The pre-term weeks leading up to classes offer myriad opportunities to field this seemingly simple question. But there’s a lot more to it than you'd think. Within a very short window, one has to decide what information to present to a newly-introduced classmate. Do I go with the last place I was before moving to Berkeley? The region of the country I’m from? Where I was born? Where I spent most of my life? The rabbit hole can get pretty deep pretty quickly.
“Where I’m from, you say? I’m glad you asked... Sit tight for about 35-40 minutes and I’ll explain how I was born in Philadelphia, then I’ll tell you about an exciting place called Rhode Island (which you will not have heard of), we’ll segue into a discussion about Boston (go Sox), then I’ll dabble in Spain and Virginia before I finally clear the bases with the tour de force: my most recent move to San Francisco.” You are now exhausted from politely smiling and nodding, confused because you thought nomads dissipated after the shift to agrarianism, and sorry you asked since you’re still not sure you know where I’m from.
Although sweet brevity has its rewards, people often make a lot of assumptions about someone based on his origins. Diversity presents itself in myriad ways, from geography to race to ideology. It is, quite apparently, a significant issue in all top MBA programs. Diversity in all its forms adds a tremendous value to the learning experience of its student body, particularly in such a growing, changing global economy. However, it cuts both ways. On the other side of an opportunity for a class of students to embrace a new perspective is an individual trying to find a good fit in an unknown place amidst a very rigorous and demanding program. As a result, our first weeks here seem to be primarily devoted to trying to find a common ground on which we can connect with one another.
So when I answer the question “Where are you from?” I try to keep that in mind. I also like to end my answer with a comment about another relevant, and often pending, question: “Why choose Berkeley?” Discussing that piece helps connect those dots since we can’t choose where we’re born, but the decision to move is wholly our own. More often than not, the question is just an ice-breaker to get past a possibly awkward introduction and start a conversation about something innocuous without having to ask whether or not I come here often. But it’s also a great opportunity to offer a shared experience with a classmate.
To be honest, I’m not sure I could tell anyone definitively why I chose Haas and still be confident that my answer will be the same on graduation day. Like many other students here, I had a choice to make among great programs that all have a lot in common. I know why I made my final decision, but like all life-changing choices, it wasn’t without a certain degree of apprehension. We only get one shot at an MBA, and I want to feel confident that Berkeley is right for me. My choice was in large part based on a feeling of confidence I gained from learning about experiences of others who came before me, which I was able to learn by making these connections.
So if you’ve asked me where I’m from and got a different answer than someone else, I didn’t make it up. I probably just told you a different part of my story. And I hope it helped us connect. Either that or it was for brevity’s sake. You can thank me later.