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[I promise you that a final tell-all post is still taking its form inside my head. But in the meantime, I’m letting better writers sum up their experiences at INSEAD. Enjoy.]

Questions of value must arise at the end of an energy sapping year that features, among other things, an extraordinary financial strain. Simply, was it worth it?

What is undoubtedly true is that INSEAD offers among the best education money can buy, and not only in a pedagogical sense. However, in my case, as in surely that of many of my classmates, I must wonder whether the theory (and associated interactions) absorbed, and the three letters earned, will effect (or inspire?) the expected impact on my career. Was I no longer in the mood for a decent swathe of serious learning? Did I not feel enough sacrifice of the investment made in order to seek a full return? Perhaps this is the kind of risk classifiable as a perennial pitfall of privilege?

I guess only time will clarify the extent of any delusion here. In the interim there are more job applications and interviews, and the mental anguish of a come down that is relatively simple to explain, but harder to cure.

However it is not the underpassioned (for whatever reason) that tend to miss out on the most INSEAD has to offer, but the shy, in my humble opinion. And I don’t mean those that could not get themselves away from their laptops for yet another Tavers gropefest. I mean those who had ample opportunity to pick the brains of immensely interesting people but for some reason could not muster the confidence or energy to do so.

I regret falling in this category far too often. And according to many I have discussed this with, it would appear to represent a common regret. Over 15 years ago I was about to commence my first year of undergrad, and the best advice I received, from my most respected advisor, was: “Talk to as many people as you can”. My formal institutional learning is over, and the advice could well have not been given.
It is not so much an issue of the more culturally quiet versus those with the perceived level of ‘cool’ to gain access to ears and mouths of the masses – too many who had such access seemed to waste it on shallow and banal association, again in my humble opinion.

To me, this is where INSEAD earns its damage to your balance sheet – the sheer attraction of the people. Maybe this is a common trait of concentrated graduate schools, but I have no benchmark of experience. Of course, a component of that attraction was the sexual tension (which was as fun as it should be, and tragically, almost always underexploited), but for most this was just a side-dish.

Examples of associations that characterise the attraction are diverse and often subtle in form. The humbling wisdom of a team member. The discovery of how unexpected leaders refuse to be led. A unique and powerful perspective that blows the hair back due to its sheer simplicity. The almost delirious feeling of a packed Shaker dance floor and its collective euphoria, fired by booze and the welcome surprise of the talent on show at the Cabaret.

And the treasured exchanges are not always of the more uplifting variety. I remember being suitably sideways in a Barcelona club at 4am, and one of my most fascinating classmates was recalling his work in some West African hellhole – and how the psychological trauma from his exposure to the bloodshed (and associated moral vacuum) had erased most of his childhood memories.

There is little time to explore people like this at much greater depth, as a key strength of the INSEAD course structure is to keep you moving your exposure around the student body. The grand opportunity, therefore, is to exchange genuine experiences and opinions with as many students as possible. As many as you can.

Returning to the aforementioned come down, I self-medicate myself with the knowledge that I will see my friends again. Then it will be different.

3 weeks out and the Insead IT hacks have finally managed to kick every single D09ner out of the MBA intranet portal. Begging was useless; when your turn came it was like getting fired in the worst way:

“Your mbaconnect account has been deactivated. However, you still have access to Careerlink.”

Ah, Careerlink. Ye ol’ faithful job search portal, thin with age, at least until the J10s’ recruitment round begins.

At Insead, 15 seconds really is 15 seconds. You are hot for a year. Cloistered by the forest, coddled by the MBA administration, courted by companies big and small, you feel the world better watch out when you walk outta there with your diploma. Right?

Wrong.

All the cheers and whistles crescendo into nothing but a sigh for those of us unlucky or inept enough not to have landed a plum position in P4. When the curtain falls, you realize you were not on stage but in the audience and it is time to haul your unemployed self out into the blinding sun. The stress of this period is not like the constant stress of time management we experienced during the MBA. It is more insidious, an uncomfortable tingly feeling deep in our gut.

