Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pins & needles

My mom’s white bloodcell count is down, and I’ve been suffering from colds and sore throats on and off for the last 4 weeks. Put one and two together, and you have it : I’m not allowed to go anywhere near her. I’m stuck here in the apartment, looking at walls that are cold and white, and still give no hint of being « home » . I feel my life has been uprooted the last 10 months, in every sense of the word, and here I am…floating somewhere, trying to get a grip – without any success.
This stupid blog being the only place I can come to spill it all out – that is, with a serious amount of sensoring, as it is, allas, not completely anonymous.
The one person who’s always been there for me, out of reach. Telling me she’s happy to see I’m doing so well…Ha, what am I to say or do ? Mom, sorry, but actually I’m falling to pieces and I feel there’s nothing left of me ? No, right, not an option. I have to be there for her, smiling, supporting, not giving her the slightest notice of the fact that I’d much rather throw in the towel. Being a puppet held by a few strings : get up in the morning, go to work, come here, try to get through the evening alone by staring at a screen, go to sleep in a bed that gives me awful backpains, other nights standing in traffic jams for two hours to get to my parents, and in between weekends where I try to find the energy to spend « quality time ».
Sorry, bad day. Must be the fever.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The wedding

M&A got married Saturday. After blowing us all of our socks 10 years ago, when A (barely 20) got pregnant. After surprising us again, 3 years later, by getting pregnant again. And finally, after amazing all of us by being such a wonderful, happy family throughout the years – while we were still carelessly enjoying our days at university.
So two days ago, they wanted to show the world what we already knew: that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. And they did it in vibrant red colours, for the law and for the church, surrounded by family and friends.

P was M’s Best Man, so we were there from early Saturday morning, until, yes, early Sunday morning. It was a long day, filled with lots of emotions. The 14-year old girl in me realizing that my first crush was getting married. The year-long friend in me being very very proud of him. The 7-jear long girlfriend in me wondering if I will ever have such a day, or if the dream is really irreversibly broken.

Since we all go way back in time, this marriage was a reunion at the same time. The party itself was held in the same place were we had our high school parties, where we all played a part in “Peter Pan”, and where we graduated. That alone provided a serious amount of nostalgia. Throw in a couple of old teachers (as M’s dad was our teacher, and later principal), and a handful of high school friends we hadn’t seen in 14 years, and the night was way too short to handle it all. (the fact that the bar was the only place where you could talk didn’t really help in my case – way too many bubbles!).

Anyway, the night was closed by hugging the people we love & share lots of memories with, and by driving home through a fierce autumn storm. M&A have jumped on the plane, enjoying a well deserved honeymoon – and I’m also on a trip; down memory lane, that is...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Show off or shut up

What I’ve noticed over the past few weeks, is that my INSEAD experience has left me with knowledge – knowledge I can’t use, because otherwise people will think of me as a bragging miss-know-it-all.
A few examples :

Conversation over lunch at work
A : Can you believe it – his wife is going on a business trip to Dubai !
B : Dubai ?? Wow – isn’t that in the Middle East ?
A : yeah, apparently it’s booming over there ; lots of new companies and so.
Ok, please tell me - what do I have to do in such a situation ?
- Just be myself, and tell what I know ? "Uhm yeah, I know about 10 people in Dubai, who recently moved there to work for company X, Y and Z. P was contacted as well by a company in Dubai. And you know what else ? You don’t get taxed over there."
- Or : just sit there, and nod along at the question "isn’t that in the Middle East ?" (which is what I did)

Conversation with some friends
A : You know how to tell when your pasta is ready, right ? You throw it against the wall, and if it sticks, it’s good !
B : Yeah, I know – than it’s just "al dente".
A : Hmhm, I like it when it’s still like that.
Again – what to do ?
- Guys, one of my best friends in France was from Bologna, and in Italy they are simply horrified when they hear about this method. What we call "al dente" over here, is simply "cooked way too long" over there.
- Or : yeah, I do that as well ! (which is what I said)

So here I am, with all my "knowledge" - not daring to use it, because I’m afraid I’ll sound like I’m bragging and showing off. Which brings me right back were we started, and what I wrote almost a year ago, on November 19, 2007.
Back then, it was just the MBA itself I couldn’t explain to people – now it’s still that, and soooo much more. From "No, I didn’t actually practise my French a lot, we spoke English all the time" to "No, it really wasn’t like an 8-month holiday for me, and yes, I could really use one now". From "Yes, we all felt like we knew eachother for years after a month" to "No, my boyfriend is never home before nine PM, at the earliest".

I’m so tired of the huge differences between my life and the lives of the ones surrounding me – and the impossibility of explaining it all without giving the wrong impression - that shutting up and nodding at methods for screwing up pasta is what I do. And if somebody finds out that working in Dubai is tax-free, they won’t have it from me !

Friday, October 31, 2008

N on her owN

Yes, it’s yet another night I’m spending on my own here in Brussels, because if it isn’t a late night meeting, a recruiting event, a late plane back, or a presentation for the client that has to be finished, it’s a stag party.
So I’ve decided to spoil myself - big time.
After work, I went to that gorgeous (but too expensive) boutique around the corner, and let myself go wild. With my bag full of clothes (and credit card maxed out), I went to the local deli for wine (the best) and take-out Italian. And I’ve rented a movie (“Michael Clayton”). There, the ultimate girl-night!
So please excuse me now - the microwave is beeping and George Clooney is waiting !

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Barbizon Blues

What’s going on? Is it the ending of Daylight Saving Time? Is it the trees and their autumn colours? Is it the reinstalled routine of going back to work? Is it all the other emotions, that have finally settled a bit, and left room for others? Or is it just plain nostalgia?
Whatever the reason(s) : I’m missing Fonty, Barbizon, INSEAD, the forest, the huge Carrefour, the local bakery, the train to Paris, the library, the cafeteria, Pizza Pazza, our little apartment...well, simply all of it! Googling Fontainebleau while sitting at my desk at work doesn’t exactly help. Neither does looking at all the pictures taken last year. Or leafing through my dairy, and realizing that, exactly one year ago, I was celebrating Halloween in Disneyland Paris.
When I come home, and step out of my car, I smell the city...and I can only sigh, and long for the smell of the forest after it rained, mixed with the smoky smell of wood fires.
It got so bad over the last few days, that I even went to the INSEAD website, and had a look at their current job offers.
I’m not idealizing my 6 months in France – I still feel bitter about certain things, and I still vividly remember times I felt so useless and lonely, I would’ve jumped on the first train back to Brussels. But right now, I would give anything to be
- hanging around in the bar with a few other partners, waiting for our men, and all go out for dinner afterwards (obviously drinking too much wine)
- walking around in that huge supermarket, taking 30 minutes only to pick out a few cheeses for yet another French Evening.
- teaching English to M, and trying to convince her once more that she’s doing great
- drinking a coffee in the Starbucks on the Boulevard de l’Opéra
- dancing on a stage at 3.00 AM in the morning

Hmm, instead, I’m still sitting at my desk, and getting not any work done....

