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Archive for June, 2009

[mbamrs] I am still trying to distill my own reflections of the 3/5 mark into an appropriately sentimental yet amusing post. In the meantime, a dear friend who has departed from Singapore has shared his reflections. Enjoy.

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Time for a reflection. They always say in almost any wanky, consultant produced flow diagram that you should stop, review and reflect. That’s before you start from square 1 all over again. Considering the analogy is so apt, that’s what I will do.

Six months ago I arrived in Fontainebleau bright eyed and bushy tailed. Full of optimism about what lay ahead, the opportunities I would find, the experiences I would have and the people I would meet.

Did it all come to pass? Well no. But some did. INSEAD is the kind of place where it really is what you make of it. Do you want to party all the time? Sure. Do you want to study all the time? Go for your life. Do you want to find a husband/wife? Er….Needless to say I think I achieved a lot of the first two. I have learnt some amazing things, not in the least related to some of the professors we’ve had. It’s incredible looking some of these guys up and realizing they won “Best Economist under the age of 40” (Pierre Olivier Gourinchas, that one’s directed at you!) AND you actually got to be taught by them. Being a student of someone who is truly motivated, excited by what they do AND an expert in their field is an amazing experience.

And of course there were the shit professors, er, Stan? And a few others who will escape my internet wroth. But then hey, everyone has to start somewhere right? Although you wish sometimes they didn’t have to start on YOU.

And your fellow students. Interactions with them alone could fill more pages than War and Peace. Suffice it to say, you think you’re diverse? You think you’re smart? Well, you will meet people here that exceed any diversity or intelligence you thought you possessed. And you know what? You won’t get along with everyone. And that’s okay. Remember that prefroshers when you’re madly trying to make friends with everyone in P1. But you will of course make the best friends you’d never thought you’d find. The other bizarre thing about INSEAD is that people become insanely generous. Whether that is so they don’t appear mean or petty or nasty who knows. But it’s there empirically.

Relationships. What a debacle those are. The most successful ones were those who kept them on the down low and did not say anything until each was sure about the other. Although mind you that was quite a few of them. I mean really, throw a bunch of desperate late 20s and early 30ish well traveled, kind of smart, open to new things type of people, and it’s kind of hard to not say yes to anything that comes your way. This of course results in some of the most bizarre pairings I have ever seen. The “you’re kinda smart, not absolutely hideous and I can tolerate being around you enough to marry you, maybe” argument kind of comes to mind here. One wonders whether any of these relationships would ever have formed outside in the REAL world in the first place. But then that’s the thing about INSEAD. It’s like boot camp. When you all share a collective painful/joyous experience, it kind of bonds you. That and being close to 30 tends to make people want to procreate.

Most memorable academic moment: learning about variable refractive lenses that could help the eyesight of millions of poor AND meeting the guy that invented them (who was by the way your quintessential bespectacled, portly Oxford professor). Learning something so godamn mind blowing you wondered how the hell you lived on this planet not knowing that. Least favourite academic moment(s): most definitely exams. Now I remember why I refused to study for so long after undergraduate studies.

Although by and large, I have to say every single subject at INSEAD had something to teach me. If you go in wanting to be part of the “cool” crowd and get your “party boy/girl” reputation (you know who you are) then you can do that. But you have really missed out the crux of why the INSEAD program exists: to learn. Sure you change careers, sure you change your life, but whatever happened to just, well, learning something cool?

But then that I suppose is something I will be glad to leave for the summer, the cool crowd, the “in” kids, although the cool crowd at INSEAD is nothing like the cool crowd back at high school. For one thing they had to be smart/nerdy enough to get into the school in the first place. And they don’t give you wedgies.

But yes, there is the pressure to pretend you don’t study, to pretend you’re above it all, to keep it all secret that despite your cool image, you actually dig learning new shit.

The thing about Fonty is you complain while you’re there. Man this place sucks, there’s nothing to do, and it’s full of French. But it grows on you. And it becomes kind of nice having friends around all the time, people going through exactly the same thing as you, and more being more like you than you’d care to admit. Yeah, even the French grow on you. Provided you make the effort and speak to them in their native language, you will find they have an inner heart just like most other races on the planet.

