Humans of Haas podcast: Two MBA love stories

By Laura Counts

Tianyi Ma, MBA 17, and Joanna-Xiaojun Guo, MBA 18, fell in love and married in China before Tianyi enrolled in the full-time Berkeley MBA; when Joanna visited him, she also fell in love with Berkeley, set her sights on the program, and joined him a year later.

Joyce Barua and Mate De Quesada, both MBA 16, fell for each other in their native Peru, where they were not always comfortable being out as a lesbian couple. They enrolled together in the Berkeley MBA program, and it was there, as students, that their relationship blossomed into marriage.

The couples’ love stories—both deeply entwined with their Berkeley MBA experiences—are featured in the 3rd episode of the Humans of Haas podcast, "Love at Haas."The podcast is produced by Hady Barry, MBA 17, and a team of classmates, to connect and showcase the full-time Berkeley MBA community. The first two episodes covered "Vets at Haas" and "The Politics of Hair."

Tianyi & Joanna

The "Love at Haas" episode opens with a loungy tune with a mellow samba beat: "Do you know that your smile makes me blind...” It’s Joanna’s voice: she wrote, performed, and recorded the song as a gift to Tianyi after they had been dating just four months.

The two take turns telling the story of how they met while working at Johnson & Johnson: she in Beijing, he in Guangzhou. When Tianyi saw her dancing and singing on stage at an annual company gala, he was smitten.

“She was super, super attractive, and that’s why I wanted to approach her,” he recounts.

After a long-distance relationship that involved 26 round-trips from Guangzhou to Beijing, the couple married. “He convinced my heart by keeping his promise,” Joanna says.

But they again were separated by distance when Tianyi enrolled at Berkeley Haas. “He was experiencing some life-changing experiences, sometimes exciting and sometimes exhausting…It was also very inspiring that he shared the story of Haas, the things he had gone through, and the people he met,” she says.

After hearing those stories, and making a two-week trip to Berkeley, Joanna fell “deeply in love with this community, and it made me more determined that I wanted to come to this school.”  And she did. (Listen to the podcast for the surprise ending!)

Mate and Joyce_688.jpg

Mate & Joyce

When Joyce Barua and Mate De Quesada arrived in Berkeley to pursue their MBAs, “they were both nervous and excited, expecting an adventure. But little did they know how instrumental Haas would be in shaping their relationship,” says host Zarrah Birdie, MBA 17, to introduce couple’s story.

Mate & Joyce knew each other as kids, but when they met later at their jobs, they became close friends and even double-dated. Within a year they realized that what they felt for each other was “much more than friends.”  Yet the lesbian community in Lima was tiny and insular, and they they ended up feeling like “castaways” when they split with their girlfriends and moved in with each other. 

"At Haas we wanted to be out from the start, but we wanted to be cautious,” Joyce says. “Even though it seemed like a very open community, we did not want to alienate people. Now that I think about it, it sounds so silly, but it was something new for us. No one was surprised. It was ok, it was normal.”

After an exhausting start to school and some hellish afternoons assembling Ikea furniture, Joyce and Mate settled into the rhythms of MBA life. “We were growing up as a couple. We were not those forever-friends that lived together back in Lima, who only felt safe in their house, and had to explain to everyone why they spent so much time together. We were a legitimate couple that built their own furniture, that opened bank accounts, and could ultimately say to anyone ‘That is my partner,’” Mate says.

When the couple spent the summer apart at internships in Seattle and San Francisco, they decided they didn’t want to be separated again. “I didn't feel complete without her,” Mate says. “I realized I wanted to propose.”

Even with the comfort they had found in their new community, the couple—still wary of negative comments—hesitated before they posted an engagement photo on Facebook. They needn’t have been: they found an outpouring of support.

“Haas definitely had a big impact on our relationship, and on ourselves,” Mate says. “Even if we end up going back home after the MBA, we are now much more empowered, and I feel we will fight harder for our rights and our happiness.”

"Love at Haas" podcast credits:

Producer and Editor: Hady Barry, MBA 17 
Host: Zarrah Birdie, MBA 17
Coaches: Zarrah Birdie & Rachel Adams, MBA 17
Recording & Editing: Matan Selon, MBA 17
Photography: Howard O, MBA 17

Find out more about the  full-time Berkeley MBA community

Posted on November 22, 2016
Laura Counts
Laura is a senior marketing and communications manager at Berkeley-Haas. As a former journalist, she finds no shortage of interesting stories to tell at Haas. As a Cal alum, she loves being able to walk to work through redwood groves along Strawberry Creek.