First impressions

My apologies to anyone who is still following this blog. This post (which I started exactly a month after being at INSEAD) is way way overdue by any standards. So much has happened since Day 1 that I am surprised it’s only been about 3 months since I’ve been in France. Given the snow has finally melted, the sunny days are starting to outnumber the grey,gloomy ones, the temperature is finally in double digits and the first beautiful daffodils are starting to appear, it’s the perfect time to try and rejuvenate this blog as well.

So here it is, my initial impressions of INSEAD:

And so it’s almost been 1 month since INSEAD started. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride – so much happens everyday that sometimes I forget whether something happened today, or the day before. INSEAD began on Day 1 and hasn’t stopped since. The relaxing holidays I took in November and December now feel a long long time ago. So many things I’d heard before I got here are totally true:

– Being at INSEAD is like drinking from a fire hydrant
– You’ll have to pick 2 out of 3 – partying, studying, looking for jobs
– You’re going to learn how to work hard, play hard and manage your time like never before
– You’re going to spend a LOT of time in your groups so you’d better like them
– You’re going to have to learn how to sleep a little (or LOT) less (depends on how (in)efficient you are))
– You’re going to be mighty impressed by the diversity of people you meet at INSEAD and their experiences – definitely a humbling experience
– How helpful people are – in doing CV reviews, and generally talking to you about their experience

I was in class the other day, and I realised how caught up I already am in life here that I keep forgetting I am in France. That seems a fair price to pay though for also being able to look back over this month and realise how many new things I’ve learnt.

The parties have begun (actually at INSEAD they never stop). I’m looking forward to Latin Week next week and all the fun that’s going to bring. It’s amazing how many people you can get to know in just a month’s time. This had been one thing I had been sceptical about – would I really get to be familiar with so many people in such a short duration? But there’s plenty of opportunities for that – parties, section get-togethers, group work, random run-ins at the Carrefour doing grocery shopping on a Saturday morning (weekends are starting to get really precious now especially if you consider that’s the only day to do any banking stuff, and any groceries AND catch up on sleep AND make sense of the week that just flew by).

I do need to recap some of the important stuff from Week 1 – I really enjoyed Dean Frank Brown’s welcome speech and 2 particular points that he made have stayed with me:
– the need for a healthy scepticism
– the confidence of being able to surround yourself with people who are as smart, and even better than I am

On the academic front, I’m enjoying all the subjects I’m taking, especially statistics which is being taught in a way it’s never been explained to me (or anyone in class as far as I know) before. The professor – Neil Bearden – is really cool – he actually rapped in class the other day. Why can’t they teach stats this way in school too? I especially look forward to Leading People and Groups (LPG) – it’s just re-emphasising to me that I enjoy such courses more.

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J’aime…

So I’ve been in France for about a week now and have really enjoyed every minute of it. Surprisingly, it hasn’t taken as long to settle in as I thought it might (except for the handphone which has finally been sorted out). I’m glad we got our bank accounts sorted before we got here – that saved us the painful about 2-week wait we hear it will take if you start the process only once you get here.

Things I’ve really liked so far:

– the Fontainebleau forest, especially on a snow-covered day. It looks like something out of a storybook and is just so perfect I’m afraid we’ll spoil it by doing anything at all.  It all feels so surreal – I’d never in my wildest dreams have thought I would be spending a year in a village in France.

– The French have been exceptionally friendly so far (that excludes the people who have smiled at my attempts at French to-date). I’m glad I’ve taken French as my exit language requirement – it would have been a shame to spend time here and not be able to read signs/ food packaging labels / talk to people.

– Food on the INSEAD campus. At an average of EUR3.50 meal, the food is awesome. Tons of variety. (Though I’m still grinning about the Indian stall serving beef! :))

– The location of my apartment – it’s close to everything I need, esp a grocery store. I’ve been cooking dinner everyday and actually look forward to it. Hopefully I’m going to get home at a decent enough hour even once we are into the swing of things at INSEAD so as not to rely on instant noodles! I find the ingnredients here extra-fresh – everything has such flavour and fragrance. I did steak with wine and onions today, and just frying those onions made me so happy. Picture that scene from Ratatouille where Monsieur Ego tastes the ratatouille and is transported to his childhood – well, something like that.

– We’ve finally tried the boulangerie close to our house and it’s quite nice. I could have that whole baguette by itself – it’s yum! The pastries are like nothing I’ve ever tasted before – no wonder my French housemate would tell us about how the French never feel the need to venture out of France !

– My new blackberry – I know it sounds kinda sad but never having owned a blackberry before, I’m happy about finally having one. And I bet a ‘non-work’ blackberry in any case is loads more fun than a work one.