Thursday, October 23, 2008

To Ylva

Ylva wrote a comment on my latest post. She's a partner on her way to Fontainebleau, just like I was one year ago. And of course, after reading my blog, she's getting second thoughts. Ylva, I can't really give you my email here, as this is still an "anonymous" blog (well, sort of anyway). So please consider this posting as my answer.

Following your partner or not is a tough decision to make...and it took me several months to make up my mind. We were not married, had no children, had never lived together...and finally, I decided to go because I thought this would be the quality-time for our relationship we had been needing for a very long time. I know now this was a very wrong reason to go. I went to be with him, but INSEAD took up 99% of his time: a lot of classes, a lot of groupwork, a lot of night-time studying,...
I was fortunate that, very quickly, I got to know some other partners, who became wonderful friends. Thanks to them, I have a lot of very nice memories of my time in France, and I can look back smiling.
Do I regret I went to France? No, not one minute.
Would I do it again? No, definitely not.

Please realize that this is just my story. We each have our own reasons to go or not go, we each have our hopes, dreams, experiences, and expectations. And last but not least: we each have, of course, also different boyfriends/husbands.

So if you want to have some real quality time for just yourself (read all the books you want, finally follow that cooking course, learn how to speak French, visit Paris every week, and make friends from all over the world) : I would say "Go!"
If you choose to be stupidly naive like me, just hoping for days filled with romance in the French countryside and a marriage proposal on the Eiffel tower : don't go.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Two girls

I’m just back from a dinner in good company, with slightly too much wine. In other words : the perfect writing mode :-) (minus the spelling mistakes)
The wine was Italian, can’t remember the year nor the name, but it was good.
The company was my best friend in high school. We saw eachother one year ago, after a « pause » of more than ten years, right before I was heading to France. And now that I’m back, it was time to, once again, pick up where we had left. We talked non-stop for more than two hours, about our deepest feelings, about our dreams, about random stuff, as if we were still seeing eachother every day at school. It was great to realize that, no matter what, we still connected – just as we did when we were sixteen, putting on too much make-up and getting ready for our first party.
I can’t say we’ve changed either. For some reason, we’re the only two of our « band » left unmarried and without any kids. Like years ago, when we were the only two who had a love life that could now be perfect for any reality-show. We still have fits of laughter drawing stares from the other people in the restaurant, and we still both think that we were stupid to go for the cool guys in high school, instead of for the smart guys (who, allas, all had too many pimples back then). We had our share of break-ups, we had our smacks in the face (she lost her dad, my mom has cancer), and we still think that getting overweight is simply not done (even if this means you have to starve yourself from time to time). And…our biological clock has started ticking harder than ever.
In other words : I had a great time tonight, laughing ‘bout old memories, sharing present-day dreams, and spending time with someone who, even though I rarely see her, was and still is, a soulmate.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

One of those days

- waking up at an ungodly hour of the morning, ‘cause P had to catch a plane to Prague
- missing the high way exit to the office, and because of that, being stuck in morning traffic for 30 more minutes
- Having IT problems for the first two hours of the morning, not being able to do all the planned work.
- Being called in the director’s office for a stupid mistake I made yesterday, because my head was already in hospital, with my mom (who's more sick than ever because of the second chemo that started)
- Realizing it was my collegue who informed the director of the mistake behind my back
- Rain pouring down non-stop

Thank God, I'm home
(without causing any car accidents)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The neighbours & the noise

I knew it the minute I saw them: they’re going to be trouble. Of course, P thought I was overreacting. But my sixth sense kicked in. My people-antenna picked up bad vibes. And needless to say – I was right.
He works for some fancy French champagne house. She does something in fashion. They’re twenty-something, and think that, beside the apartment, they own the world. I’ve rarely seen so much arrogance and self confidence packed into two people.
When they held their first Big Noisy Party (without giving us any notice), I thought "ok , this is just their house warming. No problem." In the mean time, and one month later, we had several Big Noisy Parties – with loud music and front door slamming until the early hours of the morning. Between the Big Noisy Parties, she walks constantly around – on the wooden floors and wooden stairs – with her high heels. And once again, the poor front door gets slammed hard enough to cause small local earthquakes.

Until yesterday, I felt quite lonely with my complains. But then the lady from next door asked me if I too, was having trouble with the noise. Relief !! It wasn’t just me being over-sensitive. It wasn’t just me, overreacting ! There really was/is a problem !
To give an extra touch to the whole situation, the little arrogant bitch from downstairs is blaming US for the noise when being addressed by the next door-lady. Like a little Paris Hilton she goes : "nonono, it wasn’t me ; I was away to China" or "no, pas possible, we’re never here in the weekends – we travel". (so I suppose there must be Gremlins living in the house, responsible for the parties, the cigarette smoke in the hall way, the garbage bags in front of our garage, and the front door-slamming).

I wrote an email to our landlord – but didn’t send it, as P thought it was "too aggressive". That’s right, I’m out of patience. And instead of sending an email, I would much rather go down right now, and start a scene that could come right out of Kill Bill, vol 1 or 2. Now that’s aggressive.


You go away 7 months, you come back…and all of a sudden everybody is
a) pregnant
b) already promoted to the mom-status
This is what is happening all around me. I’m being surrounded by big bellies in the office, I’m receiving one birth announcement after the other (at home and at work), and honestly : I just can’t take it anymore. Manpower planning is getting more and more difficult because, yes, you’ve guessed it, they’re all pregnant (and don’t underestimate this in a company of 600 people where 90% is female).
And somehow (and this is really the cherry on top of the pie) : everybody thought I would come back pregnant from France. Hah ! Talk about a bad joke. So every time I have to congratulate yet another one, I’m getting this questioning look and little smile, and the inevitable : "aaand…what about you ??" To which I respond by rubbing over my flat belly and pointing out my perfect waistline, going "nothing in here !" (better than bursting into tears every time, isn’t it ?) .
I just wonder how much longer I can keep walking around with a ticking time-bomb inside my before-said flat belly, and how much longer this is going to be ignored. On the other hand : if I’ll explode any time soon, I’ll be, in my very own way, also part of the baby-BOOM !

