Posts Tagged ‘summer’


[First, a shout-out!]

One thing that’s worthy of mention though is how much the INSEAD alumni rock. For a while, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep investing time and energy into networking in a city that I couldn’t see myself living in. But then I decided that talking to interesting people about mutual interests couldn’t hurt. It didn’t. Those who don’t stand you up at breakfast way the hell across town because of a hangover (We’re cool, mate. I’m pretty psyched about discovering a taste for Marmite) have been wonderfully helpful and eager to help. I’ve gotten a reply to all but one e-mail I’ve sent, and have gotten the chance to meet with a dozen or so alumni, who have been total rockstars. Thank you!

[Some sort of skillful segue goes here]

The summer is winding down. The lack of blogging is not so much correlated with the lack of activity in life – though much of it doesn’t seem blog-worthy. Or rather, much of it is not INSEAD- and MBA-related. Do the people who read this want to hear about the cockles in Whitstable, or about the bizarre, quirky sense of humor of Salinger (assigned reading from the boy I’ve been fake-dating all summer. Yeah, we’re cerebral like that…)? Probably not.

Less than one week before the London crew disperses to Fonty and Singapore. When I say crew, I mean the three people out of forty that I’ve actually hung out with. The rest have been drinking L14 cocktails at rooftop bars from which many a banker have plunged to their deaths.

I can hardly wait to get out of this angry, mean, overpopulated, overpriced yuppie hell and get back to the idyllic life in Fontainebleau. I’m exaggerating on all counts here, of course. In the recent weeks London and I haven’t quite gotten to be friends. But the weather has stabilized to something almost pleasant, I love the rotunda of the British museum, the art installation in the vaults by London Bridge I saw last Friday was whack-ass (in an amazing sort of way), and I haven’t gotten into any fights with any bus drivers in at least 96 hours. I’d say we’re moving toward becoming solid frenemies.

I thought I could trade baguettes for convenience and macarons for culture, but found that I couldn’t keep up with the pace of life here, with the deafening noise, the crowds, the lack of personal space, the constant assault on all senses. Too much heart, some would say.

I can’t wait to see my BFFs back from Singapore, to reconnect with friends I’ve missed over the two month break, to pick up the almost-friendships that started to develop in P3, to my personal space (own bathroom, my fabulous kitchen knife). I know I’m over-romanticizing France right now. I haven’t quite forgotten the fact that Je ne parle pas a squat of French or that the Monoprix closes before class is done on most days. Oh, and the fact that we’re not coming back to sit and watch the world go by on a picnic spread by the reflecting pool. We’re coming back to kick off the recruiting season.

I’ve been trying to convince myself that this summer internship – or rather 6 weeks spent googling various combinations of words (aka market research) – job will help me transition into doing the next thing. But it’s more likely that the summer internship has helped me realize that the ‘next thing’ is not actually the thing that I thought I wanted to do. Well, all good learnings. After fiddling with the resume format this way and that, I decided that the current internship was not worthy of displacing another activity I’m more proud of. So, it’s like it never happened. Plausible deniability?

I know I’ll look through the hazy veil of memory, and remember the time I’ve spent in London as fun and adventurous and larger than life. Rather than ‘claustrophobic’, I’ll remember feeling ‘alive’. Rather than ‘constantly angry’, I’ll remember feeling ‘exhilarated and inspired’. I’ll be driving my SUV through Virginia suburbs, taking my fertility treatment twins to soccer practice and tell them stories of, ‘back when mom was young and lived amidst squalor in London’ – and it’ll all be terribly romantic – but for now, I’m ready to get outta here.


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I’m alive. And so far I haven’t been afflicted by the swine flu that my roommate and half of London has. The reason I haven’t been writing is because I’m following the old adage “When you have nothing nice to say…” And I have nothing nice to say.

It seems that Chicken Little and I have done a Freaky Friday role reversal. While he has found his London heart, I’m quietly flipping my shit as I elbow my way through the humanity of Picadilly Circus in the rain. I don’t feel too bad about emotionally dumping all over him because he owes me one. Or ten. Except that he’s not very good at talking me off the wall.

