Bruised, battered, happy

It’s official. A month has passed in what seems like a second. How am I doing? Well, definitely bruised and battered—my sleep debt has quadrupled, my blood pressure went up thanks to mid-terms, my liver is starting to protest, and I’ve succumbed to the P1 bug (thanks Singapore haze for my constant coughing section!)—but oh man, I am so happy I’m here.



The adjustment to being back to school has been interesting. I bought a ruler two days ago for Prices & Markets, a microeconomics core course, and felt like I was 12 again! As a psychology major with an economics minor and a CFA, I have the dubious distinction of being one of the few people who have studied every single P1 core course before. Yet I feel like I’m learning something new every day because we’re looking at everything from a high-level, practical, application mindset and not a theory mindset. For the first time in my life, I like microeconomics because we are using it as a tool to understand strategic decisions like setting prices for different customer segments rather than mindlessly drawing supply and demand curves. Similarly, in Organizational Behavior (OB), we are using social psychology findings to understand how we work (or fail to work) in teams, how we lead and how we influence or negotiate (salaries, for instance!).

The professors are amazing, and what I find fascinating is the way the curriculum must have been designed behind the scenes to make sure we are all on the same page for every course. For example, the professor for Uncertainty, Data & Judgment (UDJ) talks about “shorting” the market the day after we learned what short selling is in Financial Markets & Valuation (FMV). The FA and FMV professors alternately criticize the finance and the accounting viewpoints, which makes my section snicker. Similarly, the OB and UDJ professors interchangeably talk about the application of behavioral psychology. It’s a delicate dance of coordination, and I very much appreciate it!



Oh the volumes I can write about the people!! Let’s start with my fellow 16Js—I love them. They are hilarious and so interesting on the down-low that my jaw drops at finding out random facts about my classmates at a dinner or a lunch conversation. I’ve been forced to admit that I probably know 10% of what makes them tick, but everyday, that number goes up! I feel like when we first came in, we were all speaking English but different versions of it with our own acronyms and short hand like BAU (business as usual) and “cross-reading” (a way to read faster) and “corner strategy” (some mysterious consulting powerpoint technique). I think a month in, we now understand each other a bit more and have more of a shared language (like being “fooled by randomness”) and our own acronyms (as you can see from the other posts: FOMO, FOMO, always FOMO, which is the Fear Of Missing Out). There were also some of us who felt like big kahunas who knew everything and were here to teach others, not learn—and I think that’s calmed down, too, and we’re a little bit more glued together as we’ve realized there are many different ways of thinking and doing things, which have their own value and may dominate in different situations.

The senior class has also been amazing. They have been nothing but nice and helpful (though the arrivals from Fonty were adorably as lost as we were on campus). While we’re in the library reading cases and finance textbooks, they are in there reading Crack the Case. While we’re trying to figure out how to work together in groups, they’re having hushed conversations about interview callbacks and job offers. The only thing that’s the same is that they are living life in the same tempo we are, or perhaps with even more zeal given the ticking clock. It’s bittersweet to watch them experience P4, knowing that they will be gone soon and then it will be us in their shoes in a very short time.

The only thing I could wish for on the people front is more—more dinners, more lunches, more parties, more conversations. With what feels like half the class traveling every weekend as well as the crazy busy schedule, weeknight parties and events have become a natural way to let off some steam and hang out each with other. And yet it still feels like it’s not enough! Since I’m staying in Singapore until P5, I already feel sad that most of my Singy class will disappear in P3, though we will get to know the Fonty crowd, finally!



INSEAD and time wait for no one—we’ve spent the first three weeks writing and re-writing our CVs and we’ve already had a few career workshops and advisor sessions. With the 15D class in full recruitment mode, we’ve also had an opportunity to go to numerous career presentations every night. So yes, career-related activities are in full swing the moment you get into INSEAD!


Time management and keeping the rest of your life in balance 

Ah, the big one! I think my fellow bloggers have all covered the generalities—keep your priorities in mind, remember missing out is inevitable, be open to all aspects of the INSEAD experience, and remember to sleep once in a while!