For those, comme moi, who formed romantic attachments with classmates, the weeks before and after graduation are even more fraught with soul-searching. My vision is clouded by all the question marks hanging in the air and still, like any MBA worth her salt, I am cobbling together a new job search strategy, calling up alums and sucking up to old associates and colleagues over lunches that I cannot afford. Meanwhile, my boyfriend has just expanded his geographic criteria to include North America. That means, his job search, like a gap year adventure, could see him alight anywhere from Singapore, overland through the Middle East to Western Europe and across the Atlantic to Canada. What of “us”? Dunno. Get a job first.

By now, I am familiar with the trade-offs that are de rigueur in this phase of life. So many classmates delivered last kisses to perfectly wonderful boys and girls to pursue – not their dream jobs – sensible career choices in livable office locations. The need to make good on our expensive degrees drives us to deny the choices that bloom deep within from true, pithy desire. Except for a brave few, we pick ‘lifestyle’ over ‘life’, ‘prospects’ over ‘love’.

But that is not to say that we aren’t savoring the final days of freedom before the suits and peak hour traffic take them away. The stragglers coming back to town to take up new positions or find some are keeping the INSEAD theme alive. My inbox is filled with invitations to dim sum, karaoke, Attica, water treatment plants, frog farms. Yes, we’re an energetic bunch. A special type of animal. Ever hopeful, ever ready, we emerge from behind our laptops at twilight to gather at the watering hole. Twirling beers on garden furniture, we talk about business, love, the future. Hope is alive. The world is at our feet once again.

“At 6 months, people will change jobs, at 1 year, babies start popping out and at 1.5 years divorces start to happen” –Anonymous INSEAD alumnus

If that quote is true, then god knows what’s going to happen at 2, 5, and 10 years. Why it would take you 1.5 years to work out that the sweaty guy you face licked that one momentous Montmelian night is not for you I have no idea.

I had an elderly alumnus inform me that his year “had the highest death rate of any year”. Er, okay, so how is that local sports team doing again? While definitely hoping my year doesn’t come anywhere near that infamous record, it is interesting to note how the partying refuses to die. Put two INSEADers in a room and they will find some way to make a party out of it. And you definitely feel the obligation to go and see everyone “just one last time”.

It’s good to feel that obligation; it means you have found at least some heart during the year and still want to chase it, to make it stay and experience it all over again. People talk about wanting the year to stop, to slow down and reverse. But seriously, do you honestly have the energy to do another year at that intensity? I know I do not, and while I am sad to leave great friends and experiences, I am looking forward to the next chapter in the story of my life.

The INSEAD goodbye seems to be fairly drawn out. There are the hugs, the kisses, the promises to see each other all over the world again, some even sacrificing a great deal to be with partners they only met this year. Then there’s the awkward seeing them again downstairs on the way to school/supermarket/Uncle’s uh, didn’t I just say a long, heartfelt, drawn out goodbye to you? Well, er, see ya!!!

So where will we all end up? Some are exhausted and never want to travel ever again. Some still have the energy left for that one last big push. Others have a 15 country round the world trip in 10 days planned. Me? I just want a good cup of tea and a lie down.

It is noticeable how few people found their “dream job”. Some have managed to change 2 of the 3 infamous axes (function, geography and industry). Others have said screw you all, I’m going home (and then looking for work next year). And yet others have only managed to change 1 one of the axes. It seems very few managed that big leap after the MBA, which is apparent only really possible maybe 2-3 years out of the course.

So, this is the end. Although with INSEAD, it never really ends, it just never dies. And that, truly, is a good thing in this world.

For those who knew me, I wish you fantastic times in whatever you do.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character is stuck reliving the same day over and over again until he finally evolves into a better human being, gets the girl, and is able to move forward through time again. The last month of INSEAD has felt like one long Groundhog Day. Everyday for the last month has been a repeat of the one before it. A never-ending LAST party, the LAST of the house dinners, the LAST lunch at uncle’s. The LAST band performance by The Bottlenecks or The Sexecutives. The LAST case. The LAST lecture (I chose to attend dreamy, brilliant Kevin Kaiser’s Value Creation in Corporate Restructuring and skip the final day of the excruciatingly boring From Startup to Fortune 500.)

