The beginning of the best?

“Your year at INSEAD is going to be ‘the best’ or at the least ‘one of the best’ in you life.” I have heard this statement innumerable times from my interviewers, alums, and also close family of students. Did it feel forced? Something one just had to say? It felt like it.

But now, in just a few short weeks, I am a firm believer: This year is going to be one of the best years of my life. I still remember when I received the phone call; I was just getting on the treadmill, when I received news of my acceptance. I just had to stop everything I was doing and ran home.

The day was practically a blur. I just remember this feeling of sheer excitement and joy. That was end May. Yes, I was an R3 candidate, which meant that I had just about two months to change my life and pack…to come and start my year at INSEAD.

Life begins in P1, actually before P1, on FB and Instagram, and so on. Your inbox could get flooded with mails—from INSEAD, from your interviewers, from others in the same intake as you.

Its just so much information, but this is good training ground for all the information you’ll get once you’re actually here.

SO, sitting at Fonty after close to three weeks, seems surreal. Has it actually been that long? And, have we actually done so much in such a short time?

These two questions seem to contradict each other, but as any INSEADer will tell you, it makes perfect sense. The friends and mates, the lectures and tutorials, the wild parties and friendly BBQs, the rain and the sun—it just all seems to be here. So difficult to absorb and yet one just has to do it all.

So, here I am, living one of the best years of my life.

Diversity: what we all have in common

5 September 2014

I’m three weeks into the MBA program at INSEAD and I have already made meaningful connections with so many of my classmates. At first glance, the diversity of the INSEAD student population can be intimidating. My classmates are some of the most successful young professionals from every corner of the world. As an engineer from the U.S., what could I possibly have in common with an investment analyst from India or a luxury goods public relations manager from Belgium? Meeting all of these new people with different backgrounds and cultures has made me realize that the fact that we are all so diverse is what makes us have so much in common. We all have so many experiences that it is easy to find something that we share, even if it is small. With the depth of our diverse cultures, experiences, and characteristics, there is bound to be overlap.

Where are you from? This is the classic question that I’ve struggled with all of my life and most INSEADers have a difficult time answering it with just one word. My family is from Slovakia, I was born in Austria, but grew up in Florida and lived in Chicago before I came here. This complicated answer is nothing new among the INSEAD student population and my dual nationality is completely normal. Because there are so many students with dual-nationalities and those that have lived/worked all around the world, I feel like I truly belong here.

What did you do? Another difficult one to answer. Many of have had multiple jobs before coming here and even already changed careers from our undergraduate education. Then there’s the question of what we want to do after graduation—even harder to answer. However, because of the breadth of experience, I’ve met people that have worked in the same industries or job functions as I have.

What’s next? Like I said, people are very curious about what you want to do post-MBA but the truth is that most of us are still exploring our options. On-campus recruitment is going on for the 14D class but many of us 15Js are participating to get ahead and learn more about companies. The struggle to figure out what to do next bring our class together as we ask each other about our former careers and discuss options for the future.

It is the things that make us different that actually bring us together. Because of the wide variety of locations, jobs, and experiences, you’re bound to have at least one little thing in common with everyone that you meet. Maybe it’s a former employer or location or simply the global mindset that brought us all together at INSEAD in the first place. I’ve made connections with other people that have immigrated to new countries even if we are from opposite ends of the world.

I’m looking forward to discovering more about my classmates as the year goes on and getting to know everyone past the surface questions of where you’re from and what you did before.

Preparing for Separation

Klanti amar khama koro prabhu
Pathe jodi pichiye pori kobhu
— Rabindranath Tagore
If I ever fall behind on the path
If I ever get tired, forgive me Lord
— Rabindranath Tagore

I’m sitting in my small room looking over the city—this huge edifice of human existence and labor. I see children smiling, screaming, and playing on the school playgrounds next to my building; I see the cars driving smoothly by; I see clouds in the sky and the glass and steel façades of the magnificent skyscrapers all around. This city, Singapore, is a testament of the best in human nature itself: the toil and the ingenuity that have joined forces to bring this gigantic machinery together are unimaginable in most other parts of the world. There is a lot to say about this city and this wonderful new part of my life. A few examples should suffice. Classical music plays underwater in the swimming pools; the streetlights have sensors to detect the presence of pedestrians and grow brighter or dimmer as needed; the buses detect change automatically; and drones capture street imagery. I can hardly contain my excitement at finally being able to make the journey to INSEAD, which by the way, is a dream come true. The level of intellectual discussion in the classroom and the experience and maturity of my fellow students amaze me time and again. The first feeling that grabs you when you enter INSEAD as a student is the feeling of being dwarfed by a cavalcade of amazing people.

The year at INSEAD will definitely be one of the best yet one of the most trying in the life of anyone attempting it with the challenges of the huge loan, the pressure of performing among a group of over-achieving individuals, and  whatever other sacrifices that one had to make to get here. But for me, the biggest challenge I will face here will have more to do with the disconnection from the anchors that have been keeping me steady until now.

