Funky Facts about Life at INSEAD

Who would have thought I would come to INSEAD to learn how to dance Hip-hop, discover the European après-ski, or get to hear the faculty gossip in the sauna every Friday afternoon?

It’s the small things in life that make INSEAD unique. They help shape an experience that make the school, settled in a quiet town in the middle of a boar- and deer- infested forest less than 45 minutes away outside of Gâre de Lyon-Paris, come to life.

Business School for the World. Focused around food.

INSEAD is truly as international as it was meant to be when founded nearly 60 years ago. No country has a dominant impact on the school. However, on the Europe Campus, it would be difficult to escape the food culture that is prevalent all over France and Europe. Everyone rallies at the cafeteria between 12 and 2pm. You usually enter with friends from your section or group. You grab lunch from one of the many stations offering different dishes, grab one (or 2) of the many deserts offered. After getting lost at the different food stalls or cash registers, you come out the other side to end up sitting down with a totally different group of friends you might know, or will get to know over lunch. But that’s all fine! So many people from so many different backgrounds to get to know!


What’s for lunch?

I’m sexy and I know it. I work out!

Sauna culture is not prevalent back home, in Canada. I was delighted to learn there is one in the school gym, adjacent to the steam bath. Having gone there a few times after working out or going for a jog in the forest behind the school, I realized this is where the faculty gossip is usually going on. Want to know the latest scuttlebutt from faculty? Head down to the sauna around 5 or 6pm on Wednesdays and Fridays. But you didn’t hear it from me….

 

Where to live? Decisions, decisions.

The Europe campus is located in the middle of a forest which itself is in the middle of the fields. You have a direct train to downtown Paris, which makes for very nice evenings and weekends in Paris! You will have to decide where you wish to live: either in Fontainebleau, at walking distance from school, or on the outer edge of the forest.

A few legendary INSEAD houses exist in Fontainebleau namely Salamander, Villa Foch, and Club 16. You can also choose to live in quieter houses or flats in town. On the other hand, if you choose to live outside of town, a 10- to 15-minute car ride from campus, you’ll most likely be renting a car from MBAcars, a company managed by a friendly INSEAD alum. A few houses located on castle grounds even have swimming pools! You will also most likely be living with a few colleagues.

The great aspect about living with 6 or 7 fellow students is that your social life takes care of itself. You’ll get lots of occasions to mingle with colleagues, all while living in a big house with lots of space. If ever you do choose to live on the other side of the forest, watch out for boars at night! You’ll often see a ‘family night out’ with Papa boar, Mama Boar, and the 10 little Pumbaa piglets frolicking by the side of the road. They would be fantastic for one of the many BBQs happening around town! But I never ventured out of my car to catch one, as I fear Simba might be lurking in the shadows.


Old 17th century inn and stable converted to a house

Can’t Touch This!

I once mentioned that the people with whom I was studying were nothing shy of impressive. One of the first memories I have of INSEAD is the kick-off party when a few people took over the dance floor. I then started being a little self-conscious about my arm, leg and body (un)coordination that might have made a toddler’s parents very proud!

A few weeks later, I learned we had dancing stars in class who were leading hip-hop classes. I don’t hope to be able to shred the dance floor like the King of Pop any time soon, but a vague imitation of Vanilla Ice’s running man now seems within reach!

Journey to the Centre of the Network

Network—and networking—are probably one of the most spoken words in any business school across the world. It also has an ambiguous definition. If I consider it the action to acquaint oneself with like-minded professionals then all of my interactions with my INSEAD classmates could be considered networking. Before this weekend, I felt that the networking I was doing through social activities around campus during the weekdays would be sufficient to make memorable impressions and foster relationships that would last well beyond graduation.

A Bloomberg article about travelling networking was published a few months ago and I initially dismissed its argument that travelling is a value-added way to networking and to the MBA experience. However, I am now fully subscribed to the belief that travelling with business schoolmates is incredibly enriching to the bubble in which we find ourselves.

