religions and learning about their personal stories.