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Archive for December, 2009

“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.

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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.

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