On the night before the first day of orientation, after frantically packing half my closet into a suitcase and driving for three and a half hours through the rain from Charlottesville, Virginia, I found it impossible to sleep. Since I was admitted to Fuqua in November 2012, I’ve had plenty of time to anticipate this week. So much time, in fact, that the idea of actually starting the program seemed less and less real. Now that I was lying in my bed at the Thomas Center, I had the same feeling in my stomach that people have on a roller coaster when it pauses at the top of the first climb. You are all strapped in, about to drop 200 feet into your new adventure, and there’s no way to stop and get off. You just have to hang on and go with it.

At 34, I never expected I would decide to go to graduate school. I probably would not have done it if it weren’t for my husband, who started his own executive MBA program at another school last year. He convinced me that earning an MBA would have a significant impact on my career, as a result of both the academics and networking with classmates. Since I am committed to a career in the healthcare industry, it was important to me to find a program with a strong healthcare concentration available. After learning of Duke’s Health Sector Management (HSM) certificate and speaking with program director Cindy Seymour, I knew it was right for me. The timing also could not be better. With no kids (or pets or plants … except for a very resilient and often neglected lucky bamboo), I have space in my life for the program. My husband going to school at the same time is also an advantage; we both understand the challenges we are facing and can support one another.

What if No One Likes Me?

At the first MBA breakfast, I could see that everyone else was just as nervous as I was. Although we are all adults, the atmosphere reminded me of the first day of elementary school. Everyone seemed to wonder, “Will anyone want to sit with me? What if no one likes me?” The Thomas Center’s tables are set up perfectly to resolve this situation. Each table is round and has 8 or 10 seats, and there aren’t enough tables for everyone to spread out. You just have to find an available seat and jump into the conversation, which oddly seems to make it all easier.

As orientation week continued, I found myself becoming more open to getting to know my classmates and approaching people I hadn’t met. “Networking” is a term that has often intimidated me, since I tend to be a bit shy in group settings. But in this case, the orientation activities and structure, combined with my own desire to commit to the program, helped me overcome my hesitation.

The week is filled with tons of information packed into a short time, but the Weekend Executive MBA support staff constantly remind you that they are there to guide you. When we finally got into our first classes, I knew I had made the right decision in joining Fuqua. Everyone was buzzing with excitement, ready to show their knowledge and their pre-reading preparation, which led to very lively class discussions. I thought to myself, “This is really what we are here to do.”

As the week wrapped up on Saturday afternoon, I felt a little sad to leave and disappointed that it was not possible to say “bye” to everyone I had met. Many other people must have felt the same, because my LinkedIn account is very active with connection requests from all of my newfound friends. I can’t wait to come back for our next residency and pick up where we left off.

Hang on, WEMBA ‘14, it’s going to be quite a ride!