The first time I stepped into the Winter Garden brought me back to a peculiar memory I had long forgotten; a decade ago when I was nineteen years old, I had my first big travel experience when I flew into Europe and landed in a Zurich, Switzerland airport to begin my trip. Just like that moment a decade ago in Switzerland, I was surrounded by men and women in business suits walking with the measured efficiency of a highly professional and exacting culture. I felt disoriented, and feared that, coming from the laid-back Southern California lifestyle where flip-flops are considered business casual, I would not be able to acclimate to this strange place. The little bit of snow that had clung to my shoes from the steps leading up to the Harper Center melted on the sleek, polished stone floor as I walked through the Winter Garden. I had stepped into the world of Chicago Booth for the first time ever while interviewing as an applicant, and I was already creating a little bit of a mess behind me.
After checking into the admissions office for my visit that day, I was ushered around with a group of other prospective students from one experience to another, from a quiet moment contemplating a rock sculpture, to attending a lecture about the ethics of business. From that first day, I experienced the social momentum of the Booth experience, and learned that this is a place where a couple of connections branch out and beget new ones, creating a community of friendships that will surprise even the most avowed introvert (such as myself).
When I stepped out of the lecture I audited and attempted to find my next scheduled destination by studying a map of the Harper Center, a couple Booth students who had been in the class caught my attention and asked me if I was a prospective student. After I affirmed with them that my general air of confusion was due to my being completely new to the building, they proceeded to offer me much-appreciated advice on how to make the most of my visit and to calm my nerves for the interview. During that conversation, other students started gathering around us. No more than a minute had passed until a semicircle of students surrounded me, all of whom were giving me their nuggets of wisdom on how to maximize my forty-eight hours in Chicago. What had begun as a conversation with two people, progressed into a whole cadre of Boothies giving me their incisive advice on the Booth experience, as well as their kindest wishes.
Now that I am a student, I can see that this sort of accelerated community is a hallmark part of the Booth experience. Like any sort of great adventure, the Chicago Booth experience vacillates between occasional feelings of being overwhelmed by the unknown, and moments of great familiarity and comfort created by the spontaneous connections from our community. Similar to that moment a decade ago at Zurich airport, I was struck by a sense that everyone around me was walking with such purpose so they could go somewhere far away from home and their customary life, and that perhaps I would be, too.
Irene Lau is a first year concentrating in Strategic Management and Managerial and Organizational Behavior. She enjoys exploring Chicago’s restaurants and reading longform journalism. Questions, comments, or sarcastic remarks can be directed to iLau@ChicagoBooth.edu