To keep this blog alive I will temporarily suspend my resolve to fake positivity, and satisfy my readership [my mom and dad, a fellow blogger or two, 4 friends, and the folks on the INSEAD waitlist who keep googling ‘INSEAD class size’] with a few not-so-nice things I have to say about my summer.

I was so psyched to have a job for the summer that I didn’t think to spend any time talking to people inside the company to figure out what exactly the work would be like. Although talking to the people in side the company now that I’m here doesn’t seem to reveal that any of them are aware of how painfully boring their jobs are. Though many of them do cringe and twist in their seats when I ask whether this job fulfills their aspirations.

Being in this transitionary (transitory?) year means that I am constantly having the ‘what’s next’ conversation with myself, my friends, everyone I meet. It’s weird to now be with a group of people who might not be asking themselves that question in such an immediate way. Their next move might be a few years away, or maybe they don’t think of their lives as consisting of a number of steps and progressions. Maybe they have arrived, though I have trouble believing this could possibly be the embodiment of anyone’s dream.

As it turned out, I am being managed by a consultant about three years my junior who has the world’s most annoying voice. She has a way of sneaking up behind me and nasally intoning a “hi” that lasts about five minutes: “hhhwwwwwooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaeeeeeeeeeee” What also makes her hard to take seriously is that she’s about 4ft tall, wears a lot of pink, and laughs continuously in an awkward hiccupping way when speaking. I have to bite my tongue to keep myself from asking her what exactly is so freaking hilarious about market research on the green hotel industry.

It also turned out that no one does any work in Europe during August, so my project has stalled because there’s no one around to provide input on the client side. And being in a giant, hierarchical beast of a company means that I can’t just e-mail people to ask them to do their jobs; I have to elevate the matter via a memo the head of somethingorother who will then e-mail them to follow up (when he gets back from vacation in three weeks, that is). That said, I’m having lots of fun applying the LPG teachings of GP in deciphering the complexity of formal and informal organizational structures at play here.

Since I’m left projectless, my legally blond manager has been racking her brain and spending her entire days writing e-mails to me of possible things I could do. She has come up with a list of projects which will culminate in power point presentations (Arial Narrow, Red 188.20.25, Gray Tint2 174.175.176) – the latest and greatest developments in the self-storage industry! – that no one will ever read. I’ve countered her offer with a proposal to use my time to write some free-lance pieces for a couple of industry journals and blogs. But I think she didn’t see the value-add of my self-promotion on the company dime (err… company pence?). So I’m working on that anyways.

I also put together a proposal for work for a high tech startup I met at a conference during P3. Somehow I managed to convince this company that I know something about marketing of high tech products. The thing about consulting is that if you know marginally more than your client, you’re in good shape. “Consumer-led innovation” just has a catchy ring to it, doesn’t it? They’ve offered me a nice chunk of change, but I’m nervous to jump in because this temporary activity will take some focus away from the job search. After this summer’s experience I feel the pressure to better define what exactly it is that will make me famous in 5 years. (Yes, I’ve said it. The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have a problem. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a narcissist.)

from here

Excuse No. 2 for my absence from blogging is that instead of writing, I’ve been reading. Not business cases but travel writing! This summer I am traveling vicariously through pictures posted by classmates on facebook, and through travel writing. Don’t take this part as complaining. In all honesty, I’m not a very good traveler. It takes me a while to warm up to new surroundings (5.5 months in the case of France) before I come to love a place. I’m a much better staying-putter.

Reading good writers has a way of making me feel incompetent when I try to string words together in a post. And in this case, consoling myself that English is not my native language doesn’t work either, because the writer is Italian and writes in English.

“A Fortune Teller Told Me” is written by an Asia correspondent for Der Spiegel who is one day told by a fortune teller that he must not fly for an entire year or he will not survive an air accident. He decides to take the fortune teller’s prophecy seriously, or perhaps finds in it an excuse to mix things up a bit. And so spends a year traveling by land and by sea and diving into the occult – seeking out fortune tellers, witch doctors and practitioners of black magic in every city and village he visits. He writes about his experiences with a critical eye of a journalist and a descriptive ability of a great story teller.