For me specifically, I think what I can add is that time management is a work in progress and you are never in balance everyday. There are days where I’m on campus until midnight studying for a midterm, and there are days when I chuck all my required readings and come home at 3:30 PM after class to see my son. I don’t always get it right—and get immediate feedback from my toddler!—but that’s the point: Time management is trial and error until you figure out what works for YOU and then it’s trial and error again as things change. My partner and family have been incredibly supportive, which helps a lot.

Another thing I’m grateful for is how supportive INSEAD is to students with partners and/or kids. You will see at least one baby on campus every day, and no one bats an eye. There is a strong support network for partners, and what I appreciate is how welcoming INSEAD is. A little thing like giving partners their own INSEAD badge, which allows them to use the library or pay for drinks at the café, means a lot.

How I decided to apply to INSEAD

MBA Splash Project. Photo by Andreas Lehmann.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am an American citizen who grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia from age 4 to 9. Before and after that, I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I went to an all-girls high school before continuing my undergraduate education at University of Southern California where I graduated with a finance and international business major at the Marshall School of Business at USC. Then, I took a gap year (which I may explain sometime later) before starting work in Hong Kong at a French bank that was recently bought by a Chinese SOE.

At this bank, I was working as a research associate—first focusing in Hong Kong conglomerates, then Hong Kong & Macau consumer and gaming stocks, and finally regional small cap stocks (which is essentially any stock that has less than US$1-billion market cap). While I was working for a certain team, I was getting frustrated at my teammates and to an extent my boss.

That was when I decided I would apply to INSEAD for real. I have been attending the information sessions for the past three years before I got accepted, and my biggest fear was honestly, getting rejected.


Applying to INSEAD

First, I took my GMAT right out of college because I knew my brain would still be able to take tests then. Whether I decided to apply for my MBA or not, at least I would have the GMAT score out of the way.

Second, I was very worried about writing my essay. I asked a lot of my friends and colleagues to help me read my essays and comment on them, and they were all very supportive and critical of every sentence so I highly appreciated that. I also hired a tutor to do a final proofread of my essays, which I think was a waste of money because these tutors didn’t know me well enough.

Third, I did my research. I met with INSEAD alumni for coffee and asked for their advice. One of the pieces of advice I received was to visit the campus, because it would allow me to realize whether INSEAD was a fit for me, and vice versa. I visited INSEAD using one leave day from work on a Friday, and I had already submitted my application during the first round. I came only a few days before the deadline, but it was worth the visit.


The Interview

Eventually, I was given two interviews. I find interviews to be very much like acting class—specifically, improvisation. You never know what type of characters you will get to act with, which can be fun but nerve-wracking.

My first interviewer was a senior lady working at a bank, and she was very stern and intimidating. I think she was testing me. I was engaged at the time, and I wore my engagement ring, which I actually lost during the interview. I was so nervous because when I felt my ring, the diamond was missing from my ring setting! When she asked me the first question, “Walk me through your resume” I was not able to speak. But in that split second, I decided, “You know what? I will finish this interview and backtrack my way to find the diamond.”

During the interview, she mentioned she was engaged but she broke off her engagement because she met another MBA student whom she is now married to. She, again, said, you know 50% of MBA students with partners end up not working out. The only thing I could think to say (which I probably should not have said) was: Oh I think I’m pretty confident with my relationship with my fiancé. And she said, oh no I’m not doubting you, I’m just letting you know you should be more open. I just thought, what? But anyway, I finished the interview, and as I looked down under the table, I saw my diamond, which I quickly picked up and zipped in the side pocket of my purse.

The second interviewer was so much better in my opinion because he was working at a pharmaceutical company and was a lot younger than my first interviewer. He was very easy going and knew a lot about me already. He was asking questions like, why do you want to leave finance when everyone who goes to an MBA wants to get into finance? I said I had been there, done that, and basically I wanted to eventually be an entrepreneur, and INSEAD had a great program for that, and I thought taking it one step at a time, working corporate first, then eventually learning all the ins and outs of the company before starting my own. He was very honest as well; he said interviews did not make or break the decision—this is the admissions’ committee’s way of getting alumni involved, by giving feedback on whether a candidate was someone they could work with at school or not. And he said I was more than qualified and wished me the best of luck.

I have an inkling he was the reason that I got into INSEAD, but I think the lady also liked me; she was just testing me with her tricky questions!