The Groundhog Day feeling was especially acute in Sri Lanka. Was it even Sri Lanka? Grad trip could have been at any random hotel in a tropical location and none of us would have noticed the difference. There was an elephant and some monitor lizards involved, so could be…

For those of you who missed it, and want to live vicariously through me, here are the highlights:

Day 1:
Take cab to airport at 4:30AM. Take scary, scary airplane (hairy-backed flight attendants in saris very stingy about blankets).
Take 3.5 hour bus ride past 500 buddha statues to gated community.
By the time you arrive, you have been traveling for 13 hours.
Life skills class 1. Turns out that your roommate has been taking striptease/pole-dancing classes for four years. She’s now eager to impart her knowledge onto her classmates.
Stuff face at dinner. Pumpkin curries, beetroot curries, okra curries. Life is good.
Day 2:
Stuff face at breakfast. New favorite – hoppers – will one day feature in a brunch-off.
Water aerobics proves way more fun than expected. Spend rest of the day meandering from big pool to little pool.
Put on some SPF40
Volleyball.
Sit down briefly and pretend to read Harpers. Realize that there aren’t enough tables and exhibits for it to make sense to you.
Drink some caipiroskas. NB: Pacing yourself to prevent hangover from cheap local alcohol is a good idea.
Dodge locals hanging around on beach trying to sell you stuff.
Avoiding eye contact with two classmates you no longer speak to is somehow highly satisfying.
Jump in the waves, laughing hysterically.
More volleyball.
Life skills class 2: learning to unlock the movement that lives naturally inside of you.
Dinner is delish. You’re glad that your stomach hasn’t worked since eating something dodgy in Cambodia, allowing you to go for seconds as long as you stay close to the toilet. Also limits your ability to go on various excursions to elephant orphanages. (Yep, oversharing again).
Bad decisions at midnight are pre-empted by sand flies on beach. File snogging with someone with a poor grasp of colloquial English under ‘cultural exchange’.
Day 3:
Water aerobics. Less fun the second time around.
Volleyball.
Stuff face at lunch
Meander from big pool to little pool. Following several dislocated shoulders and a near-scalping, body surfing in the waves seems a lot less appealing.
Volleyball.
Discover your latent talent as a football quarterback.
Yoga at sunset.
Life skills class 3. Need a long cold shower afterwards.
Take cold shower. Cold shower doesn’t help.
Day 4:
Same same
Take tuk-tuk and overpay for bad, greasy massage in town. Went just to say I left the gated community.
Life skills class 4. Learn chair dancing
Celebrate our love of conformity while wearing all white and doing a coordinated dance on the beach. Realize that I’m not drunk enough to have the proper amount of fun at this party.
Have the same ‘what are you doing afterwards’ conversation for the 97th time in 5 days, followed by the ‘are you happy or sad to be done conversation’
Day 5:
Same same
Some tearful good-byes. Pretend that you’ll see people much sooner than you’ll see them.
Life skills class 5. You think that if you can learn the art of hip-rotations you’ll never be rejected again.
Take 1AM bus back to Colombo. Foot massage at airport ranks high among best decisions ever. Board scary plane at 7AM. The pilot comes on the PR welcoming the class of INSEAD 09 on board. It’s sweet.
Arrive to Singapore exhausted, in need of another vacation.

While I didn’t get the girl, it seems that I finally stand some hope of moving forward in time.

I’m now an alumna of INSEAD. A very anti-climactic ceremony – a sweaty and awkward speech from Jake, a slightly more inspiring if not altogether well-reasoned speech from Dean Brown, an an incomprehensible and largely uninspiring address from the Asia-Pacific president of Diaggio, a spirits company – followed by a cocktail mixer, a really bad buffet dinner and a ride in the flyer to watch the cranes dotting the Singapore night sky – marked the end of this remarkable year.

Oh, right, forgot to mention: I’m in Singapore. With two weeks left of term, I abandoned the Fontainebleau ship as temperatures plunged below zero. The resort life in Singapore is okay…. a 2, 3. Sterile and soul-less, as expected; but also, delicious, convenient, more intimate and more relaxed. The INSEAD brand looks the same, but the whole campus feels and looks completely different. It’s some Hello Kitty fantasy version of The Business School for the World: tropical plants, lily ponds, and a food court with bubble tea and dragon fruit just down the street at Fusionopolis.