Only choose two between three: sleep, study, and socialize. I feel very strongly that they are missing out on the fourth corner of the problem—the invisible corner, if you will. This corner consists of your family that you may have left back home or brought with you, in which case, you need to devote time to them as well. This corner isn’t spoken about enough, yet it happens to be the most important one when it comes to your mental balance and peace. The pressures at INSEAD can get to the most seasoned of campaigners, and proper planning is the only way to stay ahead of the curve.

My wife and I spoke a lot about this separation, and the fact that we would be spending a year mostly separated from each other. The good thing about technology is the number of choices it provides you to stay connected. We set up a few simple ground rules, such as involving the other person in our lives as much as possible. This serves the dual prupose of letting the other person know that you care and sharing the pressures that you are experiencing. Apps like Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp have played a pivotal part in our lives. I send even class notes to her by taking snaps of the handouts and sending them via Whatsapp. This has actually helped me a lot at times as she happens to sometimes bring out points, which I might have missed. It also helps in bonding and lends matter to talk about—something which can become a sore issue if you are spending your year in different cultures and different time zones. One other thing that I try and do regularly is to call her up whenever I can via Viber or Skype. Internet is cheap, and Wi-Fi is free everywhere.

Weekends will become more precious than you can imagine as it always boils down to a choice of whether to go out for a game or a tour or a party with friends, or to stay home and chat over Skype. Like I have said before, this is a hard trade-off. Just one word of advice: decide on your priorities first.

I will constantly feel something missing from my life, and I know well what that is. This is why I started my blog with that comment on top from Tagore. It simply says that you will make mistakes and get tired, but then you will be forgiven in time. This year is indeed going to be exciting by the looks of how it has started—I just wish that I didn’t have to spend it alone!

Learnings from Orientation Week

When I visited INSEAD’s Fontainebleau campus ten months ago, I told my mother I must get into this school so that I could return. Today I am welcomed on the campus along with 300 others. It truly gave me a sense of closure. The orientation week in itself is a mini course. It is overwhelming but stimulating at all levels. Personally I would like to share three learnings that I gained from the experience.

 

1 Diversity in Learning.

In the environments I grew up it, voicing different opinions is not considered a character strength. In INSEAD, being vocal about your view is not only accepted but also encouraged, because it drives intellectual versatility. Borrowing the words of a brilliant professor on general management, the learning environment here “helps the more assertive cultures [to] tone down and the more sensitive ones [to] toughen up”.

 

2. Diversity in Network.

Most say the value of the INSEAD MBA is its network. For me the difference between hearing about it and experiencing it is the same as looking at the pictures of Rome and actually being inside the Coliseum. In a single event, I could interact with nuclear engineers, pilots, and scientists as much as marketers, bankers, and consultants. What struck me is not only the sheer breadth and depth of their experiences, but also their willingness to share and listen.

 

3. Diversity in Life

It is easy to assume that an INSEADer has it all—the intellect, the work experience, and the great future earning potential. Would your perception change if I tell you the sacrifices they made to get to where they are today? Behind the success is hard work, perseverance, juggling family responsibilities, and giving up comfort to step into the unknown. Hearing the stories from different people gave me new perspectives on relationships, career, and family. Indeed, learning how others balance the trade-offs in life inspired me greatly.

 

The orientation week passed in the blink of an eye. INSEAD stayed true to the values it stands for, and I look forward to the interesting days to come.

Location, Location, Location: Flat-hunting in Singapore

So you’ve submitted your application, written your essays, and then a few weeks later, find out that you have been accepted into INSEAD.

You’re still basking in the glory when you realize that the programme is gonna start in a few weeks and you still haven’t sorted out accommodation.

Panic!

Many students have experienced this feeling over the years and the author of the piece is no exception.

The month of August had started (I was scheduled to reach Singapore on the 17th) and I still didn’t have a flat to call home. I thankfully managed to find a place before I could put Singapore’s anti-squatting laws to the test. To help the next generation of INSEAD students help in the flat-hunting process (and avoid making the same mistakes I did), I thought it best to put together some of the stuff I learnt along the way:

Options: Some students starting in Singapore would have already read the names of Heritage View and Dover Parkview. These two condominiums are next to each other and are a brisk 10 minute walk from campus. Given the proximity to the school (and the presence of modern amenities), flats in these buildings are quite popular with INSEAD students. The catch: rent is not cheap. Thankfully, there are other less expensive options near the campus, including government-built housing HDB (Housing Development Board) flats. If students are willing to spend just a little more time commuting, there are other options as well.

Lease terms: In Singapore, typically the minimum period for which a flat can be rented is six months. This might create complications for people who only intend to spend two academic terms in Singapore. As such, it is sensible to tell your agent to insert a clause that allows sub-letting. Given the number of people who swap campuses, it won’t be hard to find a sub-tenant but just make sure you’re not breaking any laws.

If possible, come to Singapore a few days before your programme starts:Agents in Singapore are extremely efficient and it is not uncommon to secure a flat within a day or two viewing the property. By visiting the country early, students can have a better feel of the property and allay any concerns they might have from merely looking at the pictures. Some of my classmates started the house-hunting process only after the programme had started and made initial fretting completely unwarranted.

Older posts «