An INSEAD trek and rite of passage: the prices and the priceless!

Photo by Pedro Ricarte


An MBA costs a lot, starting with the most obvious (and well, cried over) tuition fees which can burn a hole in your pocket and pretty much ensure you take the MBA seriously as you got some significant earning back / paying back to do.

An INSEAD trip is no different, where it seems to start with the mathematics of costs and losing count of the number of people on the trip. But what remains of INSEAD or an INSEAD trip will be way more than the costs we can count. 

Case in point: The Mt. Bromo Volcano Trekking trip in Indonesia with 20 INSEADers


Photo by Yulia Andreeva


The Prices: I could hardly remember these off hand when writing this article a day after the trip. So, safe to say, these will be forgotten very soon.

  1. Tour costs ~ USD 90
  2. Air tickets  ~ USD 200
  3. Visa & Exit fees ~ USD 60
  4. Other Expenses ~ USD 100


Photo by Shyama Khandelwal


This trip is remembered for these top five PRICELESS things:

Disclaimer: All items are 100% true (heard or seen or experienced). Names will not be mentioned but “fellow trekkers” know the faces behind these priceless moments.


  1. Great MBA minds deciding to convert enough $ to be a millionaire in Indonesian Rupiah. (Never mind the actual amount needed for the trip; that’s a small matter!)
  2. Providing consulting advise to Indonesian immigration officers why their $35 visa fee is a bad idea and getting a sheepish grin back.
  3. Getting a total sleep of 4.5 hours on a real bed over two days and being completely functional to trek two volcanos.
  4. Figuring out the “best” positions to sleep comfortably in a minivan of 14 to 15 people.
  5. A very serious and persistent attempt to charter a helicopter to get the gang back to Surabaya from Ijen to avoid the long bus drive back, which I believe could have been successful except for language issues.

Photo by Patricia Gomez


  1. Settling a restaurant bill with 77 items. The standard deviation of this is skewed by a true food connoisseur laying claim on any dish brought to the table not actually ordered by anyone. (By the way, we stopped again at KFC in 40 minutes for a second lunch!)
  2. Walking—honestly, skidding—down a volcanic mountain at 7AM over talks of how Vitamix can blend an iPhone in seconds except for the battery. (Very tempted to try this.)

Photo by Pedro Ricarte


  1. Time killed at the airport by an impromptu Salsa class by an expert. Of course every INSEAD batch has one—for the girls.


And top of the list personally: Being accompanied at the end of the line on the trek by one of the most caring girls, a true knight chivalrous enough to walk with us and a true cheerleader predicting flatter terrain ahead every 2 minutes to keep me going. After a hiatus for two years from any real challenging physical tasks due to a bunch of surgeries, I managed to beat the odds to huff and puff my way to the top of Mt. Ijen to see sulphur mines! So HELL YEAH.


Photo by Pedro Ricarte


I know I said top five things, and there are eight in the list. But you know what, not being able to keep the BEST moments of a 2-day INSEAD trip to five items—PRICELESS!

Photo by Wen Eu Cheah

Unexpected Surprises

September 19 marked my first month in Fontainebleau.

Bliss. Excitement. Confusion. Friendship. Stress. Procrastination. Surprise. These words only capture a fraction of the experiences I’ve had in the past few weeks.

I came to INSEAD because I wanted to study in a global program to enhance my skills in strategic marketing and management. Within the first day, I realized INSEAD truly lives up to its reputation as an incredibly diverse school. I love the fact that almost everyone has a complicated background that takes more than a half a minute to explain: “My parents are from A, but I was born in B, and raised in C and worked in D.” I soon realised my story of growing up in China, Australia, US and Canada doesn’t seem so special anymore within the international INSEAD bubble.

Other than diversity, there is so much more going on both academically and socially. My expectations for INSEAD are a diverse student body as well as great professors, career services and international mobility. Even with these expectations, I experienced many more unexpected surprises during my first few weeks at INSEAD.

Pleasant surprises:

  • Loving my group mates. My group mates include an Azerbaijani lawyer, Nicaraguan speech writer, Pakistani regulator and Portuguese engineer. Coming from such different backgrounds, I’m surprised we work so well together. Everyone has different strengths and perspectives, but we share the same core value of learning before grades, which creates a collaborative and fun team culture.
  • Creating and presenting a free cash flow statement analysis in just two weeks after the start of school. As a marketing person allergic to financial statements, I consider this quite an accomplishment!
  • Enjoying the Organisational Behaviour class. I did not expect to like this class having taken it during my undergraduate studies but the simulations and role plays enable us to practice cooperation, communication, organisation and leadership skills in a truly memorable and unique way.
  • Lazy boys in the library. The library has comfy leather lazy boys where students go to take a nap in between classes.
  • Sharing culture through potluck. My parents came for a visit and cooked a Chinese lunch for my friends. To my surprise, my friends (most of whom are from non-Asian countries) told me they’ve never tasted some of the staple Chinese dishes such as tomatoes with egg and fried potatoes. Not only did my friends get a taste of authentic Chinese food, but they also learned new things about the culture.
  • Free flow coffee. This is the best thing in the world, especially at 8:30 in the morning with back-to-back accounting and stats classes!
  • Delicious and affordable lunch offerings at school. Lunch is subsidised for students so it’s incredibly affordable to have a healthy three course meal.
  • Recruitment in the chateau. Some companies will host their networking cocktail at the beautiful Fontainebleau chateau—a wonderful treat!