The Call

As I was walking to my usual barre class in Hong Kong, I got a phone call from a European number, and it turned out to be from INSEAD. They had just finished reviewing the first round of applicants and wanted to congratulate me for my acceptance into INSEAD.

I was so excited and happy that I could not contain my voice. It was not official or anything, the admissions committee just wanted to say congratulations and I was shocked that they would call me to do that.

A few weeks passed by and I got an email saying that my GMAT score had not been sent in. It dawned on me that I did not ask GMAT to send in my score, nor did I ask USC to send in my transcript! I only sent them the photocopies. I immediately went online to send my transcript online, but GMAT was a bit trickier. I only had a few days to send in my GMAT score, and they take forever to send in the GMAT score. So, I called the Fontainebleau office many times and they said I just needed to send them the original copy of the GMAT score I received four years ago when I took the exam, but it was all the way in LA and I was living in Hong Kong. So I rushed to call my mom and dad in LA to help me get the official GMAT score in my drawer and have them send it in immediately. The US post office was closing because there was a long weekend holiday and it was just so hectic. But my dad was able to send it in literally a minute before 4pm when they closed, and he rushed it all the way to Fontainebleau so that I was guaranteed my spot at INSEAD.

Talk about a stressful day!

Anyway, the GMAT score eventually reached the admissions office, and all is well because here I am at INSEAD.


What happened after I quit my job

Prior to quitting my job, I had taken a day of leave to act in a movie that my friend produced called Always. I had a very small role in that movie, so it only took me one weekend and one work day to film my sections.

I quit my job after getting my bonus, which is in April in my case. I took a week to train myself to be a BarreAmped Certified teacher. I realized Barre was something I could potentially bring to Singapore.

I continued to teach at Barre2Barre in Hong Kong, and then organized two pop-up BarreAmped sessions in Singapore, which turned out to be a success! We were fully booked and even had waitlists on the two events. This is when my brain started turning and realized I wanted to bring Barre2Barre to Singapore. It’s still a work in progress because now that I am doing my MBA, it will be difficult for me the teach and manage the BarreAmped studio while going to school.


First week of school

My first day of school was during Orientation Day on Sunday, August 23rd. Everything happened so fast!

It was a lot of, “HI! My name is Jessica, I was born and raised in LA but I grew up in Jakarta for 5 years and worked in Hong Kong the past four years. How about you?”

We were all at school from 8:30am to 7pm every day, and the whole week was packed full of exemption exams, language evaluation tests, career development meetings, laptop configurations, social club reception, and my favorite: the SPLASH Project!

The SPLASH Project was an amazing experience; I really wish I took more part in it (if not for the social club events) because it was a lot of team work that really made an impact in the lives of children who were once in abusive families. We created this amazing bike path with our bare hands. I was in charge of painting, and even though it was probably the easiest job out of everyone else’s, I ended up getting a blister from painting so much. Ouch.

Real schoolwork started after Splash with classes starting at 8:30 AM everyday. It was tough—three hour classes and 15-minute breaks in between classes. And I would like to point out that the teachers are extremely strict with promptness. If you are on time for class—as in walking in at 8:30—you are not allowed to even attend class and the teacher will mark you absent! (And you are only allowed to miss class thrice; otherwise you fail right away.) Given that I live very far from school (I live with my in-laws 30 minutes away by bus & MRT, and 45 minutes by taxi), it makes it more difficult for me to be social with the class. But for some reason, I was given the responsibility of a social rep. My point is, anything is possible! I’m going to make the most out of my INSEAD experience, and I will keep you all updated with my experience here.

6 tips for a successful “FOMO” detox at INSEAD

We’ve learned many colloquialisms since we stepped foot on the INSEAD campus: breakout rooms, Dash, splash, Renaissance, lunch roulette, Fonty. But one word seems to stand out though: FOMO a.k.a. fear of missing out. There’s no cure for it, but here are a few ways we can try to avoid it. Or at least suffer less from it.


1) Accept that we cannot do everything

No matter how well we allocate our time, we will not be able to do everything. What’s the solution then? Well it’s actually very simple. Realize and accept that we just cannot do everything we want in a given day.