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Work again

We’re in the middle of a big merge, restructuring is daily on the agenda, and now the people-puzzle is about to start. For someone who doesn’t like change, this should be an awful situation. But…I’m lovin’ it ! Maybe it helps that I’ve been out of it for eight months, and that – because of everything else going on in my life – I can see it for what it is : work, nothing more, nothing less.
Over the past four weeks, I’ve realized that my own job is not mine anymore :-)... but I’m happy with the projects I’ve been assigned to, giving me more and more to do, more to learn, and more to discover. There’s social legislation I quickly have to freshen up, there are internal processes and organizational structures to re-design, manpower planning to analyze, and, on the side, some recruiting. And, in a few weeks, give training as well. So, in all, I realize that it may all be temporary projects, and that not even my job is "safe", but in the mean time, I’m enjoying it – and I happily walk out of the apartment in the morning.
I know now for 100% that not working is not an option for me. I need the structure, the focus, the rational side of my life – where my brain can do all the work, and my heart can come second place (or has to shut up all together from time to time).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rewind, fast forward and pause

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how great it would be if you could rewind, fast forward or pause your life. For instance : I would really want to hit the pause button once in a while, just to take a break (as sound sleep is not one of the options anymore since, let’s say, the past 6 months). The rewind option is also a tempting one. I think I would rewind all the way back to my high school days, change a few stupid mistakes I’ve made in my late teens and early twenties, and then fast forward again to today (or tomorrow). Maybe I would use rewind a lot, as I feel that I’ve taken the wrong turn more than once in my life (please save me the "you-learn-from-every-mistake" blah blah). I wouldn’t use the fast-forward to jump into the future I guess. I’ve learned my lesson on that one. All 2007 I’ve longed for 2008, only to realise that that one was even worse.
Hm, maybe all this is just a result of a midlife-crisis (which would mean I’m not getting any older than 64), or just the general feeling of being already over-30 and not having achieved anything significant in my life yet. No smashing career, no real estate, no family, nothing really. People always say that when you turn 30, it’s decision time (especially for women). Around that time, you should have reached some career goal, the biological clock is ticking away, etc. Yeah well, that was two years ago…and no life altering scenarios have happened. Time and again I’ve put the career "on hold" because I thought that it was almost "start-family-time". But I’ve been thinking that for the last four years now – here as well, I would like to push the rewind-button. Time to let the dreams go, and face reality. I should have stopped dreaming ages ago.
Now, let’s just hit the imaginary pause-button, and hope that at least I can get some sleep.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Happy Birthday!

To this blog, who is more or less one year old!
I realised it this morning, while standing under the shower, getting ready for the yearly car-free day in Brussels. I remembered writing about it last year (and I especially remembered how miserable I felt because I missed P so badly).
It feels so strange that it's a year ago..Too much happened & too much didn't happen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Choices, choices, choices

Wouldn’t it be nice if you go to let’s say…IKEA, and there would be just one thing of everything ? One mattress, one kind of mattress cover, one pillow, one of whatever. I’ll tell you : it would be heaven ! It would have saved me a total of five hours, spread over two Saturdays, of trying out mattress after mattress . It would save many an argument between couples. And it would simply be so much easier.
So this is the mental exercise I finally did the past weekend :
After once again doubting for more than an hour, and going back and forward between the three mattresses I liked best, I said to myself : OK, let’s just pretend you’re in a very small village somewhere in Africa. This mattress is the only one available. Would you be happy with it ? Yes. So, take it.
Three nights later, and I haven’t slept a wink on my « African » mattress.
It’s ten times harder than the one in the store (probably because each Saturday there are some thousand people bumping up and down on it like I did), and Mr. Sandman just refuses to visit it. So each night saw me crossing the hallway in the early hours of the morning, pillow under my arm, to the guest room, back to my old bed.
You might wonder : why haven’t you bought the same mattress again ? Ah, well, because IKEA (and other stores) not only think we should have too much choice, they also think that by changing their product range every so often, they give us the benefit of even more choice, spread out in time !
So at the moment, I’m stuck with these two options:
- keep on crossing the hallway around three in the morning
- continue my mental exercise : I’m in a small African village etc….

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Back @ work

Last week I started working again, after a "small" break of 8 months. It was good and strange at the same time. Good to have some structure again in my life. To have a clear purpose to get out of bed in the morning, to stand in front of my wardrobe and be forced to choose something else than jeans and a T-shirt. Strange because my office is taken by someone else – and so is my job. Because all of a sudden free time is once again limited to two short days a week. And mainly : because my new job content is far from clear.
So I spent that first week happy to get out in the morning, somewhat bored during the day, and a bit restless in the evening.

In the mean time, we’re a week further…and nothing much has changed. I’m trying to design and develop my own job content (hey, I’m HR after all :-). And from time to time someone else thinks of something I can do, and I get dropped onto yet another project. So far, I’m trying to integrate HR-wise a small company of 10 people into our company structure, I’m working on the participation of « Best Employer 2008 » election, and , well…that’s all. In a few weeks, I’ll also get to work on some payrolling project (which is a first timer, and I’ll have to deal with numbers.. Fear strikes), I’ll have to become a social legislation expert on outsourcing contracts (luckily I’m allowed to follow some training), and I’ll be part of the task force for the further integration of the before-mentioned small company of 10 people. So hopefully, in a few weeks, my schedule will be more filled, and I don’t have to read every email four times anymore, just to appear busy and working.

P also started again at the Big Consulting Company, and on day 2 he’s already abroad. Same old story : I don’t know if he’s still abroad, when he’ll be back, and if he will be home at all the coming weeks.

So a lot of maybes, ifs, perhaps, and we’ll sees….But somehow over the past months I learned not to care anymore. I just take it day by day, feeling I have no grip whatsoever on my life and the direction it’s (not) going in.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Moving on

"Moving on" after the move is proving to be more difficult than I’d thought.
I moved once before in my life : out of my parents’ house, into my Brussels’ apartment. And I remember those first months were tough. I missed my room, my cats, the garden, the smell of coffee in the morning, etc. But in the weekends, I could always return (and I did). It was all still there, waiting for me. When I moved to France for 6 months, the same was true for my apartment : it was still there, I could always go back whenever I wanted.

