Edgard Mejico shares stories of how some incoming international students navigated their way to campus over the past years.
As international students, our road towards Harvard can sometimes take some detours and unexpected turns that help us grow, learn and lead even before we reach campus to start the semester. For my first article in The Harbus, I wanted to showcase some stories from inspiring members of the Harvard community and their roads to our campus.
Moving continents after the deferral
For Josefina Bouzat (MBA ’24), being admitted to HBS was a dream come true. After catapulting her career in Mercado Libre, the LATAM ecommerce and fintech giant based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she was ready to start the MBA program in 2020. But the Covid-19 pandemic and the opportunity to defer changed her scenario. “My work at Mercado Libre (MELI) demanded to consistently challenge the status quo. Constant beta is at the core of MELI DNA, enabling sustained innovation and growth. The company defies logic in Argentina, as it grows and hires hundreds of new employees every month when the Argentinian economy is struggling and people are losing their jobs.”
For Bouzat, deferring and staying home during the pandemic meant gaining a unique experience managing a complex shipping network through Covid-19 regulations. But these same regulations were affecting her life in other aspects. “The country was closed to the outside world. Since I knew I was moving to the US in the future, I was ready to look for new opportunities outside my comfort zone and moving to Europe was a very attractive option. The local government in Madrid, Spain, led by Isabel Diaz Ayuzo, implemented very pro-business policies that transformed the city into the place to be during early 2021. So I decided to take my chances and move to Madrid.”
Bouzat leveraged her Mercado Libre network to get a Business Intelligence management position in a growing European retailer and stayed in Madrid for more than a year, moving from there to Boston a couple weeks ago. Even though she successfully expanded her network in the city and made life-long lasting friends, she admits the experience was a bit overwhelming: “The fact that during most of 2021 I didn’t know when I was going to be able to see my family and friends again due to Covid-19 regulations was hard at the beginning. But I’m glad the bold move paid off, and I’m excited to be finally in Boston after all.”
Navigating the visa process through a challenging environment
The visa process can be a daunting one for international students. Add the Shanghai lockdown to the mix, and it becomes an impossible challenge. William Dong (MBA ’24) got the notification his flight to Shanghai was canceled the day after he hosted his farewell party in Chicago. “I paid $6,000 for a one way ticket to Shanghai, planning to visit my family after three years and apply for my student visa there. I was taking into consideration the 28 day quarantine process, but after my flight was canceled, I tried to get a ticket for the next available flight, and it was for the end of July, making it impossible to be in Boston for the beginning of the HBS semester. It was devastating.”
Dong quickly realized the magnitude of the challenge of getting a visa when he joined online communities of expat Chinese citizens going through the same issue. Most of the countries near the US demand a tourist visa for Chinese nationals, and he had to make sure the timing between the expiration of his work visa and the start of his student visa was right so he can re-enter the country with his new status as a student. “Most embassies have a backlog of visa applications due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I applied for a tourist visa for Mexico, Canada and the European Union, and then made sure the embassies there can process my request as a non-national of these countries.”
After doing research and reaching out to his future HBS classmates in these countries for help, Dong managed to get his Canadian tourist visa on time. “I got my visitor visa from the Canada consulate in New York in three weeks and traveled to Vancouver to apply for my United States visa in early July. Thankfully, the consulate was able to expedite my visa and got in 2 days after applying.”
After months of uncertainty, and with the visa already issued, Dong traveled to Mexico and Italy with the tourist visas he already had gotten approved. “The visa worked out in the end, but I’m still figuring out when to go back to China to visit my family. I’m debating between doing treks or using those free days to go through the mandatory quarantine of 10 days in Shanghai. It’s a tough decision.”
An inspiring story of leadership through hardship and war
One month ago, a LinkedIn post went viral from Konstantin Usov (HKS MC MPA ’23). Usov, a former Ukrainian congressman, was admitted to the Mid Career MPA in the Kennedy School. “I applied to the program in 2021. I had a very precise area of interest that was directly connected to my job as Deputy Mayor on transportation and administrative services. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to pursue in the MPA in order to better serve my community in Kyiv and in Ukraine. Then the war started.”
He soon found himself responsible for evacuating people out of towns such as Bucha, where major atrocities happened, evacuating international residents out of the city and building checkpoints and concrete reinforcements for the defense lines of the capital. “Harvard was good news but it wasn’t adequate at the time I got the admissions response in late March. Then we pushed the Russians out of Kyiv, and by late May, I had to make the decision to either join the program or stay in Ukraine.”
For Usov, it was the potential impact he could have after the MPA in his community in the future that made the difference. “HKS teaches how leadership is different from authority, and how many people with authority sometimes do not exercise leadership, and vice versa. During the war, it was the moment of truth, where your rank did not matter, but what mattered was how your leadership and effort could help you be more efficient and serve the community the best.”
Usov got permission from the Ukrainian government to leave the country and committed to continue serving as Deputy Mayor once he returns to Kyiv. This has changed his outlook of the future and reinforced his commitment for a prosperous and peaceful future for his country. “I want to help young people from Ukraine get into Harvard and other prestigious institutions in the US, so afterwards they can come back and help rebuild our country. I invite all Harvard institutions to open their doors for Ukrainian students. Above all, we need intellectual help for our future generations to lead our country back towards prosperity and peace.”
Edgard Mejico (MBA ’24) is originally from Lima, Peru. He graduated from Universidad del Pacifico, Peru with a degree in Business Engineering in 2016. Prior to the HBS MBA, he worked for 6 years in Brand Management and Sales in Colgate-Palmolive Latin America.