There’s just simply not enough time to do it all. Last time I checked, there was 24 hours in a day. If we account six hours of class on average, seven to eight hours to sleep, 10 minutes to brush our teeth (do not save time on this), 20 minutes to shower (same as the toothbrush), 30 minutes of commuting, 2 hours to eat, we have only around 6 or 7 hours for professional clubs, company presentations, leisure time, and social stuff. That’s not that much.

Which makes me move to my next point: We all have to prioritize at some point.


2) Prioritize

I heard that we could be hunters or explorers. Lions or gazelles. No matter who we are, what we do, we won’t be able to do it all anyway. So what do we have to do? Prioritize. When we feel rushed and pressured to do it all, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves why we came to INSEAD in the first place.

Maybe it’s: 1) Have fun, 2) Get better at ping pong, 2) Find a job. I’m not sure if these are the right priorities, but maybe it’s really yours. It’s not quite mine (I would put ping pong first), but I respect it because there’s no right or wrong answer to that question. The most important thing is to be clear on what we want, and to make choices according to those priorities.

It’s just like the Everest assignment. To reach the Everest, we couldn’t let the photographer take his stupid pictures at levels one and two. We have to see the big picture and make compromises to reach the top.

3) Focus on what we actually do, not what we’re missing.

If we focus on what we’re missing, we will feel pretty miserable because at a given point in time, we’re usually given around five options. On a typical Thursday at 7pm for example, we can:

  • Play rugby
  • Do happy hour
  • Go to a company presentation
  • Do a club activity
  • Study

We can obviously do only one thing, which means that we will miss out on four things. Which means that we’re only taking advantage of 20% of the options INSEAD is offering us at that particular time. Well, if we think about that statistic, we don’t feel too good about it since we all want to make the most out of our INSEAD experience.

But this is normal. We just cannot do it all. Back to point #1. To make a choice between those options, go back to #2: Prioritize. If it still doesn’t help, go straight to point #6.

As a summary, it’s best to start from zero and see everything we do as a bonus, rather than start from the top and subtract everything we’re missing.


4) Lower our expectations

We’re here for some good reasons right? We want to learn, network, find a job, have fun, and do something life-changing. Oh, and we also want to get a startup idea and develop it. And become a better person. Training for a marathon would be nice, too. And it would be great to save the baby polar bear in the Arctic.

If you do have all these expectations, try to set the bar a little lower! You will not be able to meet those expectations—you’ll feel like you’re failing, your confidence will go down, your girlfriend/boyfriend will leave you, and you will have a miserable life.

No, I just wanted to scare you. But honestly, you just won’t be able to meet those expectations, and you might not do what you really planned on doing at INSEAD initially. So focus on a few main goals, and do not ask too much from yourself. Batman does not have superpowers—neither do you.


5) Realize that other students are not doing everything either (and take a break from Facebook and What’s App once in a while)

When we go on Facebook, we see a ton of pictures of people doing cool things and putting the hashtag #inseadmoments.

That kind of makes us feel jealous when we’re studying in the library. We see people going on trips, others at a party, others doing sports, and we can sometimes get the feeling that we are not doing what we should be doing at INSEAD.

Then we get annoyed, we log off, we check our What’s App account, and we see that we missed 143 messages in one hour!

Don’t think that everybody else is doing all those activities, and that they’re doing it all the time. They study, too. They eat, too. They even sometimes—I heard some rumors—sleep as well. No, really, I swear. So we shouldn’t feel too bad about ourselves, and we should not overestimate other people’s ability to do it all.

PS: If you spend 10 hours a day in the library, and you haven’t partied yet, then feel bad about yourself and go party. If you haven’t cracked open a book yet, try the library. It’s on campus, a kilometer away from Glasgow.


6) THE REAL ANSWER: Ask ourselves what Chuck Norris would do in that situation

Chuck Norris is never afraid.

He does not have FOMO.

But FOMO has FOCN: Fear of Chuck Norris.

If we have one fear, it should be FOCN.

Remember: in a regular room, there are 347 things Chuck Norris can kill you with. Including the room itself.

So, no FOMO. Just FOCN!

