Parlez-vous français?

Had I known six years ago that I would attend INSEAD and slave away to pass an A2 level language exam, I would have refrained from throwing away my college notes. Learning French is no easy business, and I uncontrollably joined the whiners club, complaining about the difficulty of gender agreement rules. However, as the study hours progressed beyond 50, I started to see a different picture, and I started to appreciate this experience. Below are, what to me, the three main benefits of learning another language.

 

1. It grows your brain.

Developing your brain is like going to the gym; the more you work out, the more toned you become. Even for a mediocre learner like me, learning French has improved my memory and thinking speed. Cognitive flexibility is a great thing, for a small price of being outside your comfort zone.

 

2. It gives you more insight into another culture.

There is so much culture in a language, and the depth it embodies is what I find most intriguing. Simple things such as differentiating between ‘bon’ and ‘bien’ to me is as satisfying as admiring the Eiffel Tower. As a bonus, I like films, and being able to understand a few lines from Amélie is definitely a better experience than multitasking with the subtitles.

 

3. It makes you appreciate your own culture.

I am born a Chinese and in the decade that I lived in English-speaking countries, I think in English most of the time except when counting numbers. I always suspected the math proficiency found in many Chinese has more to do with the language than the math. After going through the French numbers I see a trend emerging, because to count from 1 to 100, more new words are introduced in French (and English) than in Chinese. Each culture has its peculiarities, and I continue to develop new appreciation of my own heritage.

 

In summary I would encourage anyone to explore another language beyond the beginner level. It’s an epiphany-guaranteed experience, so why not?

Shanghai Summer

With 60% of the MBA complete, I’m back in China interning. I’m happy with my P1 to P3 results and I feel like I made significant headway towards reaching my MBA goals. Certainly, I made some mistakes from P1 to P3, but overall, I can’t really complain. I’ve learned a lot! Also, the end of P1 to P3 means my girlfriend and I are no-longer doing long-distance. Finally together, at least for the summer in Shanghai, it’s been a long road.

In P3, I really started to enjoy the MBA; in fact, I loved P3. P1 and P2 were great too, but I was pretty stressed and fairly clueless about what I wanted to do post-MBA. At the start of P3, I felt our class collectively relaxed, classes didn’t seem as stressful, and finding an internship seemed easier.

For this summer, I am interning in China for a consulting firm. With the recent news that major US consulting firms are no longer eligible to serve Chinese SOE clients, I’m interested to see how the industry will evolve. I also want to see if consulting is right for me as I believe I naturally gravitate towards business development type of roles (my career leader self-assessment placed business development at 97%, management consulting at 80%, and accounting….7%….).

By P4, I ideally will have a full-time offer in the works (I hope….:(….). I have three industries I am concentrating on and I have had one FT interview already. Now I realize that after the tremendous challenge of securing an interview, the next big worry is determining whether a company pays more than beans and popcorn.

P5, I will return to Shanghai for CEIBS exchange. Post-MBA, I would like to end up in Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Singapore. We’ll see what happens!

We only have what we give – about the non-for-profit route to business school

INSEAD Blog Series on Diversity

At INSEAD, we put diversity at the heart. As most of us already have come to know, the 14J class is an extraordinary mix of vibrant, inspirational and exceptional people.

This is the eighth article in a blog series, that aims to capture some of the diversity that exists in abundance at INSEAD. It will profile some of our most distinctive class members, asking them to share their unique stories about life, moments of joy, but most importantly about their hopes and dreams.

So, the next one out in our profile series is…..

Mastak Kaur

Nationality: Indian

quickies

1. If you had to choose one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be? Sweet lemonade

2. Who is your favourite professor at INSEAD? Has to be P3 negotiations prof Brett Saraniti, he is the funniest and most engaging professor I have ever had. Humour can be such a powerful tool to engage and motivate is not used enough at INSEAD

3. What you were an animal, which one do you think resembles your personality traits the most? Hmmm… probably a squirrel!