Not-so pleasant surprises:

  • Micro-quiz after the first week of class. Great wake up call after a lazy summer.
  • Financial accounting classes on Saturday. We only had one so far, but they were not exactly my preferred way of spending the weekend.
  • Still no bank card after a month. This is due to me not having time to go to the bank after school starts.
  • Shops close early—super early. Coming from Asia, I’m used to shops open 24/7; hence, it was a bit difficult to realise I wouldn’t be able to go grocery shopping for a week due to schedule conflicts.
  • Halfway done P1. It feels like I just got here, and I can’t believe we’re already 1/10 done the program!

It’s 3am and time for bed. I look forward to sharing more experiences with you in the coming months.

Choosing a B-School in Three Steps

Akkshay, an MBA student at INSEAD, explains the three steps he took when he was making a business school decision. For more information, pease visit

Building up the Tempo

The first month is over and I still cannot believe just how much water has already flown under the bridge! After a month at INSEAD I truly feel like a train wreck. Even without the hyperbole, life really moves at a frenetic pace. I have covered more subjects and learnt more in this one month than I had learnt in my entire career. That part isn’t true for everyone though, as many who come here already have some sort of experience in many of the subjects being taught in class. However, what is true is that most people find themselves making trade-offs many times a day, mostly with regard to the optimum utilization of their time. The month started off with some of us trying to be everywhere all the time, despite some good advice from the senior batch. We soon learnt though that it’s not necessarily the best utilization of our time to try and be everywhere, especially once the studies picked up some tempo. The trade-offs started getting more pronounced and the risks of some moves more evident and groups of like-minded people started finding themselves spending more time with one another.

We had a lot of long career presentations and, in our fear of missing out on some good company presentations, we tried to attend every single one of them. We soon learnt though that most companies who come here to hire students, come with something specific in mind and many do not suit us as well as it suits some others. Hence, we started studying and figuring out a little more about the companies before signing up for the presentations and cocktails. Next up were the group activities, and some groups obviously fared far better than the others. However, the heartening thing to notice was that majority of the groups were really bonding well and enjoying the experience of working with equally talented and driven individuals, not allowing their competitive spirit to come in the way of forging strong relationships. This obviously highlights the high regard and mutual respect that members of the group have for each other and also the good camaraderie that exists among like-minded individuals. I can vouch for the fact that it does feel great to be a part of a high-performing group with great members, contrary to what I had feared initially from the experiences of some other MBAs.

This month was also about getting to know the people whom we will be spending a lot of time with over the next few months—some of whom will hopefully go on to become lifelong friends. I know everyone keeps talking about leveraging the network of amazing talent that we have here at INSEAD to forward careers, but I like to see it from a different point of view. I believe that the legacy of our time here at INSEAD will be the people we interact with, and hopefully, they will someday have some good memories of our times together. We got a bit closer to a few people, identified some clear takeaways, and strove to achieve our goals together rather than on our own. The pleasure of achieving together, and the sheer bonhomie gives me a good feeling about the months to come.

When you are unhappy with having just 24 hours a day

“24/7 – Just not enough”

This thought has constantly come to me in the last 3 weeks at INSEAD.

Throughout my 30 years (Yes, sadly hitting 30 soon), I have had my share of tight deadlines at school to all-nighters in college to high-pressure work. BUT it is definitely a first not wishing just to “get done with the work” rather than lamenting for more time to “savor each experience”.

What do I mean by that? On one hand, I have had the most ridiculously productive 3 weeks of my life:

  • Reached early morning classes everyday, which is an achievement for me, considering I am not a morning person and live an hour away. (I do fight for that seat on the train to catch my sleep.)
  • Literally built a playground with my classmates, where I did a lot of wood drilling, of which I am extremely proud. Although I did break a drill bit.
  • I have survived Microeconomics, reviewed my CV more times than I’ve ever done in my seven years of work, drafted a team contract for organizational behavior, and analyzed financial statements of Apple and ConAgra.
  • I’m close to finishing a wine course, and I just passed my Singapore basic driving test
  • Met a zillion people including entrepreneurs in residence for my venture; did the Ice bucket challenge; made great friends; had a house gathering, a beach outing, and of course, the BIG beach party. Planned my first INSEAD trip to Indonesia and did I mention—I drilled wood!

But I feel strangely having underachieved.

  • I often feel stupid in class, totally relative to the superbly intelligent people around me (Ah… My poor three decades of well-nurtured ego!). The course pace seems to leave me lagging behind always.
  • I missed at least five weekend trips even if I only count the ones I know of with 10+ people
  • I have lost count, but I’ve probably missed a dozen or more get-togethers/parties so far that I am probably in danger of not being on party lists anymore.
  • I only know roughly 80% of my class section by name (usually people who sit in the rows in front of mine, with their name cards visible). Do mind that my section is only a third of all 15Js in Singapore now. Of course, Singapore itself only represents around 40% of all students in INSEAD 15J, if Fonty is included. Talk about the tip of the iceberg.
  • And, of course, my personal friendships outside INSEAD and even husband time have gone for a complete toss.

To tell the truth, it is difficult to explain this to the outside world. My friends and ex-colleagues joke that I no longer need to work and I’m free. Oh! They can’t be further from the truth. This acceptance that we will live in constant FOMO (fear of missing out) and won’t be able to do it all is probably a school secret that only INSEADers understand.

At least I am making progress in some areas. Being an introvert, meeting people has always drained me and I can’t claim (yet) that INSEAD has cured that. Far from it actually, as I still manage to invent excuses to convince myself out of some gatherings. But, there is a difference: Meeting exciting people seems to lessen the extra effort I make to be energetic. At INSEAD, that has been a given as everyone has a story to be told and heard. In fact, I have this idea to start a “Humans of INSEAD” series inspired by HONY (Humans of New York) for the blog.

Again, there is this tiny detail of finding more time in the 24-hour day to allow for that. Well, I think I need not worry as I have come to accept that the concept of a working day always stretches when it is for INSEAD!

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