Now, big move number two has taken place : out of my Brussels’ apartment, into the new Brussels’ apartment with P. My old place doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s an empty place, four walls, waiting for someone else’s furniture. I can never go back – it’s gone, forever. This is a first-timer for me. And boy, am I having a hard time with it. I wake up at night crying because I feel so homesick. I drive aimlessly around because I feel I have no place to « go home » to. I feel as a visitor in the new place because it’s not giving me the feelings of warmth and safety that a home is supposed to give (also literally, as we’ ve been without any warm water or heating for two full days now…). I look forward to going back to work next week, simply because my old office feels more familiar than this living room I’m sitting in right now.

Yes, I know these things take time. And everybody keeps telling me that after a few months, this will feel like home. But right now, I’m so overwhelmed by all those other feelings, that’s it’s hard to believe this. I know all the « focus-on-the-positive-blah-blah » : I have a great apartment now, a big terrace, a fancy cooking island, P and I finally moved in together, we have a garage for the cars, etc, etc. Believe me, I try to focus on all of this. But it’s emotion-overload all over again. Uncontrollable, unstoppable, overwhelming sensitivity.

Am I crazy to have such a hard time with this ? Probably so. I see people all around me, moving from one place to another, from one country to another…without much effort, without anything more than the occasional little blues. I haven’t seen anybody completely out of balance because they moved to the other side of town. So yes, on top of everything else, I feel ridiculous, ashamed and clueless on how to deal with myself.
Some rest is much needed after this horrible summer of moves, hospitals and arguments. Going back to work next Monday might, ironically (and hopefully), do the trick.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Planet Hospital

After weeks on planet "Move", I've now continued my voyage through outer space to land on planet "Hospital" (planets "Holiday" and "Break" seem to be in another galaxy, or have disappeared into a giant black hole). Right after the final boxes were unpacked,my mom got a call to tell her that she was expected in hospital the very next day. So since Monday that's where I've spent 99% of my time. Surgery was on Tuesday, now we're on the road to recovery (hopefully).

Planet Hospital is not a very nice place to be, and I already had to face battle. I won't go into detail, but give just one clarrifying example of this war-zone. My mom was away for surgery for over 6 hours. one could tell us how this went, or give us any feedback whatsoever. No one told us we could actually go and see her in the recovery room (we found out ourselves through the reception). We had to beg a nurse to write down my phone number, so that the doctor could call me later(he was again called away for an emergency). First, after more than six hours of waiting, we were bluntly told that this was "not done". No, we don't take phone numbers here. No, doctors don't call relatives who have been waiting for news whole day long. This was followed by a minor nuclear explosion on my side, some peace talks on P's side, and finally: victory, 'cause dear doctor did call to give the very long awaited feedback.

However, the war against the little (wo-)men in green continues, as painkillers are not working, fevers are "forgotten" and left untreated, and "within 10 minutes" can mean anything from "within two hours" to "not for today, maybe tomorrow".
Strange that it's those very same green (wo-)men that are actually saving my mom's life...

Monday, August 11, 2008

I survived

Barely. And that's really all there is to say about this move. Take it from me : moving from 3 apartments (my place, P's place - in storage, and the Barbizon place) to 1 is hell. I had to throw loads away (12 huge garbage bags, and still counting), I had to drive box after box back to my parents (who were not amused), and I still have a few boxes to "give away" (anyone in need of a toaster, a water cooker or a red flower vase?).
Forget all the romance about "moving in together". It was constant war: your vacuum cleaner or mine? Your coffee cups or mine? Your choice at IKEA or mine? Speaking of which, IKEA has seen me for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner this week. And if it wasn't IKEA, it was Mc Donalds. Strangely enough, I still managed to loose so much weight due to stairclimbing, lifting stuff, and simple stress, that I fit back into my oldest jeans.
No, it hasn't been nice. I have felt homeless, and so at loss that I wondered if I indeed was/ am authistic (as P claims from time to time). Maybe it was because this was my first apartment. Maybe because I've never done this before : leaving a place to never return there. Maybe because I couldn't take anymore emotional stress after all that has already happened this year. Maybe because I'm so attached to all the things I gattered through the years. Whatever the reason(s) : I can safely say that I never want to go through something like this again. Next time, I plan to outsource the whole business, and go on a holiday for two weeks. So basicaly, I'm not moving again until I can afford exactly that.... That, and already assembled furniture.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Moving madness, part II

For the second time in less than three weeks I’m on the hunt for boxes – now to empty my apartment in Brussels. If I thought the Barbizon-move was the « Mont Blanc » to climb, this one is going to be no less than Mount Everest.
I’ve got enough books to fill an entire small town-library, enough candles to lit a cathedral, and enough clothes to make the Salvation Army happy for at least five years. And just loads of « stuff » - there’s no other way to describe it. A coke can from our trip to Cuba three years ago. A twig with eucalyptus leaves from the Portuguese mountains. An empty wine bottle from that romantic dinner in Florence five years ago. A flyer from the ballet we went to for our one year-anniversary. The keycard from our very designy hotel in Copenhagen. And so one. (By now, you’re starting to understand why I get along so well with Phoebe, the hamster). Yes, I’m one of those people who keeps things, just because of the memory that’s attached to it. Restaurant tickets, some ten plastic Haagen-Dazs ice cream spoons, entrance tickets, Starbucks’ coffee cups with my name on it, etc : they fill up valuable storage space, with no other purpose but to do just that.
And now, decision-time has come : in or out. Part of me goes all sentimental and says : hey, I already have to leave my apartment – surely I’m allowed to keep all my things. Another part goes practical : time to clean up, and throw out all the clutter. The less there is to move, the better. This results in situations like the following : actually find the courage to throw away something. Five minutes later : run down the stairs, look left and right to see if there’s no one in the street, tear open my own garbage bag, dig into it, and retrieve the one item, that was, of course, on the bottom by now. And drag it back up to my apartment.
*Sigh*, four days left to get my entire life packed into boxes – wish me luck !