4. One thing you want to accomplish before INSEAD is over? Explore the forest… I have been wanting to do that for a while and now I only have a few weeks left to do it

5. Which country to travel to is next on your list? Brazil for sure. I have met some really great people from Brazil at INSEAD and can’t wait to explore their beautiful country and culture

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….so, Mastak, what are you doing at INSEAD?

1. Your background is quite different from most of the INSEAD 14Js.

Tell us how your professional career to date has led you to business school.

I grew up for the most part in India, but because of the nature of my father’s job, I moved around a lot. Before the age of 16, I had been moved schools 10 times.

My family has always played a crucial role in my achievements

Many of my friends marvelled at how I managed to retain a sense of belonging with so much transition happening, but I really saw it as an opportunity to discover the many unique parts that make up my home country and make friends in all these places.

I studied my undergraduate degree at University of Delhi and whilst at university, I developed a strong interest in marketing. Marketing is based on the observation of other people and connecting with their emotions and desires, and played to my passion for people.

Seeing these young teenagers feel empowered was the most rewarding part of my job

At this time, there were no attractive master programmes in Marketing available in India, so I decided to go to Manchester in the United Kingdom for my degree. It was the first time I was leaving India, and also the first time anyone in my family was going abroad. My family was very anxious, but I eventually managed to persuade them to support me, both emotionally and financially.

I was really nervous about my decision, but I knew inside I was doing the right thing and had to overcome the fear. When I arrived, I quickly realized that all students were nervous about their life change, and this helped us to become very close quite quickly. I loved the year, and fell in love with Great Britain. Upon graduation, I decided to apply for work in the country. Having grown up in India where social work is such an important part of our culture, I was particularly interested in the non-for-profit space.

I joined The Challenge, a charity that was mandated by the UK government to develop a youth policy. United Kingdom is very diverse country and in inhabited by people from all walks of life and more different backgrounds that you could ever imagine. It is quite a segregated society, where people live in small communities with people from similar backgrounds. They can live most of their lives without breaking out to socialize with the people living a few blocks away, because they happen to have a different ethnic origin. As a result, the United Kingdom is one of the least trusted societies in the world, resulting in slow economic and social development. 

Our work focused on helping the youth break those barriers of isolation, suspicion and lack of confidence to nurture a next generation society built on trust and mutual respect.

The Challenge is a 3-week programme that runs every summer with more than 14000 youth, put together in small teams with other people from their local communities, but from very different social backgrounds. The groups were designed in a similar way to the P1&P2 groups at INSEAD, coming together to
solve physical challenges together and also work on a community-benefiting project.

The participants would range from the posh public school kids to the high school dropouts or the disabled. They worked together day and night for three weeks and at the end, they had to pitch a community-project to a Dragon’s Den judge for funding to implement their project.

Every time I worked on one of those programs, I saw the transformation happen before my eyes. It was like magic each time. Those kids, lacking vision and confidence, transformed into empowered entrepreneurs and strong role models for younger children. It is the most rewarding experience I have ever had in my entire life.

I worked for the charity over the next two years and eight months and saw it grow into a national movement, a flagship for youth empowerment in the United Kingdom.

This one is after my team’s 15k blindfolded walk in windy Blackpool

The Challenge was a very successful charity for many reasons, one of them being that it benefited from excellent leadership. The management team all had stellar academic background and experience from working in the corporate world. To me, this was really a key success factor and it inspired me to gain sound business experience at INSEAD and beyond, to be able to return to the non-for-profit world in a more effective capacity later in my career. 

The first week of the programme where these teenagers go through physical challenges and bond with their team

2. There is currently a debate around the true benefits of aid; some argue that aid is even dead. What is your view? 

To me, charities play a critical role in society and will continue to do so, as they turn governmental policy work into reality. Sometimes charities lack structure and are run inefficiently, but with the right leadership, they can operate just as well as a corporate, just with the added element of true passion and belief in making the world a better place.

I don’t believe that corporates can replace charities all together in the sense that a corporate will be limited by its agenda that potentially distort the purpose of the work because of its focus on delivering shareholder value. Most of the times, a charity operates completely selflessly; simply just delivering on its mandate to benefit the people it has been set up to serve.