– Driving on French roads – The French are exceptionally courteous and there is adequate signage on the roads. That said, I’m grateful for our tomtom – we’d be lost without it.

I’ve consciously left out the INSEAD campus from the above list. All of that is snow-covered at the moment as well and I haven’t really thoroughly explored the campus yet. So will reserve comments on that for now. I’ve run into quite a few INSEAD students by now – at the bank, and at the handphone shop. I guess everyone looking a little lost/hassled has already helped us bond a little. The conversation inevitably begins with ‘Are you an INSEADer?’ and goes on to ‘Where are you from?’ (the response to which takes some time given there are 2 parties involved and neither has a one-word response!).

I’m looking forward to meeting my classmates. The latest is that we all now know our sections, and the names of our groupmates. We also have the schedules for Period 1 (P1) [What is it with all the P-words at INSEAD – Promotions, Period, Participants…?] with the list of all their pre-readings, quizzes, assignment due dates, exams etc out as well. It’s definitely going to be packed! Add to that the fact that I have classes on weekends as well – hmmm, all those travel plans will have to be re-looked at now.

I better get down to some French studying now – so bonne nuit!

Off to France

And so it’s finally here! I head to France tomorrow and it’s the end of a year of anticipation and planning. It’s a strange sort of feeling – the last time I looked forward to something this much, it didn’t quite turn out the way I’d expected it. I sure hope this time is different. 

After the nomadic life of the last few months, I’m looking forward to finally unpacking the suitcases I packed 2 months ago and re-discovering the stuff I’ve forgotten I have. I’m  looking forward to putting up all the fridge magnets from my recent travels. Oh, and unpacking that box I sent on to Fonty ages ago.

That’s for tomorrow. Right at this very moment, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for all my luggage (yup, all of them huge suitcases) getting to Charles de Gaulle in one piece (or 4 or 5 as they are – I’ve sorta lost count of how many I have by now). After that, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the drive to Fonty – hopefully all the French are still recovering from the partying leaving the roads totally empty as I try to drive on the other side of the road. After that, I’m hoping I’m going to like our apartment. Then, I’m hoping we’re going to make it to the apartment in time for us to be able to make it to the grocery store as well before everything shuts down for the day. 

Most of all, I’m hoping I’m going to like Fonty and INSEAD :)

A little piece of heaven

Alright so I disappeared there for a bit! So much has happened since my last post way back in September, and planning the move for INSEAD has just been one of them. After a very tiring October (and moving from 1 country to another), a fun and Life-Changing November (with yet another move from 1 country to another), I’ve finally had a relaxing December (with more travelling!). All in all, it’s been 14 cities in 4 countries over 2 months and it’s been good to finally have the time to relax, reflect and spend some quality time with the people who matter.

2009 has been a pivotal year for me – so much has happened this year (that has been so different from previous years). Work seems so far away – and I think that’s the best way to enter b-school – with a fresh and clear mind! I’ve enjoyed my ‘little piece of heaven’ for the last 2 months.  For now, I’m looking forward to ending the year on a perfect note – with family :) My sister and I were discussing the other day how different our lives would have been had our Dad not decided to go back to his home country from the UK about 20 years ago. The bottomline is he did, and we always wondered if and when we would come back to the UK. For me the year ahead is an opportunity to try and make that happen. Well it’s an opportunity to make anything happen really.

My Mom sent me a new year’s forward of things to do in 2010 and somehow, after reading the many blogs about b-school, they seem like simple yet very important reminders of things I have to make sure I do in the coming year regardless of how busy INSEAD gets – here they are:

– Practice a new sport 

– Accept new challenges 

– Dare to be different

– Freshen up your ideas

– Take care of your looks

– Learn another language

– Forget your troubles  

– Make peace with life and people

– Fall in love

– Enjoy nature

– Make new friends

– Learn new things

– Dream!

– Update your wardrobe

– Listen to your elders

– Laugh a lot and smile at life

– Sing from the heart

– Be curious

– Kiss like you mean it

– Joke with your friends

– Send emails to your friends

– Relax and enjoy yourself after a hard day’s work

Bring on 2010!

Too much passion?

I met a friend the other day who is currently in the thick of things with the MBA application process and he asked for my input as he kickstarts the same thing that I went through last year. As I described my whole experience to him, I told him that though the whole things feels painful while you’re in it, in restrospect, I really enjoyed the experience and having to put so much thought into my experiences and achievements over the last x years. Great for an ego-boost for sure, but it forced me to really reflect on things I’d done, people I’d met, and most importantly things I’ve learnt. I don’t really do this kind of reflection very often, atleast not in such detail and with so much time set aside especially for it. Bottomline – I enjoyed the whole process. And maybe that’s where the “passion” that needs to show up in the applications probably came from.

