Shriman and Shrimati Gupta-ji (Sandeep and Divya) were at a stage in their life and career that would be best described by the popular desi label – ‘settled’. They both had Indian MBA degrees, good jobs and 500+ channels on cable TV (the last one is our assumption). When you are over 30, that’s a good place to be in. But then they did something that most settled married couples would never do.
They packed their bags and relocated to the UK for a second MBA. While they were collaborating as a couple on the most adventurous journey of their life together, they were also occasionally competing against each another. And from what Sandeep shares about the T-shirt incident, it seems like Divya had a better understanding of the lessons from the Gita (about competing with relatives).
Life as a husband and wife in a UK MBA program
by Sandeep Gupta
Divya and I were well past our honeymoon phase, in our early 30’s and as a professional couple, we aspired for some international experience. Despite having MBA’s from a leading Indian b-school, we both decided to go for a second one and hoped to use that platform for the international stint.
Applications were restricted to a select few b-schools offering 1 year MBA programs. Divya being the brighter of the two (yes, the fragile male ego admits this) had scored mid-700’s in GMAT, while I got a distant 600 something. Divya secured admissions at 2 schools – a leading American school, offering a full scholarship and Cranfield (UK) offering a 50% fee-share.
My strong MNC work experience came to rescue to compensate for my poor score, with Cranfield accepting me too. The American school was willing to give me the admit if I could improve my GMAT score. So I took the challenge (foolishly) and ended up with an INR 10k hole in my pocket and an ego-damaging 600 something again and no improvement – that was the end of my American dream (if there ever was such a dream, that is).
So here was the dilemma. What do we do – Should Divya go to USA and I take the UK plunge so that we optimize on the investment (cash outflow plus opportunity cost of not working)? But how would we manage the fact that the academic years are different? And how will we ensure that both land with jobs in the same city? This cost effective choice was too complicated. Hence, Cranfield it was for both of us. Had it not been Divya’s fee-share scholarship, I can safely conclude that we wouldn’t have made it.
Our family called us “nuts”. At an age, when society expected us to have had one, maybe two kids, we were contemplating quitting our senior jobs, go back to school and to top it up, spend £50k+ by using all our savings, PF accumulations and education loans from India and UK.
Boy, in hindsight it does feel like a scary proposition. Though I don’t recollect the reasons of inspiration – I presume that instead of lullabies in our childhood, we must have grown up hearing “We Shall Overcome” – the protest song that became a key anthem of the African-American Civil Rights Movement during 1955–1968. Or else it must have been the drive for international experience.
Well, whatever it was, it took us to Cranfield UK.
We hit some instant fame on campus, both, within our cohort as also with the faculty and administrative office – perhaps we were the first (Indian) couple to do a full-time MBA together in the history of Cranfield. Yes, it is a known fact that lots of relationships get made (or broken) on MBA campuses. So in that context, there was an undeclared concern too – will these guys (and their marriage) survive?
The initial shocks after arriving on campus
The first experience of a semi-heart attack happened when we arrived on campus on a weekend before the session started. Post settling into our studio flat on campus, we went to buy some basic groceries at Cost-cutter (a retail chain in UK). I saw the price of bread, pushed on my mental calculator (that was whirring and converting Sterling pounds into Indian rupees) and my heart sank.
Don’t be surprised – we actually came back to our flat without having bought the bread, sat down on the floor and held our heads and said to ourselves, “What have we done? How will we live?”
Come on folks, don’t get scared by this – it is all part of the fun of having taken the plunge. You do take thrill-rides in theme parks, don’t you! So this was just a taster of the roller coaster we had boarded.
We were students again – on a shoestring budget (an understatement, of course). So we decided to buy only 1 copy of the recommended course books, not 2.
Soon enough, during the first term, a moment of marital truth hit us.
We both had thought that we’d do the MBA together and will be able to gain advantage from each other in our studies, exchange notes and be a back up to each other for lectures. Tough luck!
Besides the fact that the school deliberately kept us in different classes (“streams” as it were called), little did we know that when it comes to studying style, we’re chalk and cheese. Divya and I have quite a contrasting style of studying. She scribbles all over the book, while I write in notebooks separately; she’s is a night-owl while I am a morning person. The night lamp would constantly trouble me in sleeping….but what the heck. After all, the marriage criteria never included the need to understand learning styles in an MBA program.
Then there was this instance of conspiracy theory at play.
All’s fair in marital love and MBA war
Towards the end of term 1, we had some inter-stream competition. Each stream was known by colours – Divya was in Green, while I was in Red.
We’d been practicing for our crescendo act to create music from various things – buckets, boxes, brooms, etc. Just before my streams performance, my Red t-shirt went missing and I had to make do with a different outfit (never mind the fact that I stood out like a sore thumb in my team wearing an orange shirt – that’s the closest to my stream colour that I could find in the short time).
The Green stream had a cheeky act wherein they were taking fun-stabs at the other stream. Suddenly, one of the Green stream guys appeared wearing a “Red” t-shirt. My stream was shell-shocked – how on earth they managed to get a red tee!! I died a thousand deaths from the glares of 25 pairs of eyes shouting at me, “You helped your wife by giving her your red tee so that their stream can make fun of us?”
My stream refused to believe my innocence until later when Divya confessed about her mis-deed.
Folks, I can probably write a short book on this, but that’s for another time. Hind-sight is a wonderful thing (no pun intended) and everything need not be fun and joy from such decisions. Finding a job is one such topic. No market is kind and you should be prepared (mentally, emotionally, financially) to face the stark dark alleys of unknown.
Before starting life as married MBA students
To sum it up, here are some of my two pence worth thoughts (which, post Brexit is worth even less):
- Think through all pro’s and con’s of studying together – it can be a huge advantage as well as a challenge, both financially and emotionally
- Consider ‘what after the MBA’ before you start the MBA – if you’re going for this in another country, the list of considerations becomes even longer – be it jobs, visas, etc.
- If you do decide to take the plunge, then make the most of it – live your dreams but keep your feet on the ground
Oh, and by the way…the marriage survived!
– Sandeep Gupta