3 . What has been your biggest personal challenge entering the unknown environment of INSEAD?

I am used to transitions, disruptions, diversity and new people, so that was not anything different coming to INSEAD. For me, the biggest challenge was to find my place, not falling for FOMO (fear of missing out) and making the most of the exceptional network we develop at INSEAD.

Finding a way of breaking down the stereotypical perception of nonprofits, where most people assume you are a non-structured organisation barely surviving on limited funds, is hard. But many detailed conversations with fellow classmates have helped broaden this understanding.

My experiences at INSEAD were as intense and as much fun as my previous job

4. Being one of the youngest MBA participants in our cohort and a woman, do you think this has given you a different experience?

The experience would only have been different if I would have wanted it to be. For anyone who is applying to INSEAD as a young woman should not be intimidated by the statistics showing that most students are male, consultants and 29 years old.

Having a different profile is actually an advantage; it helps you stand out from the crowd. In addition, because your background is so different from most people it gives you the opportunity to meet so many people that are different from yourself.

The real value of INSEAD truly comes from the people. I am confident that there is never going to be such a unique opportunity to meet a more diverse group of people. From that perspective, I believe it is the richest learning experience one can ever have.

5. We are now in P5 and INSEAD is almost over. When looking back at the experience, what did you get from the year that you didn’t expect?

I think one of the most exceptional experiences at INSEAD is that the craziness never dies. When you are thrown into an environment with people from the entire world, it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you have done in the past, it breaks your life pattern and totally shakes you. It is a year that is so different from anything else, and each period is unique. Once you feel like you have everything under control, the next period begins, and everything is changing again. Learning how to stay grounded in an environment of constant change and fluidity has been tremendously helpful, and not something I anticipated to be such a powerful component of my self-development. 

Representing INSEAD at the Sustainable Business plan competition in Bangkok

 

Half Way Takeaways

Half Way Takeaways

For the first term (P1) at INSEAD, I came in with an open mind but didn’t prepare too much. Go with the flow, I said to myself, and do whatever they want you to do. P1 was cool, but now that I’m half way finished,  I wish I had picked up on a few things more quickly in P1 and P2.

Here are my half way takeaways:

Test out of some classes. Unless you’re a genius or a masochist, you’re probably better off testing out of a core subject or “your strength classes”. Everyone wants to be the best at everything and you’ll want to get the most out of your education with world-class professors, but you also have a very limited amount of time here. I can only really do 3 days in a row of 4 hours of sleep before my productivity takes a real hit.

Classes are busy and the lure of endless hustling, entrepreneurial fly-by-night sales meetings, corporate drone presentations, and island hopping is strong. Choose your battles and compete strategically. You can’t do everything.

I stupidly tried to do everything, resulting in burn-out after 3 weeks into the program. I recovered, of course, but in hindsight, I wish I had simply tested out of Prices & Markets (Econ 101)….I love economics, but I would have learned more in my other classes if I had simply skipped out on economics…(my…opportunity…cost?)….Oh snap!

Takeaway: Read up on your “strength” classes’ material and try and test out in the first week

Go to all of your classes. Even if you can’t finish all the work, you should always do your best to go to every single class and make an effort to participate. Here participation trumps the quality of your input (although people will complain if you ramble on in class about your own BS). Certainly, there are extremely bright classmates who have spent their entire lives solving extremely important accounting problems (you can have riveting, life-changing debates about operating vs. financing leases! These discussions are incredibly interesting, but you might feel like a moron in class if you’ve never studied accounting. Don’t worry. Go to the tutorials to fill in gaps and make sure you get 100% in your participation grade.

The other side to this is traveling. Some people will travel…every…weekend….I’m amazed at their stamina. I can’t do it, but a lot of people can. If you can handle it, go for it, but don’t skip classes to travel (you can attend other sections to make up for these travel skips though)…skipping class to travel pisses off the professors.