I have no regrets about not spending a term in Singapore; rather, I appreciate the symbolic continuity of a full year spent in one place. Now, I can encapsulate my experience as ‘back when I was young and spent a year in France’ and maybe even pretend that I spoke French but have forgotten it since. Pourquoi pas?

If I do have any regrets, it’s not coming back for graduation in Fonty. It snowed in Fonty this morning, which gives a nice circularity to the experience. Snow when we started; snow when we finished.

Sad or Happy? My answer, in case you are wondering, is both.

I know I’m going to miss this place – or if I’m honest, the concept of INSEAD more than INSEAD itself; I’ll miss myself at this time in my life. Just the way I miss myself at 18, moving to a big city on my own for the first time. Or at 25, taking pictures of everything I ate and seeking out films that made me bawl. At 28, finding the guts to quit my job, and heading to learn Spanish and dance salsa in a rainy town of a thousand hummingbirds. I’ll miss the uncertainty of this year, the possibilities ahead, the camaraderie of the shared experience, the structured environment which makes you feel like you’re succeeding in a way that’s irrelevant to the rest of the world, the inexhaustible amount of energy I summoned this year.

At this point, I’ve been saying good-bye to people for about three weeks. First, a round of Fonty good-byes, next a round of adieus in Sri Lanka and now a string of drawn out au revoirs by the poolside at Heritage, as people desert this ghost town one by one.

Eventually I’ll say good-bye to this blog as well. I’ll check in a few months hence, as I hope to have some post-INSEAD perspective. Until then, a bientot, hasta pronto, bis spaeter, до встречи.

Batshit Crazy

There are four weeks left of term and some people have lost their minds. Some are inventing their own version of two-campus P5 that I’ve heard called “Fontainepour” (or “Singableau”), others are finding a lifetime of McNuggets a viable proposition. I’m trying to balance the sentimentality of the impending departure (the last of the Monday dinners, the parties with Black Eyed Peas on constant repeat, the foggy mornings in the forest) with the urge to get the f*ck out of Dodge. And all the while, trying not embarrass myself too much at parties. [To the sweaty aggressive Israeli P2: check your pockets for any of my personal items and pls leave in pigeonhole. Facebook stalking revealed that you listed ‘The DaVinci Code’ and Vivaldi as favorites, so um… it’s not going to work out. It’s not me, it’s you.]

As of today, I have ten days left in France. Having also gone somewhat batshit crazy, I decided that I couldn’t finish INSEAD without doing the Singapore thing. So I’m in the process of packing and taking stock of the year that is almost done. Of course, it’s impossible to see the forest for the trees while I’m still thick in the trees. My talent manager says that we won’t truly understand the impact of this year until it’s over. So, you’ll have to wait for me to make my final assessments a few months out over a glass of Txakoli while I watch the surf from a beachside cafe in rainy, beautiful Pays Vasco.

Just last night I was going through my coursepacks – deciding what to keep, what to scan, what to throw away. With La Poste’s 10EUR/kilo rate, I have to part with the 3 ft tall stack of course notes, readings, cases. After college, I held on to the 20+ ‘Bibles’ – bound books of all the course notes, homeworks, exams. I lugged the 15 kilos of them from apartment to apartment, and in the 6 years since undergrad looked at one of the Bibles once, to review Navier-Stokes when doing some fluid flow calculations at work. Eventually I ditched them in the basement of the house I shared with the Troll.

At INSEAD, you have to continuously make tradeoffs between studying, your social life, sleep, keeping in touch with family and friends from home, and blogging. During this massive house-cleaning, I got into a low panic over the fact that most of the trading off I’ve been doing recently has been in favor of the part-time job (which, to be fair, has been a great learning experience) and social life, at the expense of sleep and academic learning. This means that I have piles and piles of seemingly interesting supplemental reading – on leadership, corporate governance, making of strategy, whathaveyou – that I haven’t had time to read. I’m deluding myself thinking that I’ll read them one day if I scan them in.

