Grey Soviet-era buildings in cold shades of monotone had long formed my mental image of Russia. This image quickly dissipated as I encountered a riot of mosaic and colorful onion domes as we braved traffic into the city center.

The Building Business in Russia course took place in July and is one of my favorite INSEAD electives. The elective was a perfect combination of scholarly debate, entrepreneurial discussion and good, plain fun. My top 3 experiences were definitely:

#1: Visiting St Basil’s Cathedral – I had seen this countless times before in travel guides and on TV so it felt really surreal to admire the iconic structure in person. Up close and personal, its vivid color scheme made me think about Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house…but on steroids.

#2: Travelling 650 km on the overnight train from Moscow to St Petersburg –The ultimate sleepover experience. We feasted on typical Russian fare in the dining car (drinking games: optional) before tucking into a surprisingly comfortable bunk bed.

#3: Interacting with Russian businesses – Company visits were organised in addition to real-life consulting projects with local firms. We met with CEOs, young entrepreneurs, even a Russian billionaire! In view of its importance to the country’s economy, oil and gas was a recurring topic throughout the week. Coming from the industry, this was of course a subject of keen interest for me.

The experiential learning approach allowed us to discover the many different facets of Russia. As I sat through the final reflection session and listened to what everyone had to say, I noted how differently Russia had affected each member of the group. Some saw exciting opportunity while others re-discovered their cultural heritage. For me, I think I saw greatness –beautifully preserved relics of the illustrious Romanov Empire, set against a modern backdrop of great ambition.