Takeaway: Go to every class

 Your group mates will teach you more than your professors. Professors are fantastic at INSEAD, but spending 7 hours working on analyzing Apple’s financial statement with former accountants (your group mates), who patiently explain concepts and help you analyze material is a much more valuable way to learn. Approach your group experience with an open-mind, you’ll need these people. The first few weeks, everyone is on guard, nervous, and uptight. Be yourself, open-mind, and genuine and you’ll connect and learn from your peers. Recognize that INSEAD is really good at balancing different nationalities, profiles, and the overall group makeup. At first, you may not feel like these are “your type of people”, but just jump into the whole group experience thing. You’ll love it and a positive attitude will pay off in the long-run.

Takeaway: You will need your group mates….a lot. Give in to the group experience.

Remember that P3 is only 4 months away. P1 and P2 are challenging, but then the program eases off in P3. Certainly, the job hunt intensifies in P4 and P5, but after internship interviews and career prep, you should have a much better idea of what you want to do with your life (hopefully….). Remember the big picture and the importance of starting strong in P1 & P2.

Takeaway: Work hard in P1 and P2, relax in P3

Be nice to everyone. Some people will challenge you, stress you out, or be extremely difficult to work with. In the first week at school, you may feel pressure to present the “best” external image of yourself. I certainly did. I felt pressure to window-dress my crazy entrepreneurial experiences in a more corporate light because non-entrepreneurs don’t really understand what the entrepreneurial lifestyle is like. I don’t know why I felt that pressure, but I think a lot of other students felt it too. Don’t worry though.

Most students at business school want to change something about themselves. They want to change their geography, function, or industry…whatever. They want to become entrepreneurs, shed their consulting slave jobs, or switch from IT to fashion. Many have no idea what they want to do.

You’ve got to play the game a bit, but don’t take it personally. Just be nice to everyone, authentic and real, and it will all work out. After the first month, everyone relaxes, shares their passions, and starts to connect. Pretty soon, you’ll feel part of a supportive community.

Takeaway: Be nice. You’ll make friends. Your class will bond, so don’t worry.

The career services center has informal connections with HR people all over the world. Don’t piss off career services. They talk to recruiters every day. Many of these recruiters ask for informal recommendations from the career center. Don’t be a jackass. You’ll need their help.

Takeaway: Make friends with the career services team.

Your classmates can help you get jobs.

Many of your classmates are super bad asses who have connections to hardcore people at your dream company. One of my group mates received an internship at one of the top consulting firms through a classmate’s help after formal recruitment despite the consulting firm initially rejecting her and her inability to speak the local language.

Takeaway: There are formal and informal ways of finding your dream job and sometimes the informal ways are more effective.

That’s my input! Each person’s strategy might be different depending on his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Business schools throw a lot of smart, but different people together and force them to work together. Know yourself, your capabilities, and don’t feel like you need to measure up to other people. Do what works best for you and you’ll make it! Good luck!

Me, myself and I…discovering identity at INSEAD – part II

“I am more than the sum of my achievements” 

Four periods of the MBA done and less than one period is left. The past nine months have been a total whirlwind. Never have I experienced something as unique, intense, or wonderfully intimidating as undertaking an MBA. 

Now, with graduation around the corner, I am faced with a pressing question; How do you make sure that, after having gone through a period of such deep personal disruption and chaos, you are able to enter your next environment as a wiser and more capable version of yourself?  

The answer, according to Professor Jennifer Petriglieri, is simply the level of self-awareness one has obtained during a year of transformation. Expanding and elevating ones thinking requires making the time and space to reflect on the experience and the people involved.  In so doing, we are able to develop a deeper understanding of the nuanced facets of our identity.

I am not sure if I will ever fully understand how the MBA programme has affected and shaped me, but I am willing to give it a try.

Here is my story.

Period 1 & 2 – Separation & disruption 

I arrive at INSEAD on 30 August 2013 in very high spirits. Feeling so lucky to be admitted and incredibly curious, I promise myself to make the most of every second of the programme.

