Life at HBS, as a Partner

Anja Do, Contributor

Azra Noormohamed (RC Partner) shares her personal story.

With the incoming MBA Class of 2021, we have experienced an arrival of another “class of its own.” Partners (a.k.a. wives, husbands, fiancés, girlfriends, boyfriends) of HBS students every year take a leap of faith, uprooting themselves from their homes or places with which they are familiar to come to Boston with their significant other.

One of the many brave partners is Azra Noormohamed, a Canada native from Toronto who kindly sat down with me one sunny afternoon in front of the Spangler Center to share her story. I first met Azra at a Partners’ lunch, organized by one of the other Partners for everyone to get to know each other over a meal. The turnout was amazing; we had two packed long tables at the Grafton Pub & Grill. I was lucky to be seated at the same table as her, and what I immediately noticed about Azra was her dazzling smile and warm personality that completely disarms you the moment she speaks.

She could not ever imagine leaving Toronto because she was happy with her life; having her family and friends close by and living in her beautiful apartment, she did not crave change. However, the topic of business school often crept into conversations with her husband, Rahim. It was his personal aspiration to get an MBA before they turned 30. This commitment became real during one of their trips to Portugal, after speaking to a couple who just completed their MBA together.

Even after he applied, she felt nervous and tried her best not to think about what their life would be like. Besides her original anxiety of coming to the United States, she also felt excited about the opportunities she would have and the diverse people she’d meet after moving to the States. In particular, she absolutely adores New York City. “It always makes me feel like I am in a movie,” she declares enthusiastically and admits that whenever she steps out of Penn Station, the feeling of “anything could happen” takes over her.

What completely surprised me is the fact that she and her husband only recently got married, in June 2019. Then, two months later, they moved their entire life to Cambridge via a single car ride. In the last six months, not only did they rearrange everything in their life to relocate to another country, but also they planned the most special day in their life. I have seen the photos from their wedding, and it was gorgeous! I could tell how strong their bond is from the way Azra spoke about their journey together. She saw this opportunity as a rare experience for a newlywed couple and wants to make sure they are stronger because of it. Since this will be one of the most transformative years of his career, she hopes one day her husband can think back and say, “Azra was by my side and it was she who supported me through this.”

Being a supportive partner to an HBS student comes with its own challenges, however. More often than not we dedicate our time so willingly to our partners who are studying that they can take it for granted. Azra recollects one moment, with a slight frustration, when she and her husband planned to go on a walk together after his class. As they were getting ready to leave, her husband picked up the phone and invited one of his classmates to join them. Under normal circumstances, this would not bother her at all, but because she was at HBS, far away from all of her friends, she looked forward to this walk as their time together. What is, therefore, critical, she emphasized, is to schedule dates and spend quality time with just each other.

At first, Azra was most afraid of HBS becoming her husband’s own experience. She constantly worries she would remain at the periphery of his life, despite giving up everything she knew and loved—her friends, her family, her job. Fortunately, the first month at HBS has proved absolutely fantastic, and she is now a big fan of the HBS bubble. The community aspect of the school really excites her, and she really took ownership in putting herself out there. This meant going to more events, saying yes to more opportunities, and meeting lots of new people. It does not mean that she would keep doing so throughout the two years, but she believes that at least at the beginning, you need to meet everyone around you often in order for your new friendships to grow and deepen.

What she also feels grateful for are the opportunities to learn and absorb new topics and experiences at HBS. Just to name a few: she attended the HubSpot case, Community MyTakes, and a cross-stitching class with other HBS Partners. Speaking of other Partners, her face lights up, and she admits that she loves our WhatsApp group. In the very first week of class, a few of us created a WhatsApp chat to connect and share tips about settling in on and off campus. Over time, the group has grown to 50+ members and became the primary source of information sharing and social gathering. Speaking on behalf of so many of us, Azra admits that she definitely feels most comfortable among the Partners than any other group because she can be intimate and honest with how she feels about coming here with the Partners group.

As a testament to Azra’s effort of being out there, getting to meet new people and making new friendships, she has always been our go-to photographer at all of the Partners’ events. In our WhatsApp group, we quickly recognized that Azra takes absolutely stunning pictures, and she always generously shares them with the rest of us. Slowly and surely, her photos made their debut on the HBS Partners’ Club Instagram (@hbspartnersclub), and now her photos feature in the majority of the stories.

Not surprisingly, prior coming to HBS, Azra had been working as a professional wedding photographer (@azrajenna) alongside her full-time job at Salesforce. Why did she choose wedding photography? It all started with her first job out of college, when she worked in a bank. Although she enjoyed her Management Associate program, which gave her exposure to multiple parts of the bank, she felt that “it sucked out all [her] energy.” Once she came to that realization, she began searching for something that would allow her to connect with others, “something more relatable and personable,” as she would say. She subsequently made it into a side hustle, thanking the workaholic side of her personality but also keeping her creative side alive.

Her one piece of advice for the MBA students whose partners have come here for them is simple: “involve your partner.” Whether it is through making time for each other once a week, or sharing your experience of what happened in the classroom, or talking about what happened in the Section, it is important to make partners feel connected, included, and appreciated. At the end of the day, they uprooted their lives for you, and that can be equally as challenging as getting through the MBA itself!

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.