He also writes a particularly harsh chapter about a week he spends in superficial, artificial, suffocating, straight-jacketed Singapore. Reading this chapter coincides with my own vacillation about whether or not to go to Singapore. I’m reading between the lines that this particular journalist doesn’t really like food, as not a single meal is mentioned or described. Meals happen in the background – during meetings with Thai government officials or Cambodian royalty – and the food is never described. So perhaps he was unable to turn a blind eye on the politics of Singapore in favor of the XO fishhead noodles or the Bak Kut Teh, as I will surely do. He probably didn’t carry a Makansutra everywhere.

I’m on the waitlist for P5, and will most likely be able to get a spot – but am starting to wonder whether going to Singapore just for the food is justifiable. Yes, there’s also the travel – but my carbon guilt compounded by my fear of flying won’t make for lots of trips around Asia.

So, another rambling, ranting inconclusive post. Watch this space.

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:: Look Right. Look Left. Sometimes you’ll still manage to look the wrong way, and a double decker bus running a red light will come two inches from running you down. The only thing that saves you is that the crowd collectively gasps. At which point you just start bawling in the fucking middle of Oxford Street. Not because you almost got killed. But for all the other reasons life is confusing/hectic/sad/unsettled right now and you’ve been wanting a good cry for a while. I’m just saying: it could happen, so look right first.

:: The Paul on Marylebone High Street has Chausson Pomme, not Chausson Aux Pomme. Not sure what gives. I’ve been craving one for a week now and felt particularly smug pronouncing the ‘aux’ this morning. Tasted like the real deal too. Shouldn’t make it a habit at £1.70 and a stick of butter for breakfast. And anyway, according to a Frenchman INSEADer also in London, Paul in Paris is for subway stations. Paul in London tries to be fancy. The lesson here might be that abroad I’m brand illiterate.

:: Burkas are totally in this summer. Everyone in Hyde Park is wearing one. Only £7 at Primark. Black only.

:: Londoners hate lunch. This is my conclusion in face of the overabundance of really well-branded lunch places and the level of art to which the triangle sandwich has been elevated. All the Wasabis, the Pret-a-Mangers, the Eats, the Itsus – they’re all a testament of London’s loathing of lunch. Don’t get me wrong; Itsu’s miso-based dumpling soup with toasted pumkin seeds is divine. Hating lunch is not the same as hating food, though I cringe at the sight of apples shrink wrapped to death and pre-bagged portions of broccolini that make you feel pathetically lonely. They seem to be saying, ‘if you had friends, you’d be dining out.’ Well, fuck you, broccollini. Who cares what you think, you fucking veggie?


But lunch here is not an event. It’s not a time to make conversation. You go and pick up your crawfish, rocket, garlic aioli, whole grain bread triangle sandwich. Then you hurriedly stuff it in your face at your desk.

Maybe I’m just getting sentimental about lunches in the park in the summertime and lunches at a huge communal tables made from reclaimed bowling lanes at my old firm. Lunch was done when the conversation ended, not when you finished your food. I miss lunch.

:: Pubs have the most bizarre compound names that involve two unrelated, incongruous words. The Bear & Lettuce, the Hog & Arms, the Ship & Shovel, the Lamb & Pilgrim, the Swan & Fiddle. I’m still on the lookout for one to call my own.

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Last night I had settled in and commenced “freaking the fuck out”. Wondering why I’m here, instead of just about anywhere else. Where I really want to be is home with people (and cat) I love and care about. I’d even settle for back in the French countryside where I’ve loved whiling the last few days away in the blossoming garden of a friend’s villa, listening to her stories, and laughing what felt like continuously and a little too loudly.

Maybe last night’s pissing rain was a sign of good luck for the journey ahead. Maybe living in this shit apartment with its peeling walls and its scary shrieking water heater will be great fodder for the novel I one day write about my quarter life crisis.