Friday, July 18, 2008

The following takes place between 12.20 AM and 2.30 PM

(imagine the bleeping soundtrack of « 24 » while reading)

12.20 AM
"P, stop showering and get dressed ! Asap !! There’s this really cool apartment I saw online, and the owner is still there for some 30 minutes. If we leave NOW, we can get there in time and visit it!!"
12.30 AM
P (still half wet) and N jump in the car and speed through town.
P and N have their first look at the place, and have what the French call « un coup de cœur »
1.00 PM
P and N go for a quick lunch, while doing nothing but maths to see if they can afford the parking place that can be rented with the apartment
2.00 PM
Visit of another apartment. Not worth mentioning after what we saw an hour earlier
2.30 PM
P and N decide and make the call : we take the apartment … and the parking place !

22.30 PM
Sitting on my couch, writing this, and still not able to believe it :-)

Monday, July 14, 2008

In the midst of moving-madness

Here I am, on the French National Holiday, sitting between some 20 boxes, blogging for the last time in Barbizon !
It’s unbelievable what one accumulates in only 10 months : books, plants, DVD’s, piles of food, some 20 Carrefour shopping bags (which come in useful right now !), uncountable brochures (from swimming pool opening hours to the Student guide for Paris), etc, etc. The fact that each time I went to Belgium, I brought some more stuff over to Barbizon, is not really helping us right now. Until this morning, I was confident that everything would easily fit into our two cars. Now, it seems that the next tenants will be spoiled with a functioning TV and oven/microwave. (I try to ban the thought that I’ll have to go through this again in a few weeks time, when we’ll have found an apartment, and I’ll have to empty mine).
All in all, I can’t really say that I hate packing. The practical hands-on stuff is helping me cope with having to say goodbye to the place. So that’s why I’ve been non-stop busy since the military parade was marching by on the Champs Elysées. It’s only when P and I stop for five minutes, and look at each other, that emotions just well up.
I guess this has been a special place for us. We lived together here for the first time, we had our worst fights here, our closest moments, and shared many an evening in the company of dear friends. It was our own little Bubble :-) , and I’ll really miss it.


On our last night out in Paris city, we decided we had to try at least once the public transport-bike system, i.e. “Vélib”. I was lucky and found a functioning bike immediately. P was less fortunate. A little overview of our bike-adventure
- First station, 2 bikes left. One for me (OK), the other one for P : oops, no tire at the back
- On to the next station : one bike left, but ah, alas : no chain
- On to the next station : ah, yes, a bike. We take it. Oops, flat tire. We drive to the next station
- The next station : card doesn’t work at this one. F***
- On to the next station : yess, one bike left! We take it, hmmm…tire at the back is as good as flat, but what the hell, we’ve almost reached our destination.
- Oops…no space left to park our bikes…But thank God, two guys just pass by and take two bikes out, so we’re saved.
And than I didn’t mention that at bike station nr1 we were surrounded by a youth gang, who were trying to take out the bikes we’d just paid for….
So, Vélib’ anyone? Yeah, well, *maybe* next time!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

An itchy Sunday

P and his mom spent a nice day in Paris, I spent a not so nice day at home.
This morning, I started out quite actively with cleaning, ironing and washing, but soon things turned nasty. Our romantic little Barbizonian terrace seems to be infested with some kind of plant louse. The little black buggers are all over the place, and decided to discover the freshly washed clothes as well. So I put the clothes once again into the washing machine. And while doing so, the door of the closet hiding the machine broke off. After that, I discovered that the lice were not only on the entire terrace and on the laundry, but in the mean time, also on…yes, me ! I guess it’s about time to move out of this place….
The afternoon left nothing else to do but spend way too many hours on my laptop : Facebook (trying to find out where everyone is and what they’re up to), looking endlessly at all the pictures taken this year, once again checking all the INSEAD blogs, and then back to Facebook. (enjoying the sun on the terrace was still not an option because of, yes, you’ve guessed it : plant lice)
The evening is carrying on in much the same way…Although I’ve decided to become a bit more productive and write some . Needless to say, after a Murphy-morning, and a lonely afternoon, I feel a bit itchy (lice again ? ;-) …especially as P is still somewhere between Paris and Barbizon, and I’m dying to have him a bit to myself again.
Post-graduation hasn’t been a blast up until now. I miss everyone, I miss some really needed and long awaited quality time with P , and there were/are just too many goodbyes.
Ok, I’ll stop nagging now. But somehow it seemed a better idea to do it here on my blog, than in an hour or so , when P gets finally home. Still, if he doesn't nicely listen to all my complaints of the day, I'll just put him on the terrace for a while :-)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Graduation July '08

(This is a long one, you’re warned)

While writing this, I’m still trying to recover from, in no particular order : almost three hours in a hot tent, 4 (or 5 ?) glasses of bubbles, 5 hours of non-stop dancing, half a bottle of rosé wine, 2 cranberry-vodka’s, barely 3 hours of sleep, and uncountable goodbye-hugs and tears. That’s right, the July ’08 Graduation, and with that the whole INSEAD year, is over. Done.

First of all, I feel immensely proud of P. Of course because he got an MBA (and some really fine results with that), but most of all because I know he has become a wonderful friend to a lot of people, because he finally learned to party the night away, and because he kept insisting that this was (and had to be) a great year for both of us. Even at times when I hated it.

I feel grateful for the experience I had the past few months. A year ago, I was someone who never had a conversation with let’s say an Indian, a Japanese, a Rumanian, a Canadian, etc. I had never lived abroad. I had never hosted dinner parties for more than 4 people. I never partied until dawn (let alone on weeknights !), never dived into a pool around midnight, never had so many social activities I actually had to plan a night at home. This list could go on and on, but all I’m saying is : damn, I’m gonna miss the parties :-) !!

Last but not least : I feel so much love and friendship, that my heart is just too small to contain it all. The intensity and depth of the friendships built in just a few months, are very hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through the whole experience. Day after day, we’ve shared laughter ,tears, irritation (Grrrr, those men !!), gossip :-) , boredom, dreams, hopes, and fears. (Setting up a refugee camp for « Partners without a destination » in the INSEAD garden is still an option girls !)
That being a partner was not always an easy ride, can be shown by some quotes :
- I want to be normal : I want to have furniture.
- The last few months, I was trained as a private investigator…I sat and watched people all day in an international business school.
- My clothes are in four different places, and you know what ? I don’t even care !
- Don’t cry – Eat !
Or what about a contest on whose husband/boyfriend arrives first in the bar after classes being the most exciting thing in your whole day ? (on top of everything, a contest I mostly lost !). Looking back on it however, I think we never would have become such friends if we hadn’t shared all those idle hours….
Next to the partners, there are also the friends I got to know through P, and the ones I got to know through writing this blog. On that last note : in the beginning it felt strange to realize that people knew who I was and what I felt without ever having really talked to them. In the end, this blog has become the thread that keeps me and a lot of people together. People I don’t really know all that well, or don’t know at all, but who are friends just because they read, they care, they show concern and support.
So after saying heartbreaking goodbyes to friends who are leaving to the four corners of the world last night, saying goodbye to this blog would be one goodbye too many.

