Weekend student Aarthee Janar gives us the scoop on how she keeps organized, travels efficiently, and makes the best use of her time while traveling weekly to Chicago.
- November 17, 2021
- Weekend MBA
When I decided to join the Chicago Booth Weekend Program to pursue my part-time MBA, I was working as a Senior Software Engineer at Nutanix in California. Friends and family thought I was crazy, and I would say there was some merit to their thinking. I grew up in Tamil Nadu, India, where the weather has three categories:hot, hotter and hottest. I moved to the US in 2009 and have been living in California ever since, so you could say I do not know “real winter.” Also, commuting every week to Chicago from the Bay area was no joke. However, after I attended Commercializing Innovation with Professor Scott Meadow during my class visit, I was sure that Chicago Booth was the next step in my professional journey — even if the temps are on the cool side and it takes a plane to get to campus.
One of the first things I had to plan was my commute. The obvious itinerary to minimize time is to take the Friday red-eye from the Bay area, attend two classes on Saturday, and fly back on the very same evening. But I did not do this because I knew I would sleep through the extremely engaging and stimulating classes. Luckily, my good friend, Parul, allowed me to stay at her place in the Presidential Towers every weekend. As a result, my usual routine till Covid hit was to take a red-eye flight every Thursday night, work from home on Friday, attend classes, and fly back on Saturday evening.
Initially, I didn’t have allegiance towards any airlines. I just booked the cheapest flight from any of the Bay Area airports (OAK, SFO, or SJC) to Chicago’s O'Hare or Midway. Pretty quickly I realized this was a great chance to earn miles and get perks. Thanks to a fellow Boothie’s referral, I got a promotional 75K points when I applied for a United Explorer credit card through United Airlines. I then booked all my tickets before the start of the quarter along with other Boothies who travelled from the Bay Area. Before securing the tickets, I had to take into account all of the events for the quarter, such as the boat cruise, festival of lights, Winter Formal, Diwali party, and leadership programs.
Beware of pre-booking! You might show up at the airport on a different day than the one you booked. I did once!
My travel time from my home in Milpitas to Oakland or San Francisco is about 40 minutes, the waiting time at the airport is usually an hour, the flight duration is 4 hours, and the commute from O'Hare to Presidential Towers is another 30-40 minutes. Since Booth provides shuttle service from Gleacher Center to the airports, I use these services when I leave on Saturday evenings. Otherwise, I use Lyft Pink to commute within Chicago or take trips to airports in the Bay Area. Once the routine was established, I explored ways to minimize the travel formalities. For instance, I have a global entry card, which shortens my time at airport security. I would definitely recommend commuting students get their TSA PreCheck or CLEAR service for faster security check-in. Typically, I meet up with fellow Boothies at the airport gate and catch up with them. On my flights to Chicago on Thursday nights, I trained myself to sleep in the plane; and during my return flights I work on the homework cases for the week.
As a seasoned traveler who has been to 18 countries and counting, I’m typically well prepared. For my Booth trips, the essentials are a laptop, cell phone, chargers, my minimal makeup kit, a change of clothing, cold cream/moisturizer, and medicines. Naively, I thought I was prepared for Chicago’s winter with my California designer jacket, but the winter took me by surprise. As months progressed, I decided that I needed a different DNA to be in Chicago’s winter. I bought new boots, jackets, and winter clothing to cope with the short journey from the terminal gate to the Lyft pick-up spot!
To be a weekend warrior, planning is imperative. By nature, I’m very organized and I depend on my checklist in the Google Keep app that buckets things to do into categories such as work, home, and other activities. Once I joined Booth, I added new categories — course work and extracurricular activities. To keep track of my checklist, I heavily rely on Google Calendar. I usually have subtle reminders for 1 day, 30 minutes, and 5 minutes for every event. Pro tip: Schedules always look great on the google calendar, but it requires a lot of persistence to follow them in real-time.
Initially, it was exciting! Despite the time difference, I was on top of things — probably the adrenaline kept me going. As the workload increased, I noticed I was losing attention to details. So I trained myself to relax and get sleep whenever possible. I set time slots and made sure I focused on completing my tasks within the allocated time. Gradually, my productivity increased, and I was able to manage my time to rest better.
One of the most important aspects of the Booth experience is to make use of the opportunities offered by the program. For example, I attended several conferences including Booth Women Connect, Economic Outlook, Entrepreneurship through Acquisition, and listened to world renowned speakers. Taking part in company treks arranged by Booth Clubs is an enlightening experience. I was able to participate in events at the Harper Center and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which allowed me to meet the larger entrepreneurial community. Also, don’t miss out on spending time with friends at SASH (Saturday After School Happenings) events like Airport Takeover and bar hopping.
For someone who has seen only two storied buildings in California, I marveled at the architecture and bright lights of Chicago. I love the height of the skyscrapers and enjoy staying on the 28th floor and watching the world go by. So much so, I plan to brave the winter and stay in Chicago in the first half of 2022.
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