I called an amigo who’s doing an internship in a developing country and requested some Skype therapy. He’s having a genuinely magical summer. Not the fun and high-flying stuff you want to capture in a photo and put on facebook so that everyone else at INSEAD can see how your summer is so much cooler than their summer. But a summer of experiences that cannot be related. The conversations that last until the wee hours of the morning and have nothing to do with who’s-hooking-up-with-whom INSEAD gossip. Eating exotic fruits you don’t know the names of. Waking up with nothing to do but read Borges and stroll to the seaside market to buy clams.

I had the same panicked, sinking feeling when I first got to Fonty, which didn’t serve me well. So this morning I woke up and resolved to make this town mine.

Step 1: food. The nearest Marks&Spencer is three blocks away. The Tesco is closer, but I still have my self-respect. Soho is walking distance and has tasty pork belly. I’m still on the lookout for a Waitrose and the odd farmers’ market. The coffee is served in large cups. Heaven.

Step 2: classical music. The BBC Proms start this Friday, I’ve book-marked all the schedules for other venues and I have a list of Evensong services to attend for every night of the week.

Step 3: Art. The Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition blew my mind. I resolve to use this summer to make up for my philistine ways of the past six months.

It’s going to be okay. Oh, and I start my job tomorrow. Collated copies and coffee, oh boy!

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P3 is done – we’re 3/5 of the periods through the (cheat-sheet propelled, for some) MBA and half way done with our year together. I snuck away from the Grand Cafe before the tearful good-byes because I’m not very good at those. A lot of people got last minute jobs – a lot are taking unpaid internships, hoping to make a career switch. Some are working 100 hour weeks in London. Suckers. The rest are sailing in Croatia/trekking in Kashmir/partying in Beirut/studying French in Nice, Mandarin in China, German in Munich/getting married in India and Israel.

One of my friends keeps saying that leaving the bubble for the summer will be a reality check – a real-world reminder to most of us who we are, what’s important to us, what we want to get out of the remaining year. I hope that’s true. P3 has been a blast, but I need to find some time to have a good think about what happens afterwards.

Since I’m still in visa limbo, I’ve been hanging out in Fontainebleau awaiting a verdict from the UK Border Agency. This respite from the frantic, intense, unrelenting P3 has been quite welcome, though I imagine it could get boring eventually. In the meantime I’ve been learning how to Artfully Communicate (I’m just as awkward as I suspected, now I have video footage to prove it), making a half-hearted attempt at some bouldering, picnicing by the reflecting pool of the Cheateau, wandering around sleepy French towns where in the 1800s Romantic Realists painted en plein air, seeking to capture the matte late evening light over the tranquil Loing.

At 10:45 it’s still light out – the days last forever, and on most nights I don’t even start to think of getting to bed until around 2. Not so good when you have class the next day. Perfect when you can sleep in until noon.

I’ve been cramming in q-time with my favorite(st) people before we disperse for the summer, and am thankful for the visa delays that are giving me a chance to get to know some of my classmates better. (That’s another shout out, yo.)

But being in Fonty also means that I can’t get the distance I feel I need to sum up the last 6 months in a meaningful manner.

A friend from home came to visit recently. When I say “friend” I mean it in the loosest sense of the word – someone I had classes with in undergrad, and would see about twice a year when visiting my parents who lived in the same town where he worked after graduation. He had been traveling the world for the past few months, and came to France (I suspect) because he’d have a free place to stay. Moocher. There are very few people I would feel comfortable crashing with for a few night, let alone an entire week. Someone more socially skilled and perceptive (or perhaps simply less selfish) would be self-conscious, but he has no compunction about imposing for an entire week. His world travels have produced little else other than a slew of complaints about lack of infrastructure in the developing world (umm, what did you expect?) and shallow generalizations about how the US is different from Europe because you don’t have to add tip and tax.

This guy is a complete downer, which makes me wonder what our friendship was based on some 8 years ago. Was I also like him? Did I look at the most negative aspect of every situation, complain about every trivial inconvenience? Is it just recently that I’ve changed so much?

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