The first time I drove to Fuqua as an MBA candidate was for the Blue Devil Celebration. The admissions team organized the event to celebrate our success in getting admitted to the program. I remember when I received the phone call—I was happy, but I was also terrified. I realized that dreaming about the goal of pursuing my MBA is nothing compared to the weight of the work that was yet to come.

Now, I’m committed to that dream. As I drove to Durham that morning to attend the event, I thought about the two-year commitment, all the uncertainties came to mind, and it was overwhelming. The driving conditions that day did not help. The rain was pouring as I drove down I-95. Trucks sped past me, splashing more rainwater onto my windshield. Car accidents were frequent, causing my GPS to reroute multiple times.

What could have been a four-hour drive from Washington, D.C. became six hours. Finally, I made it to Durham. As I rested my luggage on the floor of my JB Duke hotel room, I asked myself, “Is this all worth it?”

Establishing a Routine

Since starting the program, residency weekends have become the more exciting part of my life. Once a month, I get to switch gears from professional to student. The drive is now an essential part of that routine. I can call my mother and give her my undivided attention. It is hard to do calls like this on a work week when I am consumed by commitments in the lab and at home.

Kara Bugal and her mom in front of the U.S. Capitol
Me (right) and my mom in front of the U.S. Capitol

In between residencies, students are assigned an enormous number of readings. So, a classmate suggested I use Speechify app to listen to course readings while on the road. While it was a good suggestion, I think it takes away the fun I get from driving. I personally prefer to just listen to the car engine running.

One night before a trip to Durham, I stayed up reading class notes and chapters to try to solve a case in Managerial Economics, but with no luck. With all the pages I read, I still couldn’t figure out the right answer. I drove to Durham that morning frustrated but focused on the road, listening to the engine run. Then, an “AHA!” moment happened. The solution to the case came to me as I accelerated through I-95 traffic.

Embracing the Experience

With the demands of school and work, I sometimes find myself mindlessly scrolling through social media just to relax. It amazes me how influencers make traveling look so easy. Their pictures are always perfect, “Looks fun!” I would comment on their post. But any person who has traveled before knows that many things can go wrong during a trip. Regardless, any person who has committed to the ride will also say, “It’s all about the experience.”

Kara Bugal with five of her classmates and a dog
Me (second from the right) with my learning team for the first two terms

My MBA journey in Fuqua has been full of experiences. Not just in the classroom, but also getting to know the high caliber of professionals I can now call friends. Introverted as I am, I found my voice at Fuqua, and it is probably because the people I’m surrounded with are receptive and open to the experience too. I’m encouraged by my teammates as we work through cases together. I have come to accept that the mistakes we make are not permanent. Now, this laboratory scientist can also read a balance sheet—an underrated superpower, I think.

At Fuqua, I’ve found that there is room for diversity of mind and personality, and my decision to pursue an MBA is all worth it.