I will miss France, and guess what. I am actually going to miss Fontainebleau. Heading back to the Anglo Saxon world it’s all a bit different. People are not as polite, people are far too quick to finish their meal and quite frankly there’s an awful lot of absolutely shit food. And you know what? Despite never really practicing my French, I am a lot more comfortable with it now. And that alone was worth it.

So adieu France, mes amies/amis, mes copains/copines (et vous aussi you pesky masculin et feminin). I will miss all of you. A lot.

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Dear Prefrosh,

I’m getting some interesting search terms that land hits on the blog, so let me dish out some advice. It will make me feel important. I know I’d said before that this blog wasn’t about you, it’s about me, but I’m feeling particularly generous at the moment. So here’s a bunch of stuff from the top of my head:

-You can bring your Mac. It will work fine.
-Are you the toolbox who’s posting “what kind of calculator should I get?” on the MBAConnect boards? Get one with an IRR button. Three days before the Finance exam you’ll learn what it is. The day before the exam you’ll finally learn how to use it. On the exam you’ll still screw it up.
-You’re not going to get an international guarantee from a US bank for your French loan. Period. Give it up.
-Campusfrance is a worthless, infuriating organization, and the experience is great training for all sorts of things you’ll deal with here (Carte de Sejour medical exam, setting up a bank account, getting a phone plan)
-Fontainebleau in the winter sucks. Avoid at all costs.
-Fontainebleau in the spring and summer is magical. It’s even more special if you were in Fontainebleau over the winter.
-Get the April Mobilite medical insurance everyone else is getting. Everything else is more expensive.
-If you’re a woman from the US, don’t waste your time with the scholarship apps. They’re not for you.
-Worry about who you’ll live with, not where you’ll live.
-If you have things that are induction charged at 110V (toothbrush, razor, etc), don’t be an idiot and expect them to work at 220V.

Okay, I’m bored. Advice dispensing session is done.

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First off, a tip to the gentlemen readers: Never tell a woman that she looks tired. No matter how sympathetically you think you sound, just don’t do it. Admittedly the 48-hour sleep deficit I’ve been running over the last week isn’t doing wonders for my skin or my abilities to stay focused on the most basic of conversations, but I don’t like for that to be pointed out to me, thankyouverymuch.

The lack of sleep can be attributed to the combination of regular end of term happenings and my bright decision to have taken a week to screw off on the beach. There might have been a largely useless conference as well that served as an excuse to travel. The beach trip got a bit derailed by bad weather and my guilt over ditching my NBV group. So I found the one filthy cafe in the whole town with wifi and spent most of the weekend doing work.

This term has been a blast, and letting myself get swallowed up in it has been quite rewarding.

This week alone I managed to make it to Paris 5 times. On Tuesday and Wednesday, a dear friend from home was in town. It was so nice to catch up with someone who’s known me since college. I also spent a lovely Wednesday morning at the US Embassy getting extra pages sewn into my passport. While it’s kind of cool to have finally run out of pages in a passport, it’s not nearly as excited to be crammed in a standing-room-only waiting area full of immigrant hopefuls and wait for three hours. Note to self: if I ever start thinking I’m anything special, I should make a trip to the US Embassy (actually, any embassy) to bring me back down to size. We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city and had an incredible dinner at Bistro Paul Bert.

On Friday I was back in Paris to submit a visa application for a Tier 1 visa for the UK. I started the process back when I had a partner in the UK and definite plans to be there post-graduation. I’m now foot-loose and fancy free, and kinda sour on the whole UK idea and just a tad (read: hugely) resentful about the exorbitant financial investment. But I decided to follow through with the rest of the process in order to have a three year work permit. Now it’s out of my hands; please cross your fingers and toes that the frazzled/overworked/underpaid gods of border control will look kindly upon my application. (I’m not terribly psyched to be working this summer. While the subject matter sounds interesting and I have a well-defined project that will help me transition to a role in my area of interest, I really just want to go home and see my parents and friends, sleep until noon, read books, and eat Mexican food. On the plus side, a ton of people from INSEAD will be in London over the summer!)

