Villa Vivanté (and other Fontainebleau accommodation tips)

Je suis arrivé à Fontainebleau! Actually, I arrived a little over a month ago, but my new life at INSEAD has flown by faster than a New York Minute. It’s only now that I have finally found a moment to stop and reflect on it all. So here goes.

Let me invite you into my new home Villa Vivanté.

Villa Vivanté is an 18th century home with eleven bedrooms, almost as many bathrooms, and two living rooms and kitchens. There are 11 of us fresh-faced MBA students living here at the moment. Between us, we speak over 15 languages and come from all corners of the globe – specifically from Australia (me), America / Jordan (Rayan), Germany (Carlo), France, Canada, Georgia, Brazil, Belgium, India and Japan.

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Echoes of Islamic Finance in Piketty, Porter, and Lagarde

For most people when hearing about Islamic finance for the first time, the new term usually begs the question, “What’s different about Islamic finance compared to regular finance?” I get asked this question quite often, and it’s difficult to know where to begin and how deeply to delve into the details. During our second week of P3 in Abu Dhabi, we had a guest lecturer from the Department of Economic Development for the Government of Dubai, Harun Kapetanovic, deliver a talk that I hoped would help me answer the question more succinctly. What I took away from Kapetanovic’s lecture, however, was not a concise encyclopedic way to explaining the characteristics that delineate Islamic finance from conventional finance. Rather, his talk offered a more compelling way to place Islamic finance in the context of the global financial system by showing how the principles that underpin Islamic finance have been echoed in other schools of economic thought.

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INSEAD: First Impressions of Fontainebleau

When describing life at INSEAD, students and alumni often talk about the world-class courses and professors, the enriching extra-curricular activities, and the outstanding career services. After an exciting kick-off to the program these first two weeks with a variety of team-building, orientation, and preparatory activities, I thought it would be worthwhile to share some first impressions which I plan to reflect on at the end of the year.

The People

The INSEAD MBA Class of December 2016 is comprised of over 70 nationalities. My first reaction when I looked around the auditorium of my peers waiting for Dean Ilian Mihov’s welcome speech was to think about how incredible it was to experience this new meaning of the word “diversity”, and to hear seven languages being spoken in my immediate vicinity.

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The INSEAD MBA Experience Arrives in Abu Dhabi!

After 10 days of travelling through the relative wilderness of East Africa, my Etihad flight made a smooth landing at Abu Dhabi’s International Airport. My journey to a brand new continent had just ended, but another, entirely different adventure was about to begin. Aside from the sprawling lights from buildings and cars, I was greeted by a vast number of tower cranes erecting the new terminal expansion of the Abu Dhabi Airport – probably three times the number used to construct the new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis. When travelling through Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it is truly astonishing to see how fast the cities have developed. After all, this was a land of desert, bedouins, and simple fishermen just 50 years ago.

After stepping into the Grand Millennium Al Wahda hotel, I began meeting my fellow INSEAD classmates, some of whom I came to know on the Fontainebleau campus in France, and others from Singapore, who I met for the first time. Out of a group of just 44 students forming the pioneering class of INSEAD’s first 2-month residential MBA exchange in Abu Dhabi, a total of 30 nationalities are represented. Students arrived from all corners of the earth following a month-long recess for Christmas holidays, eager to begin their studies in an entirely different context and environment than before.

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Ah INSEAD…. So unique that it’s hard to describe it to other people sometimes. The diversity, the pace, the combination of hard work and social life… but what makes INSEAD stand apart (and be the BEST MBA IN THE WORLD) is its short length mixed with the incredible number of options it offers to students. The hard part : choosing what to do. Finding out what we really want. And make decisions. Just like when we go to a restaurant with a long menu…

When I go to a restaurant, I am one of the most annoying people you can think of, because I tend to ask the waiter one of the three stupid but still widely widespread questions :

  • What’s good here ?
  • What do you recommend ?
  • What’s better : the steak or the salmon ?

This is very silly because he/she is not going to tell me : « Everything on the menu is horrible and makes people sick, except for one specific item that is truly delicious ». Sometimes though I do get a reply like « our specialty is … you should really try it » which makes it very happy since I do not have a decision to make anymore. But the vast majority of times, I get the normal response : « Well it depends on what want sir » (let’s pretend they call me sir).

Well at INSEAD, it’s the exact same thing : there’s an incredible number of options for students, but we just cannot do it all. At the restaurant, you can only eat a few things before you’re full (and sometimes « broke »). At INSEAD, we have a different constraint : TIME (we’re all broke after paying the tuition fee anyway). So let’s check out the menu for a moment :

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