At this point, I feel pretty clear about who I am: the banker who became a fieldworker in Africa and who wants to save the world (or die trying). With a clear head and open heart, I create a set of ground rules for how I plan succeed and stay focused during my MBA;

1) Don’t fall for peer group pressure, focus on what you want to do

2) Accept that you can’t be the best at everything and keep your ego in check

3) Try to not care about what other people think or expect, you have solid values and are good enough as you are

How will I ever be able to do this?

A couple of weeks in, I have already broken every single rule. The feeling of gratitude towards my admittance has been replaced by a nervous anxiety about meeting deadlines and handing in deliverables.

Surrounded by quite a few ex-consultants and bankers, I feel that most people seem to share a different view on life and work from mine. Shareholder value wins over social value in every discussion. I start questioning myself; are my values wrong? Should I also define money as the ultimate measure of success? 

For the first four months of class, I am assigned a seat next to a young English guy who has a Masters Degree in statistics.  He spends his time writing out the proof of the mathematical theories that my qualitative-wired brain struggles to even conceptualise. I feel hopelessly lost and mediocre amongst such super achievers, who speak so many languages and have spent their lives jet setting around the world. Am I really good enough for this place?

Nothing in the INSEAD environment has any familiarity with my previous contexts and it makes me question my past as well as my dreams for the
future.

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Louise’s diary – 23 November 2013

Why do I feel so torn? Why am I so scared to stand up for what I believe in, and what do I really believe? On one hand I desperately miss Africa, on the other hand I want to forget all about it. The world seems to have a very different view on success.

Louise; are you strong enough to define your one path and follow your heart instead of your head? When you came to INSEAD you were so sure, what has happened? Don’t let yourself down.

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I am totally confused. Surrounded by strangers who now define my reality, I find myself constantly trying to make a fabulous impression on everyone. For some reason it feels important that every person here likes and approves of me. I do get along with people and we share a lot of laughs, but a little voice inside me keeps whispering; “Just wait, soon people will realize that you are not as fun or smart as you pretend to be and they will move on.”

I go to bed late at night after spending every waking minute surrounded by people, yet I feel lonelier than I have on even the darkest of African nights. I can’t help but thinking: what am I doing at INSEAD and who am I, really?

Period 3 – Re-emergence 

It is January and we are four months into the programme. I am now in Singapore, surrounded by some well-known faces but also a bunch of new acquaintances.

Things are slowly starting to become familiar. I have made some wonderful friends. People are a lot more human than I first thought they were. I am taking courses that are more focused on softer skills; leadership, organisational behaviour, and strategy.  I finally get solid, strong grades. I feel accepted and included, both academically and socially. 

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Louise’s diary – 20 January 2013 

Today I feel so much happier. We are all amazing at INSEAD, in our own ways. I have met some wonderful people who also believe in an unconventional world. We are here for ourselves, but education does not have to be selfish. INSEAD is a medium to help people to better navigate this complex world. Try and learn as much as possible even if you find some courses hard, you can use the seeds of wisdom to do good for others.

PS. You can feel differently every day and it is perfectly ok as long as you stay true to yourself.

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Happy days together – one of many wonderful INSEAD trips

The answer lies in self-reflection, followed by action. At the point when I felt the most out of place, I received advice from a classmate to take a few minutes every day to write down my thoughts and feelings, what I was struggling with or what made me happy.

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Louise’s diary – 15 February 2014

Everything is well. I am good enough just being myself with my thoughts, beliefs and ideas. There are so many sides to me; I can represent more than one thing. In fact, if I can make the banker and the social worker co-exist, I will have reached success. 

I can master chaos. I can push myself outside my comfort zone and still be fine. I can find my expression to stand up for what I believe is right. Actually, this is necessary if I want to attract like-minded people. The only thing I need to think about is who I need to support me in every pursuit. Supported by the right people, I will always be fine.

Jump. You will survive. If I want to get what I want I have to. Over and over again. The only one stopping me from achieving my dreams is actually myself

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Writing down on paper how you feel can be quite intimidating. There in black ink, a piece of you and your vulnerabilities, fears, and dreams, in a brutally honest way.