This past weekend I travelled with a troop of Fontainbleau-ers to Barcelona, Spain for the IESE Spring Games. It was the first trip that I’ve taken with my MBA classmates because I came to INSEAD with probably less desire than the average student to travel. I attributed this to a few reasons: I had already visited various proposed destinations (and I prefer new experiences) and among various networking opportunities presented in business school, I was not prioritising networking among my classmates high enough.

I no longer think along these lines. On this trip I realised that traveling with my classmates creates an abundance of social capital far better than in academic surroundings. Just as professional relationships can be cemented over time through one-on-one activities outside the workplace, business school friendships are often forged outside the campus environment.

Did I speak to more people than usual on this trip? Probably not. However, I can refer to this shared experience with those whom I am not so well acquainted to kick-start a friendship and boost those whose development has plateaued. I appreciated that the trip gave purpose to the students besides studying all the live-long day.

The trip was a much appreciated break from the normal grind of Fontainebleau. Some of us may go overboard, but trips can be treated as a pressure release. I could then argue that you should travel for the sake of your health! I feel that I may be triggering FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) in some of the students who didn’t attend, but I would suggest some social travel with classmates is beneficial to the MBA experience. I am aware that there are temporal and financial constraints to respect, but if they can be overcome for a desirable trip then I would encourage as many students as possible to take up an adventure!

Exploring different landscapes

Exploring different landscapes

As an avid traveller, studying at INSEAD brings me another advantage: the possibility to reach in a few hours completely different landscapes, which range from the Sahara desert, the largest subtropical hot desert, to the Mont-Blanc, the highest peak in Europe.

It seems that this month I tried my best to cross the two most extreme types of environments available to me. Yes, I went to the Sahara and the Mont-Blanc within a 14-day interval. To be honest, I had never thought, planned, or whished to visit extreme surroundings in such a short time.

In the middle of P1 (INSEAD MBA is organized in 5 periods, each lasts roughly 2 months), different options of P1/P2 break trip started showing up. The first one I saw was a ski trip, which sounded interesting because I had never skied. However, as a Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro, I needed sun! I remember that Sunday afternoon. I was tired of organizing my stuff at home and I went online when suddenly I saw this trip to Morocco. I couldn’t wait to confirm my presence on the trip and book my ticket. I was second to do so after my friend Sophia, who in fact was the trip organizer.  Later on, I even ended up joining the organizing committee for that trip.

On the way to the Sun

The schedule of the trip was: arrive in Marrakesh; travel to the desert the following day, where we would ride camels to our tents; sleep there; and then go back to Marrakesh, where we would spend two days before returning to reality. Many readers of this itinerary might think that riding a camel would be the most exciting moment of the trip. But as someone once said, the important thing is nor the destination, but the journey. There were so many bonding moments in our tour that is a challenge to pick the best ones to describe here. When we arrived at Marrakesh, we went to a riad where a delicious dinner was waiting for us. Then on the way and back from the desert we had many, almost nonstop hours of conversation with our classmates. It was an invaluable opportunity to get to know each other in a deeper way, chatting about as diverse topics as the nationalities that form our classes. In fact, it was in one of those conversations that I started thinking about my initiation into snowboarding. The next day, at the airport, I was already arranging my trip to Chamonix, where I be discovering why almost everyone at the school had spent at least one weekend skiing or snowboarding.

 

Going for the snow at Chamonix-Mont Blanc

My only expectation was to have fun while trying to explore this new cold and snowy world. Because I had done skateboarding for a few years, learning snowboarding was easier than average and I was enjoying that kind of—I mean very cold—environment more than I had imagined.

Chamonix is connected to Fontainebleau via an excellent motorway. The quality of the motorway enhances the driver experience and despite the long hours, the journey was quite enjoyable.

So there we were, coming back from our trip when suddenly we discovered that the motorway was closed. This wouldn’t have been a problem had there been alternative routes—and there were none, according to our GPS.

We contacted some INSEAD’s students from France and with their help we were able to find our way. The alternative route took longer but on the way we kept laughing and having a good chat. In that adventurous experience we almost took the Spanish poet Antonio Machado’s famous verse: “traveller, there is no path, you make the path as you travel” to the limit.