My friend told me I was too “attached to the experience” and that his objective was to get into the best school possible (somehow) and get a great job at the end of it all. Differences in perspective I guess :) or maybe he’ll feel differently after he’s done with the entire process as well.

On a different note, I sometimes wish I were going to INSEAD as a partner instead of as a student. How I’d have loved spending a year learning French in France, catching up on all my reading, gone on trips to Paris whenever I felt like it, and tried my hand at exotic French cuisine. Then again, wait a minute – I AM going to get to do all of it (minus the trip to Paris whenever I want bit, and of course the readings won’t be the sort I have in mind) and more. Life’s good again :)

I thought about it seriously the other day – whether I’d ever want to take a year off without working, or whether I would’ve moved with my partner and not worked (at my current career)while my partner studied. And the verdict was pretty clear – I could do it for a month or two perhaps but nothing more, even assuming I could afford it. I talk a lot about how awesome it would be to go for yoga classes in the morning, and read lots,and take my mini laptop to a coffee joint and sit there and watch the world go by and shop if I get bored – and then I snap out of it. Those are more the signs of me needing a short break rather than a looooong one :)

We have a home!

After several weeks of searching, we’ve found the ‘perfect home’ for our time at INSEAD. The price is within our budget,it’s fully furnished (we just have to turn up) the location is great and the landlord has rave reviews (which based on my landlord experience where I currently stay is really important to me). We do of course hope to attend the parties at the party chateaus in INSEAD but weren’t really keen on staying in one.  So the place we’ve chosen is the best of both worlds for us – there are lots of other INSEADers staying close by so we can all get-together but the option of having our own space also exists.  We’ve paid the deposit and NOW I really feel like we’re actually moving!

This is how we went about our search:

  1. The INSEAD website : This lists 3 sites to help with the research – Bonaparte, City Junction, and Office de l’mmobilier. I found Bonapart the best when you take a combo of location-quality-price-user friendliness. City Junction looked more professional of course, which also means the prices are much higher. The Office de l’Immobilier site definitely needs a lot of work – very un-user friendly, and not that many listings to begin with. I only visited the site once and was rather put off by it. The listings on Bonaparte are segregated by promotions (that’s what the different batches are referred to) – this of course means that the awesome house by the Seine with the beautiful furnishings and plenty of natural light and that garden you’ve always dreamt of – isn’t available for your promotion. Of course the option is to lease a place for 6 months and then come back from the internship to a different place. We’ll decide when we get there.
  2. MBA Connect forum : This was a great source coz it gave me a good idea of the different areas where the INSEAD students stay. A lot of them help their landlords adverstise, so there’s photos and you can always email the students to find out more about the place.
  3. Blogs: There isn’t a whole lot on blogs about accommodation or detailed photos either (except some pretty great pics of Tavers) but I did find some information which complemented the info from the INSEAD website and MBA Connect.

I’m reminded (yet again) that Google Maps totally rocks. We’ve checked out the river, the train stations, the other popular neighbourhoods and INSEAD of course.

I will put up photos of the place once we’re there. So watch this space.

With accommodation sorted, I’ve placed a big tick on my to-do list. Time to take a break!

Sorting through stuff

I’ve finally started going through the tons of stuff I have in preparation for packing for the move. I figure a little bit once in a while will help me avoid hitting the panic button at the last minute what with moving out, making sure I haven’t missed out any of the paperwork, and the millions of other things on my as yet unchecked-off, and evergrowing, to-do list.

I realise I have way too many books, and movies. And I don’t know what to do with them. The secondhand market for these in my city isn’t great, or rather taking them to the secondhand store is going to cost me more than what the store’s going to give me for them. That of course is the only excuse I’ve been able to come up with as I can’t bear to part with them (How can I possibly give away Sophie’s World? Unthinkable!) Shipping stuff home is just not going to be worth it, because it would then mean I’d need to ship them back to whichever corner of the world I am going to be in post-INSEAD. There go all my visions od having a huge library in my house with all these awesome books where I’m going to retire for the afternoon and sip my tea and scones on a rainy Saturday afternoon….how I love that thought. For now, I have to start sending emails to my book-loving friends so my books find good homes.

I also have tons of French films – all bought at the Alliance Francaise exhibitions – I never did manage to watch any without keeping my eyes glued to the English subtitles. Hopefully all that’s going to change after a year in France. That was actually another reason I picked INSEAD – that it has a compulsory requirement to pick up a third language.

I love languages. Once I’m done with French (satisfactorily), I hope to start on Spanish. But that will have to wait until after INSEAD.

As always, there’s too much to do and too little time.