Tears are still not far away today. Just thinking about some people makes me grab my sunglasses and a Kleenex. I wanted to tell some people so much yesterday. But I just couldn’t. So I’ll do it now. (sorry if this post is going on and on and on !)
- You’re the sweetest, warmest person I’ve ever met. A soulmate. Thanks for all the shared dinners, and for dragging us to Paris many a weekend for eating, shopping and 1 hour-museum tours.
- Your tears surprised me. I always thought you were such a though, strong girl. Take care. I just know you’ll do great in life – there’s a fire burning in your heart and in your eyes ; keep it that way !
- You’re both wonderful people, who’ve treated me with a lot of respect and showed true gratefulness. Honest and kind, warm and friendly, on the same wavelength on many a things (family, food, cars :-) , you’ve become real friends
- Never loose your uncontrollable, unstructured, crazy creative side. It’s what makes you you. It can be one of your greatest qualities if you let it. It sometimes takes a writer to understand one, and I think we did…
- I have to admit I first thought you were cold and distant. Never have I been more wrong. I’m still jealous of your perfect style and elegance. But more than that, I’m proud I got to know such an amazing personality.
- I feel that we didn’t really had a chance to say our goodbyes, each of us being absorbed by our own problems. But let’s not forget what we share : a true, honest friendship, with room for our own straightforward opinions, with understanding and concern. I admire you. I really do.
- Thanks for all the sexy moves we shared on the dance floor :-). I feel the year has been too short for us, and we haven’t had the chance to really know each other. But I saw enough to know you’re a great person.
- I don’t really say goodbye to you. ‘Cause I know with full certainty that you’ll always be there and that we’ll be friends for life.

Hugs and kisses to all of you, and to all the other readers. Thanks for sticking with me throughout it all !

Monday, June 30, 2008

Moving makes me mental

600 km south for a mini-graduation trip to the Ardeche (worth it, by the way)
2 days later, 600 km back to Fonty
A few hours of sleep later, 400 km north back to Brussels
One day from now, again 400 km south to Fonty
In the mean time : boxes filled with books and clothes in Fonty, boxes in my car, boxes at my parents, boxes in Brussels, boxes from P at his mom's and in storage. (no real need to unpack, as we still have to find an apartment, i.e. move again)
In short : our belongings, and we ourselves, are a bit all over the place!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Bubble bursts

The last classes are over, a few unlucky fellows still have one exam today, and boxes are starting to get filled with clothes, books, etc. Part of the class goes on the grad trip, another part stays in Fonty, some people already went home, and still others have other vacation plans. (While writing this, I still don’t know in what category I’ll end up).
The feelings that come with this, are as diverse as the stuff that was on the BBQ last night, ranging from spicy sausages, ordinary burgers and veggie ones, to pork chops, chicken wings and steaks.
For me, these last days are tough. There’s no happy new life waiting on the other side. And while everybody was having their final « insead-weekend », I was also having what might be the final holiday weekend with both my parents (I can only hope that it wasn’t the last).
All the above makes me feel exactly like the Bubble itself : bursting, or as the dictionary explains : break suddenly or violently apart or into pieces.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cabaret and goodbyes

Cabaret was great. Over a span of 4,50 hours ( !!) we saw though guys darting around in ballet tutus, the rugby team doing an (almost) full Monty, and our very own version of Ali G. We also saw the underwear of the rugby girls while doing a French cancan, a scary « Bain Witch Project » and a gripping « Gone with the Ding ». The two old geezers from the Muppet Show were also present in their own private upper balcony, as were no less than 4 hosts to talk us through the show. There were so many acts, that if I had to mention them all, this would become a very long post. 120 people were giving the very best of themselves while singing, acting and dancing – and some true hidden talents became very clear in the spotlights ( I honestly thought a few times : *WHY* are they doing an MBA ?? They should always be out there, on stage !). Spirits (and temperatures !) were very high in the beautiful Fontainebleau theater, and it was really one more night to remember.

Now that Cabaret is over, and people are no longer practicing their lines and moves every single evening, the goodbye-marathon has kicked off. With more BBQ’s, dinners and drinks than one can possibly attend. The realization that it’s really almost over is hitting me hard from time to time, especially when I walk through our Barbizon main street, and everyone is greeting me like I have lived here for far longer than a few months.
Part of me wants to enjoy this final overload of partying, another part of me just wants to crawl under the bed until it’s all over. ‘Cause I simply hate goodbyes. So I’ll just stick to « see yah » for now (or I quietly sneak out).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Puzzles and patterns

My life feels a bit fragmented lately, and I fail to see the bigger picture. Maybe that comes with taking it day by day (or even moment by moment) or with living in two countries at the same time. There’s the puzzle-piece “job”, right now only a financial security-piece, I don’t care anymore about content, level, company culture, whatever. All that can wait. There’s the puzzle piece “children”, where I feel more and more I can’t wait anymore. There’s the piece “relationship”, that should get more attention, but is somehow still waiting to find its destined place in the puzzle. Come the pieces : home, parents, hospital, doctors, mom, disease, future ??? – all clustered in the middle. Of course there are the pieces INSEAD, MBA, parties, France, friends. And also somewhere in the puzzle are new apartment and moving.
I could go on and on about each of these pieces, but
1) I feel that would become a boring read in the end
2) it wouldn’t get me any further

Maybe I just feel a bit lost. Which is not unusual, ‘cause it’s once again a “last evening in Brussels ». With all the commuting between Fonty and home, I’ve discovered there’s an emotional pattern developing, making the “lows” kind of predictable.
Leaving Fonty to go home : sad for leaving P
Coming home : guilty for not having been here, anxiety about being alone again
Being home : feeling ok, as long as there is no additional stress such as contacts with the company or hunting for apartments. Just ordinary good and bad days.
Leaving home for Fonty : sad for leaving mom, feeling lost
Coming to Fonty : often very tired, and in need of emotional rest, love and attention
Being in Fonty : feeling ok, seeing the bright side of life thanks to friends.