On Saturday I stayed out at a trashy Paris club with some high-rollers until 5:30 in the AM, and again until 2:30 AM on Sunday for the Fete de la Musique – a huge street party with music acts on every street corner – with two of my favorite people. Paris in the summertime is completely unrecognizable from the freezing, disgusting Paris I encountered on my first trip there in over NYE. I think I might be loving it, finally.

Now I’m sitting in a cubicle in the west wing, staring at a markerboard with my lengthy to do list.
– edit a business plan for my New Business Ventures class
– practice an investor pitch for a presentation tomorrow
– submit an online poll for mergers and acquisitions. wait, no. j/k. I haven’t submitted one all term. Why would I start now?
– finish a paper on why MASDAR freaks me out
– start a 1000 word mini-paper – topic TBD
– start studying for final exams in Macro and IPA.
– find housing in London

Strangely, writing this post will not make this list any shorter.

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birds
My favorite pair of shoes ever was this bright red strappy pair of camper sandals that lasted me 3 summers of near-daily wear. I bought them while on vacation in a seaside european town back when the dollar to the euro exchange rate was not as ugly. I am back at this seaside town this weekend, and stumbled upon the shop where I bought the sandals. There, I found my sandals reincarnated into a hideous version of their former selves. The straps were now thinner and the chunky rubber sole had grown a heel, making the whole thing look simultaneously awkward and slutty. It sounds like I’m trying to make a comparison between me now and then, but it doesn’t quite fit.

The trip three years ago followed breakup number 2 with the boyf. I can’t remember if that break up was over my solipsistic driving style or my telling him the cautionary tale of what happened to Jon the Pervert that made him run for the hills. In any case, going on a trip to a place that he was fond of made for a good pretext for getting back in touch, and so we got back together immediately after my return only to break up another 3 months later. Getting back in touch this time around would have probably led to the same conclusion, so it’s for the best that he ignored the e-mail I sent last week in a moment of weakness.

What drove me back into his arms three years ago was actually my feeling lonely and distraught over a breakup that had occurred eight months prior and would take me another two years to get over. The pathetic thing is that I just didn’t want to be alone.

His name was Chris. Chris was an artist. Chris viewed (still does, I suppose) every moment of his life through the wide-open eyes of a child for whom the world is new and fascinating and inspiring and full of wonder. When you’re telling a story, Chris listens to your every word and makes you feel like the center of the universe. Sometimes in the evenings I would read and Chris would draw me. Or he’d draw whatever random thing came into his head: his grandfather hunting whales, a chicken eating an omelette, most often his smelly dog. Chris is responsible for my love of Oerbier (over which he broke my heart), for my obsession with the New Yorker (I got my own subscription as a first step in admitting that the relationship was through), for my crush on Terri Gross, for my collection of nerdy books on molecular gastronomy that he continued to give me as presents long after we broke up, and for my love of esoterica (like documentaries about typeface). This was my first relationship, post college, so in a way, Chris is responsible for who I am as an adult.

Unfortunately Chris was also a co-worker and Chris did not wake up happy. The combination of those two – plus an ex girlfriend with multiple sclerosis who bestowed upon Chris the honor of dealing with her end-of-life issues – spelled doom for the relationship. She didn’t die in the end – turned out she and her team of doctors mistook an anxiety disorder for ms. These things happen, I suppose.

Doing this loop-back made me think about him, and maybe miss him – or more precisely made me miss myself and that time in my life. I once again was 26 and heart-broken, on vacation by myself, still waiting for the rest of my life to start.

Damn. Better hurry back to the bubble and quit this time traveling business.

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This time one year ago, a June weekend might have looked like this:  I probably woke up late on a Saturday, grabbed a New Yorker or a Gourmet magazine, and whiled the morning away over a huge coffee and a spinach, egg and cheese muffin at the bakery down the street.  Then I wandered into town for an afternoon of Swedish modernist home decor shopping, or for another giant coffee with a friend, or for a walk along the esplanade.  In the evening, I probably hosted a dinner, met friends in town, let one of the guys I’ve dumped (but insisted in keeping on as friends for reasons of flattery – wasn’t that fun, Danny?  I thought so…) make me dinner or went to the theater or the Symphony (often by myself).  On Sunday morning I read the NYTimes from cover to cover (okay, just the arts and style sections), spent some time torturing the piano, and thought about cleaning the apartment.   Or I hosted a fabulous brunch that involved strawberries and Chantilly or deep-fried poached eggs.  Then I dragged a group of friends to the beach for lobster, or to a clam shack out of town, or to climb a mountain.  This led my boss to point out that I seem to be having a lot more fun on the weekends than during the week in the office.  Yeah, no kidding.