1st Lesson in Business School – Prioritization and Time Optimization

The first few weeks at INSEAD have moved incredibly fast; it’s surreal to think we’re already almost halfway through our first period of classes and coming up on midterms next week. Everyone I talked to before I arrived warned me of how fast time moves here and to live every moment to the fullest, but I didn’t fully appreciate what they had to say until I found myself in the middle of this whirlwind of a time lapse. The most precious element and biggest constraint in business school is time and that is compounded ten-fold in the 10-month program that INSEAD offers. So, very quickly, we all are learning the importance of prioritization and time optimization.

Unfortunately, without the invention of time travel, there are only so many hours in a day to get things done and there’s never enough hours to do everything you want, so you have to first decide what is most important to you and re-prioritize (or de-prioritize) the rest. There are several key buckets among which you have to juggle:

1. Academics – Being one of the top MBA programs in the world, the academics are rigorous. All the classes have been extremely engaging and interesting. My class section is filled with peers from every industry, nationality, and background you could think of and with a high active participation, I have learned so much in the first few weeks of class already not just from the amazing professors, but from my peers and the individual perspectives and experiences they have shared. Academics is certainly the core of the MBA program from a scheduling and time-intensive standpoint—we have 6 core classes in the first period, which includes not only the daily lecture and discussion, but also group work, individual homework, case reading preparation, tutorial sessions, and any additional studying you may require.

2. Job Recruiting – Ultimately most of us came here to progress in our professional careers and many are transitioning some combination of industry, function, or location. The recruiting season started on day one—upon our arrival on campus—with CV reviews and discussions of our career vision with the Career Development Center (CDC). The recruitment cycle is even further compressed due to the program only lasting 10 months and no internship period for those of us that are part of the July graduating cycle. Recruiters have already started coming to campus, so any given day there will be a company presentation, networking event with recruiters, CDC workshop event, or job application deadline likely relevant to you.

3. Travel / Fun – While academics and career progression are important, many of us also came to INSEAD to have one of the best years of our lives and to have fun. Every night there will be groups going out for dinner or drinks and every weekend you will have your pick of getaway travel trips or you can choose to stay in Singapore where you’ll have your pick of various gatherings and events. Take this past weekend for example—there was a group of students on the beaches of the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia, another group in downtown Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, a group exploring Hong Kong, a few others diving in Thailand, and an adventure group in the jungles of Indonesia. Meanwhile for those who stayed in Singapore for the weekend, you had your choice of beach volleyball on Sentosa Island, exploring the World Heritage UNESCO Botanical Gardens, hiking through the MacRitchie reservoir with wild monkeys, touring the seemingly hundreds of local hawker food centers, or just having a good time with classmates downtown at a local nightlife spot. And if you really do need a low-key day relaxing by the pool or watching a movie, you’ll find people to do that with, too. If you feel like you’re missing out on something—don’t worry as there’s always tomorrow night or next weekend, which will have the same bountiful options, just different destinations. You’re guaranteed to have no shortage of fun choices regardless of whether you stay in Singapore or venture out. No matter what you want to do, there’s always at least one other person ready to join.

4. Peer Networking – I would argue this comes in the form of #1 to #3 above. Because time is such a scarce commodity, to maximize your involvement in everything, it’s ideal to find ways to combine networking with academics (studying in groups), recruiting (joining career-oriented clubs), and social events (social = networking). Time permitting there are additional clubs, campus events, and one-off small group or one-on-one coffee chats and lunches you can always organize.

5. Personal Time – “Me time” becomes time you spend with other people because time is too short at INSEAD to not make the most out of the experiences you can have with all the amazing people who are here together in one place. Even if you do manage to find some time to yourself, you’ll soon find yourself wanting to spend time with others whether it’s a group social event or one-on-one networking chat. There are so many people here with interesting backgrounds and future pathways, and finding the time to become exposed to them all is limited.

6. Sleep – I’m certain we all forgot what sleep was after day one of INSEAD.

How you actually prioritize all of these is truly up to you. It’s important to understand where you’re priorities lie. For those who are sponsored by their employers, they may prioritize acquiring or fine-tuning specific skills via academics and chosen electives while building their network via social events and coffee chats. While others who are still exploring what career options lie ahead of them might prioritize attending a breadth of company presentations and club events. Each one of us has a unique path ahead, but regardless of where our path takes us, it’s already evident that this will be a year not to be taken for granted, for as soon as we feel like we’re getting settled, surely the year will be done.  And no matter what path you choose, it’s sure to be an incredible year none of us will ever forget.