Post INSEAD I’m joining a small start-up to help them set strategic direction for their product development. [It’s exactly what I wanted to be doing, so I feel incredibly lucky that things have worked out my way] Yet, sitting in on Value Creation in Corporate Restructuring (and shamelessly drooling over Kevin Kaiser) is making me feel like I don’t know squat. I’ve resorted to listening closely to comments people making during the class, and mentally placing people into one of several buckets: “would never hire”, “should consider hiring”, “will ask to be on the board in 15 years” .

[I’m bored. So, to be continued.]

Grad Trip Prediction Market

photo

Per MDMS leave me a comment with your own predictions for our grad trip!

[Mama, Papa, I know you’re going to read this. And then you’re going to wish you hadn’t. Up to you]
mcnuggets-728319

Good news! I have another dating disaster story to add to my already colorful and highly amusing repertoire of drama and intrigue – the retellings of which frequently derailed attempts at productivity of many a study group. Take for example one uber-kinky John I asked out on a date by taking a picture of my stuffed panda holding a note inviting him to see Rach4 at the Symphony. It was the world’s most adorable start to a relationship that would end when he finally decided to tell me that he was married. I was shocked briefly, but soon found a third half-Asian named Jon (to replace the half-Asian that John was replacing), and was relieved not to listen to his condescending soliloquies on post-modernism any longer. There was many a JDate disaster story: a guy with a pronounced limp who insisted on playing a rather comical game of tennis as a first date (as if to prove that, like Pinnocchio, he was a real boy), a guy who took me to see Dar Williams in concert the week after his mother died, and another whose mother killed herself a few months prior. There was Difficult Dan who was an amazing gourmet cook, and a talented pianist and cellist, and completely OCD and unbearable. There was also Gosha who got dumped for obnoxiously peeking into my fridge the first time he came to my house. And Caleb who failed to get a third date when he took a 5 minute phone call between the entree and the plat. And many a story too vulgar to tell. And then there’s the story of Jon the Pervert that’s a party favorite, but casts me in a rather psychotic light.

Jon the Pervert (not half-Asian for variety) was a classmate in grad school. I had a suspicion that Jon was a complete asshole, as evidenced by the fact that his “friends” didn’t seem to like him very much, and the fact that all of my friends couldn’t stand him. But he was very good looking, and our parents happened to live two towns over. So I talked myself into falling for him. As I probably mentioned previously, Jon the Pervert spent about 6 months destroying my self-esteem in a particularly manipulative, awful way, and then dumped me two weeks before graduation.

He then promptly got back together with an ex-girlfriend who was a Russki me-lookalike named Sasha and much more in touch with her lesbian side. The reason I know this is because I hacked Jon’s yahoo account.

Six months later, and a while after I stopped speaking to Jon and stopped reading his e-mail, I was bored and decided to check in. Just to make sure that he was still unhappy, I suppose. What I found in his inbox, among love letters to his girlfriend, was a response to an online ad to a girl who promised to ‘Fuck the smartest man on Craigslist’. Jon decided to throw his hat into the game, writing her from another account called craigslistcas@yahoo.com and cc’ing his regular account for whatever strange reason. Craigslist Casanova’s account happened to have the exact same lame password as his other account, and what I found was a treasure trove of years’ worth of e-mails to that tune.

Eventually I beat Jon at his own twisted game, inflicting a wealth of highly-satisfying emotional damage along the way. Last time I ran into Jon, 3 years hence, he was a shell of his former self. Actually, he was fine and getting married to a girl that one of my friends described as “not particularly bright, but very nice”.

In comparison, the latest turn of events is kind of plain vanilla: low on both drama and amusement, and highly unmemorable. What sucks is that I didn’t expect to be treated this way by someone I considered a friend – someone I was there for when he needed me. Perhaps I should choose my friends more carefully.

In the comforting words of my absentee talent manager, “Princesa, you did not come to Europe to eat McNuggets.”

Perhaps I’ll try something a little more gourmet next.

The good news is that my friends are always eager to help. Here, for example, is a chat excerpt from my upstairs neighbor:

“What style do you like next?
an East Coast intellectual?
a French alcoholic?
a constipated Swiss?
a sloppy Brit?
an Aussie with an indecipherable accent?
something of the Asian persuasion again?
Tomorrow at Le Shaker, we can hold auditions.”