Citizens of the World

Since the welcome day in October, I have been increasingly thinking about what I want to get out of my MBA experience at INSEAD. I think about the school’s tagline: The Business School for the World, and I ask myself, what does that make the student body, the professors and the staff?

I often think about my projection and perception. I was born in London, so I have the cultural mannerisms of a Brit. My family is Sikh, so I am taking on board the teachings of its Gurus. I have learnt some European languages, so I am aware of the intra and inter-social nuances of mainland Europe and Great Britain. And I have recently lived in New York, so my personality has been somewhat molded by the cultural pageantry.

Now I wonder, what am I? How do I define myself? Do I even want to define myself? In our adolescence we try extremely hard to fit in, but as we get older, we try to stand out. I feel like I found myself trying very hard before university to find my place in social circles. The harder I tried, the less belonging I felt. There are often moments of enlightenment that obliterate our previous ways of thinking. This is mine.

I once flew to Singapore for a friend’s birthday, which he held at a club. A merry time was had by one and all, and upon leaving I struck up a conversation with a French chap who was the opening DJ of the evening. As soon as I heard his accent, I decided on brushing up my French. We bid ‘adieu’ to each other and my friend pointed out that his jaw dropped when he heard this turban wearing ‘rosbif’ bust out some French. What was I? I have since refined this description as a ‘Citizen of the World.’

Having met future classmates and alumni this year, I am confident that I have found my place in the world. This place encompasses all countries, religions, races and cultures. It is the entire world and its dual capitals are found in Fontainebleau and Singapore. INSEAD brings together people who transcend their places of birth, their families’ teachings, and their cultures defined by academic and professional organisations.

The only homogeneous characteristic we have is that we are all different. I wish to promote this ‘Citizen of the World’ persona upon us and even try to get this phrase embedded into INSEAD’s vernacular. I need your help; just continue who you are and what you do. Become a better, wiser, worldlier version of yourself everyday. We live in a world where divisions are causing endless tension and suffering for a significant proportion of humans. We can overcome these divisions and engender many more ‘Citizens of the World!’

Closing the Books

Morroco Sunrise

One week into the program, we had our first quiz. Then, six weeks later, a frenzy came along: the final exam frenzy.

Only then, when you take a look at practice final exams do you realize the amount of material covered in such a short amount of time. (I heard the second term takes this concept a notch further, with an extra class in the schedule, but I digress. Let’s keep this topic for, perhaps, a few weeks from now.)

We all do an MBA for different reasons. The learning experience, diversification of your network, career promotion, and change in job sectors are a few that often get mentioned. It is essential for you to figure this out so you can sort your priorities, and these can serve as some sort of personal “MBA Handbook” if you will.

Over the program, the learning experience is usually on par with a series of other priorities. The academic experience is usually a setting for attending a multitude of networking or social events: on-campus corporate events and conferences, student clubs, playing a squash competition with your colleagues or even travelling off to a new country with 40 other classmates!

Coming into exams, however, the non-academic activities get brushed on the sidelines, and it’s a great relief to know you can count on classmates to review and explain more challenging concepts during late-night study sessions. It can be a stressful week, but you learn a lot through it, on an academic level as much as on a personal level.

Then you close the books, the exams finish, and the fun begins—rather, the fun continues. Immediately when the last exam finishes, everyone meets at the INSEAD bar and the champagne starts to flow. You discuss excitedly about all the fun that was first term, and all the fun to come in the second one. After all, recruiting for summer internships is right around the corner! Thirty minutes later, it’s already time to get onto that shuttle to the airport, and board a plane to Morocco, Prague, or Bali to enjoy the long weekend before the second term. It promises to be as eventful as the first.

It is in that state of mind that I write these lines, on the plane to Marrakesh to discover a new city, a new culture, a new country. I look forward to sleeping in the desert, straddling a camel and to better get acquainted with my colleagues which I’m sure will quickly become good friends.

Camel Riding is fun!

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