I remember quite well my first day of school in the US. I was almost eight years old, and had only moved a month prior after growing up most of my life in Brussels. Despite months of anticipation and excitement to start a new, “American” life, that morning, as I entered the school grounds, looking around at the throng of children running around in the courtyard yelling at each other a strange gibberish of French, English, and god-knows-what-else, utter panic took hold of me. It finally hit me that I was in a new country and school, and that I knew nobody in this strange place. I had to start anew, make new friends and learn a new language, things I knew nothing about back then. And so, as I lined up with my new classmates in the courtyard and began walking in formation to class, my panic turned into a dread I was too young to understand.
Since that fateful September morning, I’ve taken a few, life-altering moves to new countries, schools and work. Each time I embark on a new adventure, that initial panic “pinch” I felt as a child starting at Rochambeau hits me. Sometimes, the pinch is faint (like when I moved to NYC for college); other times, I feel it more acutely (like when I moved to Georgia as a Peace Corps Volunteer). At this point, I’ve come to enjoy the feeling – it’s a sign that I’m embarking on a new, significant adventure; that I am living out something dynamic, novel. It’s often challenging, usually disorienting, and sometimes even painful to step out of your comfort zone. But so far, every time I’ve done so, I’ve become just a bit wiser, stronger and kinder. And that always makes it worthwhile.
It’s been roughly six weeks since I started INSEAD, and despite being an adult who’s moved many times in her life, I feel an odd combination of sheer excitement and childhood panic. On the one hand, I feel right at home in an international environment where a medley of languages, fashion and social queues clash with each other like the bustle of a Taiwanese night market. I love the diversity of conversations I witness and partake in nearly everyday with people quite different from me, be they from different backgrounds, industries or mentality. The course material is vastly different from what I studied previously (hello liberal arts!), but refreshing in its ability to mould my thinking and understanding of the world and systems around me.
On the other hand, INSEAD challenges my opinions, prior knowledge, and my self-understanding daily in ways no other experience has previously. The hours I spend tackling concepts completely out of my repertoire, working with my groupmates in analyzing business cases, and occasionally failing to understand the underlying logic of accounting, finance or microeconomic principles, really put my confidence and motivation to the test.
But then, occasionally, I get an epiphany and I manage to internalize the logic behind the numbers I’ve been staring at for the past hour. I glance out at the other end of the amphitheater to another struggling soul, and for a couple of seconds, we partake in a special connection only those quietly suffering back-to-back financial accounting courses are capable of sharing. At the latest house party I discuss for the umpteenth time why I came to INSEAD and what I hope to do after (“no, I’m not pursuing an MBA to go back to NGO work…”), but this time, someone gives me an interesting insight that shapes my aspirations in a compelling way. On the latest Thursday evening, I decide to test my lack of hand-eye coordination and join the school’s rugby practice, where no one judges my flailing limbs and instead encourages me to keep running with the rugby like my inner Forrest Gump would.
And then sometimes, some of my acquaintances and section classmates start to become friends I rely on; the occasional rugby practice I join becomes a ritual to escape the confused mathematical formulas in my head; and while the course material seldom becomes easier, it becomes surmountable, even enjoyable at times.
Soon enough, I realize that I am part of a truly unique community of similarly talented, ambitious and confused individuals, who are all feeling some sort of childhood panic pinch propelling them forward.
And that’s what makes INSEAD worth the sleepless nights, the intense studying, the hardcore socializing, and the powerful self-reflections.