This year’s June weekends look like this:  this morning I got up and checked facebook to see what I missed by not going out the night before.  There was a BBQ that looked like fun, but also described by my neighbor as, “just like every BBQ you’ve been to this year.”  Saw more pictures posted of the Monty Ball – was tempted to go just to get a picture of myself being decadent and wearing an 18th century wig, but decided to sleep instead.  Lame, I know.  Then I cranked on a scenario planning exercise for International Political Analysis, calculated some multiples for a Mergers and Acquisitions case, trying hard to force myself to care about the wave of acquisitions in the fine chemicals industry, and read three cases for my (really awesome) Enviro Management class.  Then I wrote an e-mail to my condo tenants back in the States to assure them that their A/C would get fixed just as soon as I could get the delinquent building manager to respond to my phone calls.   Then I checked the exchange rate for the 10th time this week – damn, no shopping therapy for me this year.  Then I wrote another angry e-mail to the idiots (mis)handling my visa.  Then I came to school for group work.  Had an unexpected, but really quality heart-to-heart with one of my groupmates.  It’s nice when you feel like you’ve gotten past the fronting and the keeping-it-together with someone – that they’ll still like you if you’re in a bad mood, if you’re stressed out, homesick, cranky.  Seriously, when is the last time you talked about what’s important to you?  Felt really inspired?  Admitted to someone that you’re worried that the thing you say you want to do with your life is not truly the thing that you want to do with your life?  It’s been a while.

But this is starting to sound like one of Vantan’s insufferable posts.  I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to say with this comparison.  I don’t wish that I was still back in my condo, reading my Gourmet and showing up to the office on Monday to while away the week before I had another inspiring fulfilling weekend.  But I do miss some of the comforts of that life: trips to Whole Foods, finding time to read, $10 lobster, an income, friends I’ve known for 10 years living down the street, having one of the world’s top symphony orchestras a 30 minute walk from my house, not feeling like I’m missing out if I don’t make it to every social gathering, being an hour’s flight from my parents.  Essayist André Aciman describes mnemonic arbitrage as the act of thinking about yourself in the future remembering the moment that you are experiencing.  The meta-ness of this concept is a bit dizzying, but it’s exactly what I’m doing these days: looking at my world from the point of view of my future self.  Whether it’s the future self that is experiencing the moment while composing a blog post about that moment in my head, or the future self that looks back on this experience years from now and wonders if she did it right, made the right choices, made the most of her time.            

A couple of things threw me for a loop this week.  Part of the funk is due to some self-inflicted “matters of the heart.” But also, I went to a talk earlier this week.  One of the guys giving the talk worked for a direct competitor of my old firm.  The other guy had recently joined my dream firm – the company I’ve been stalking for months before finally applying for an internship and getting rejected by HR with a generic ‘we’ll keep your resume on file’ e-mail.  

– But… but… but… we were made for each other!  Wait, don’t leave!  

They also rejected a friend of mine that I thought was a shoo-in for the job.  So, like the men at INSEAD (okay, women too), they just don’t know what they want.  

The topic of the talk was precisely in the intersection of the two firms’ activities that are interesting to me.  Two things happened:  [one] It made me really miss my old job and [two] It made me realize that dream company does some really boring stuff.  While they think about interesting stuff, their main product appears to be slick-looking reports.  Snoooozzzz. 

– So, there, I wasn’t interested anyways!

Yes, my capacity for self-justification is amazing:  I can convince myself that every outcome that transpires is my getting my way/a blessing in disguise/a thing happening for a reason.  

I best go summon those powers of self-justification to try to feel less homesick.

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