Which brings me to the following point (and rises my spirits!). On the menu for this week so far : a last party at chateau Fleury and The “Bubble” Cabaret. And “home” coming to Fonty, as my parents will spend a long weekend in Barbizon. All those I love in one place : now there's a completed puzzle!

Friday, June 13, 2008

After the Italian Party

I have to do it once, don't I? Write a blog post right after an INSEAD party? So here we go (but I'll keep it short) : it's 3.40 AM, just came home, brushed my teeth, and went to bed. All I can say is : the Russian guys can be glad I handed out my awards earlier this week, 'cause the Italians would certainly have been one of the nominees. Some serious dance beats, Italian bubbles, and people from all over the world united on one dance floor: it helped, a lot. I had a great night. Mille grazie a tuti!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One bald & brave, one angry at the world

Today has been a big C-day so far. I saw my mom on the webcam, with almost no hair left (she decided to raise it off after it kept falling out). She looks very vulnerable, and at the same time, ready for battle (the only thing missing are two black stripes on her cheeks). She is being « brave », I could see that. I also saw the Kleenex she was still holding in her hands, betraying the earlier tears. And now, I just want to go home. Get in the car, drive 400 km and hug her. One day left, almost there.

We knew the hair-falling-out episode was coming, and we were prepared (from a practical point of view). In the last couple of weeks, we bought hair bands, scarves, hats,… We’ve experimented with them, and today, I went looking online for special scarves or knotting-techniques. It seems « cancer-scarves » are big business in the US and in the UK, but apparently in Belgium no one has realized that there are a lot of women out there looking for this. Which, stupidly, I admit, is causing me again to get quite angry.

Emotionally, there was no preparing for this. I was the first one to claim that this would be just an unimportant side-effect. Wrong. It’s making the disease very visible, you can’t get around it any longer. You look at my mom, and your mind goes « cancer ».
In my search for scarves, I came across several blogs and sites. Almost all about breast cancer. Again, irrationally, I got angry. F***, this is not the only cancer in the world. Then I ended up on a blog of another cancer patient, with pictures of her grandchildren. Again : anger – a source of happiness my mom hasn’t got.
I could go on.
In all, it has been a bad day. The fact that I almost didn’t get any sleep the past three nights is not helping. Cleaning the house didn’t help either. The box of cookies : also didn’t help. The prospect of yet another INSEAD-party tonight : I don’t know…We’ll see. Might be better to dance it off than start throwing plates and cups around. Writing it all down : seems to have done some good.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

And the award goes to....

At the end of the year, it’s time to hand out some awards.
The totally subjective jury being me, myself and I

Best Italian /cheap-eat in town : Pizza Pazza
Best French food in town : Bistro 9
Best Mediterranean food : Côté Sud
Best Indian food : D’s, when his mom is in town ;-)
Best cocktail bar : Shaker’s
Best supermarket if you want to spend the day grocery shopping : Carrefour (the biggest one in Europe)
Best if you have less time : Champion
Best gym : the INSEAD one of course ;-)
Best INSEAD party of the year : up until now, I’d have to say it was the infamous Russian Party.
Best posh event of the year : the Summer Ball
Best walk in the forest : Gorge du Franchard is one of the most beautiful spots I’ve seen
Best national week : not wanting to cause any conflicts, I remain neutral
Best partners’ activity organized by INSEAD : the MBTI-session
Best English student : my dear Italian M
Best cheap-eat of Barbizon : La Tortue ! (if open…, and if they know you…)
Best of INSEAD staff : the anonymous bartender X, giving the occasional free croissant :-)
Best laughs we had : I’m sure the award will go to Cabaret on the 19th of June
Best trip we made : the snowy Vosges
Best lunch : at the end of P4, along the banks of the Seine, in the first warm sunshine of the year
Best dinner : hmm, too many to choose from. But I keep very warm memories of a tiny cozy restaurant in Le Marais in Paris, in the company of P and D
Best dish in the INSEAD restaurant : sigh…too difficult, on to the next one
Best stuff at the INSEAD bar : the warm pastries in the morning. Mmmmm…
Best INSEAD seminar : a draw ! The seminar on High Mobility living, and the one about Work-Life relationship
Best cubicles : my choice goes to South Wing
Best INSEAD slang-word : ding
Best toilet-read : the INSEAD graduates July 2008 CV book
Best (and only) getting-drunk party : the memorable Villecerf movie character-party
Best INSEAD blog : no, I can’t make any choices here. Those guys kept me going all the months I wasn’t in Fonty but in Brussels (and after that !), giving me information, emotion, atmosphere, etc. from campus and life around it. I can only thank all of them (although they should have written more frequently ;-) . And special thanks to CC, for making me no longer the only partner with a blog !
Best parking spots on campus : size-wise : the ones under Plecy-Mornay, location-wise : the ones behind/under the bar
Best photocopy machine on campus : the one in the library – never out of order (don’t spread the word) !
Best (and most awkward) blog moment : realizing my blog was being read by INSEAD-staff (Oops !!). Second price goes to reading my blog content in an email sent (by someone I don’t know) to the entire INSEAD-community.
Best highway-stop between Brussels and Fonty : Assevillers
Best professor / class/ etc : I kindly leave the choice to the students themselves
Best part of this whole experience : all the great people I’ve met, and the unforgettable friends I’ve made

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


As the INSEAD year is taking a fast leap towards graduation, choices can no longer be postponed and have to be made. I have my own little list of decisions to make, some more important than other.
1) To work or not to work. Normally, I’d be taking up my old job again as from August. However, my mom’s planned medical treatment (some serious surgery in August) is forcing me to rethink the whole planning. Do I start working again ? Full time, part time, or simply not until October ? If I start working, I’ll feel guilty. If I don’t start working, I’ll also feel guilty. If I start working part time, I feel I’ll do a 50% job on both sides, tearing myself in two. It’s been on my mind the past three weeks, and I haven’t made an inch of progress.
2) To blog or not to blog. What will happen with all the INSEAD blogs after graduation ? I can only beg all the other bloggers : « Pleeeaaase, keep on writing ! » But will I ? Do I keep this blog ? Do I start another one ? I haven’t got a clue…

More questions pop up in my mind, requiring answers, although from a less practical, but more philosophical order.
1) Good year or bad year ? I seriously don’t know. One to remember, that’s for sure. Am I glad I came to France ? Yes, without a doubt. Would I do it again, knowing what I know now ? Hmm, doubtful.
2) Can I be the typical « expat-wife », following my husband wherever his career takes us ? No, that’s something that has become very very clear. So what do I do, next time P decides to leave Belgium ? Once again, I haven’t got a clue.