Gathering all those pieces and re-building the jigsaw puzzle of myself was difficult and time-consuming. But the past few months had provided me with great insights as to how I feel and behave in different situations.

I decided to see the chaos and the discomfort as a gift and an opportunity to make myself wiser about myself.

Otherwise, the anxiety and the stress had all been for nothing.

Period 4 – Job search and preparation for INSEAD after-life

The job hunt is in full swing at school. Finally knowing that I am capable, where should I aim? We all belong to a generation that believes we can, and deserve, to have everything. Can we really have everything we desire?

To me, having it all means possessing the freedom to make the choices we want. Deciding what to do after INSEAD is a matter of narrowing down a million options to three choices; geography, industry and position. With each choice, you rule other a number of other possibilities. Self-awareness helps in the prioritization process.

In March 2014, when pondering job options and reading my diary in retrospect, I make a few notes to guide myself in the coming months of job search;

1) Your life trajectory will continue to be a series of disruptions, re-emergence and plateauing. This is how you thrive. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

2) You can make friends in any environment, so make time to invest in people. Learn from others point of view instead of being intimidated, this will help you expand your own mind. Love and support from people will be key to your success and happiness, so take care of your relationships

3) It is clear you want to work with purpose.  You take the greatest joy from helping others fulfilling their full potential

4) You can do anything and live anywhere but with every choice comes a sacrifice. Think about this when you decide where to go next 

Looking at my ambition when I came to INSEAD, wanting to save the world as a social worker, does not feel so obvious anymore.

I miss Africa and its people. So for sure, I want to work with the region. I have also understood the importance of investments to deliver sustainable impact. Could I make these things co-exist in one workplace?

At the same time, I also realize that I might have to make a trade-off between personal and professional ambitions. Being surrounded by all of the different nationalities at INSEAD has ultimately inspired me to be more Swedish and re-connect with my roots.

Which jobs can deliver on those premises? I start making a list, and to my surprise it is much longer than I expect.  It includes a seemingly contradictory spectrum of everything from impact investing and journalism, to even consulting… 

Adding consulting to the list feels very awkward at first, and I wonder whether I am clouded by the ambitions of many classmates. Soon I realize that it’s actually not about the job itself. INSEAD has helped me to see beyond the job title and made me look at a profession as a channel of achieving the things I care about. My identity has developed into something deeper than just a objective, professional definitions.

What identity lies behind that nationality?

Then I get a call from a Swedish friend and serial entrepreneur, asking if I am interested in establishing an incubator in Nairobi for agricultural research innovations. I immediately know in my heart that this is it.

I would never found the nerve to accept such an offer, had it not been for INSEAD. This year of separation, disruption and re-emergence, has given me the freedom and the courage to go after my dreams.

I now fully understand why I decided to come to business school, and what a successful MBA experience really looks like for me.

Period 5 – Marking an ending and re-integration

With only a few weeks of the INSEAD experience left, I have my first encounter with the professional world. During the P4/P5 break, I sit around a table with my start-up cofounder as well as entrepreneurs, impact investors, and government organisations in Nairobi.  Together, we discuss the establishment of a Swedish-African partnership for driving incubation and commercialization of agricultural ideas. 

In this moment, I realize that all the pain of the INSEAD chaos was worth it. I have re-emerged having found a lifestyle that expresses my new identity, where I can truly live out this new post-INSEAD version of myself.

I am hugely excited about the next phase of my life, but scared, too. As we re-integrate into our new environments, we are also leaving an environment behind that has gone from unknown and chaotic to becoming our home, filled with wonderful friends and memories we have made during this year.

Next, we will be thrust out in the real world, expected to deliver like never before. I have butterflies in my stomach.

Wherever we decide to go after INSEAD, will be just the next step of the rest of the journey. We, as global citizens of the world, are likely to continue to live our lives as a series of separations, disruptions and re-emergences. Our identities will continue to evolve with time and always become richer and more nuanced.

This is my story. I look forward to hearing yours.

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Thank you for reading this blog. Want to stay in touch after INSEAD? 

I will continue to write about my future adventures and post-INSEAD reflections as louise.emerging.

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