Around the world in 10 months at INSEAD

To all the people hesitating between an MBA and a one-year trip around the world, I now have the official solution—go to INSEAD! 

Before last year, I thought that I either had to focus on my career and education, or think about my personal enjoyment and travel the world. In short, I couldn’t combine personal and professional growth. Well, that was true until I found out about “planet INSEAD”, and until I stepped foot on the “Fonty” campus a couple weeks ago.

You hear how international it is from alumni; you see the stats from the school’s website; but until you get here, you just don’t really get it. The fact is, when you gather open-minded, curious and fairly brilliant people from over 80 nations with all types of backgrounds looking to get some inspiration, to explore and to go on adventures, some pretty amazing things happen, and a place like Fontainebleau—which is not known in France as the most exciting place on the planet—becomes as enriching as the world.

Let me underline this internationalization with a simple example. In all business schools, students always start a conversation by asking those 2 questions: “What do you do?” and “Where are you from?”. What differentiates INSEAD from other Business Schools is that we cannot answer the 2 questions separately.

It is amazing to see how much people have traveled to study and/or work, and how curious they are about other cultures. This makes us genuinely interested in getting to know each other. We don’t do it for networking reasons because we think that this person could eventually help us professionally in the future (even though they will actually help you), but because we know that their life stories are going to be a special one—an inspiring one.

All the “lost in translation” people out here, the ones who haven’t felt quite at home anywhere since leaving their home country for the first time, have finally found a place filled with people like them, and a new home at INSEAD.

Everything here is international: from the campuses (one in Fontainebleau, one in Singapore, and one in Abu Dhabi), to the members of our study group, to the food at the cafeteria, to the cases you study in class. It is a tiny planet. Like mini-me in Austin Powers.

I, for example, live with nine housemates in “Fonty”: three from India, one from Canada, one from Brazil, one from China, one from Bulgaria, one from Luxembourg, and one from Thailand. I live in France and I am the only French guy! And what I experience is not special here, as most INSEAD houses are filled with people from different countries.

The international richness also creates some awkward/funny situations:

  • The handshake. Oh the handshake. That could be added as a module of our “Organizational Behavior” class given how bad we are at it. An American girl trying to give a side hug to a French guy trying to kiss her on both cheeks can also be quite interesting.
  • Parties. Well, you’ve seen nothing until you witness an Indian fella dance with a Peruvian girl to French pop
  • Communication. Since more than 80% of us speak English as a second language, there can be some miscommunication at times, which means that we must be on track to beat the world record of the word “Whaaaaat?”
  • Classes. The students are international—and so are the teachers! So far in this term, all my teachers are from abroad: USA, Greece, Germany, England and Portugal. Tell me about diversity!
  • Costume parties. The theme of the very first party I attended was “your country’s cliché”. Which means that at some point, I was having a discussion with an Indian guy with a butler outfit, an Indian girl doing a fake call center accent, a Brazilian girl with a carnival dance outfit, and a French man holding a baguette and wearing a beret and scarf. Tell me about diversity again!

Being here, you realize some clichés are actually kind of true: Yes, Indians tend to be very outgoing and straightforward. Yes, British people tend to be more sarcastic. Yes, Americans say “Ya I was like, you know” at the start of most sentences. And yes, Italians speak with their hands and think that they are good at soccer. But you also understand that a lot of clichés aren’t true, that there’s not one right way to do things, and that working with people with different perspectives can open up a world of possibilities.

Overall, let me just say this to sum up my vision of the INSEAD experience so far: whatever we’ve done, whatever we want to do after we graduate, we all know we have something in common: we’re at INSEAD; we want to learn, grow, explore and live uniquely.

I’ve personally been here for two weeks, which seemed like two days, but at the same time I feel like I’ve been here for six months. I don’t know exactly what’s coming up, but I am sure that this year is going to be a memorable one, and like all my fellow 16J classmates, I sure want to make the best of it!

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