Some things I do know.
1) Barbizon has become my « escape-route », my sanatorium, my holiday resort when I need a break from everything at home. It brings peace, quiet, happiness, friends, love, positivism. I feel at home. Leaving it will break my heart a little
2) The French are not all rude. I’ve met some very nice ones :-)
3) Cheese IS fattening. So are baguettes
4) I’ll miss dressing up for parties
This being said, one more practical question : what the hell are we going to do after this year with let’s say : 2 Russian fur hats, a Merlin’s hat, fairy wings, a wand, a doctor’s outfit, etc . ?

Thursday, June 5, 2008


This week, I've visited four apartments. 3 out of 4 times, I knew it was a "no" even before I entered the building. Railroad to closeby. Street too noisy. Frontside of house too dirty. It takes quite some acting skills to still apear even slightly interested when the sleeky salesperson of the agency is pointing out all the great qualities of the apartment, when in my mind there's already a big red cross over it.

Yesterday, finally, no sleeky salesperson. But an elderly couple that could easily pass for my grandparents. No prepared sales speech, but "prenez votre temps mademoiselle". Maybe that's part of why I liked the place. I felt at ease, I felt at home. Even if it wasn't the kitchen of my dreams. Even if the terrace was smaller than I had hoped for. It's in one of the most beautiful streets of my favourite neighbourhood, where every house has a small frontgarden. No railroad in sight...

Tomorrow, P is coming to Brussels to have a look at it as well. I'm in no state to take decisions at the moment, and I have to admit that this "searching for a new home" is stressing me out:
a) I love my apartment where I've lived for the past 5 years, and having to leave it is breaking my heart - it's "Home", and if I've ever needed one, it's now.
b) The stress-rooms and emotion-rooms in my brain are already fully booked. There's more than enough on my plate. "Let's throw in another move"...not such a good idea.
c) if you are a regular visitor of this blog, you already know that I simply hate change.
On the bright side:
a) P and I will now oficially live together in one apartment (not bad after 7 years) !
b) 2 people = more money = more square meters!
c) I still have to come up with a third positive point to balance out the three negative points, but hey...I'm working on it! it! At least, I know in what city I'm going to live next year. I'm basically going back where I came from before INSEAD. I think a lot of other partners envy me just for that...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Alone in BXL

A fellow blogger advised me to keep on writing, even at those times when it’s most painful. So here I go – advice accepted.
When I was in Brussels almost the entire month of May, I really needed the peace and quiet of my own apartment to go home to in the evenings, after long days in hospitals and at my parents. Mostly however, those evenings and nights were not so quiet and peaceful. Nope, they were rather filled with anxiety attacks, hyper ventilation, and crying out loud with my face buried in a pillow. Then, after a few weeks, and mostly in Barbizon, I found my sleep back, and some peace of mind. And, I was never alone.

Back in Brussels since Saturday evening, I find myself fighting against the fear of being alone again. The fear of crashing again. The fear of sitting here at 4.00 AM in the morning, feeling myself tear apart with grief. I’ve tried the only life line I can think of : calling P. 2 out of 3 evenings…no luck. So now it’s back to writing – hopefully that will do more good than just lying in bed, being worn out by a) anger b) sadness.

Almost 7 hours of waiting in a hospital room (for blood results, for the doctor, for the chemo, for whatever). Getting the reality smacked in my face again. Seeing my mom and how brave she is. And ironically, by listening to her determination to heal, being very very afraid myself of the possibility that she won’t. I love her so much. I just can’t imagine losing her. Can’t. Not possible.
That was my day. I had to tell it to someone. Thanks for listening/reading.

The final countdown

Exactly one month from now, our precious INSEAD students will graduate.
I can go all sentimental now, but there's already too much emotion going on in my life. So instead, it's back to the INSEAD blog tactic of "post a song"!
Back to the Eighties, back to "Europe" singing :

We're leaving together
But still it's farewell
And maybe we'll come back,
To earth, who can tell?
I guess there is no one to blame
We're leaving ground (leaving ground)
Will things ever be the same again?
It's the final countdown!!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

My famous words

This morning I was thrilled to see the email "Official pictures of the summer ball" had finally arrived in P's mailbox. I opened it immediately...only to read my-very-own-words!! That's right, if you want to know the content of the mail, just re-read my posting describing the ball.
Now I know that whatever you put online becomes public property, still : at this moment, I don't know if I have to feel flattered, cheated, flabbergasted, robbed, excited, amused (or not).
My private investigator-instincts are already at work while writing is, so guilty one : beware ;-) !!

Friday, May 30, 2008

One week, all-inclusive

What a crazy week this has been….All the best of INSEAD, packed into a few days. It started with the Summer Ball, followed by « Latin week » on campus (including a mexican dinner for 160 people, a tropical beach party along the Seine, a dinner party at our place for 14 people, and today as a gran’ finale : brazilian carnival). And while writing this piece, I’m sitting on our sunny terace, eating strawberries the French way (with lots of whipped cream :-)
So it has truly been a holiday for me. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it – and even with a sleep-average of 5 hours per night, I feel the batteries are fully reloaded.

Tomorrow I’m going back home, Monday I’m bringing my mom to hospital for another chemo-treatment. I realize this may sound as if I’m living in two very different worlds. But I'm not. It’s just life – a very rich one at the moment, with lots of love and friendship, and lots of very intense feelings. I just hope everything keeps fitting into one tiny head...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Summer Ball

Before I start writing anything, let me be very clear on this : words (no matter how many) fail to describe the INSEAD Summer Ball of last night. But I’ll give it a try :-)

A colorfully illuminated chateau (a really big one. Yes, like in the movies). Some thousand INSEAD students and alumni in tuxedos and gorgeous ball gowns. Three different « party-area’s » : 1 huge transparent tent on the main courtyard of the castle, with a central bar (non-stop champagne and cocktails), and different food stands with cooks preparing delicious munchies. With a really good DJ, who was helped by a live (and very funky) trumpet- and bongo player. 1 ball room inside the castle, with a salsa band playing very hot sounds. Another very large room in the castle, with lounge chairs and a live jazz band playing.
Nope, I’m not finished yet.
Around midnight, breathtaking fireworks over the pond in the castle’s gardens, accompanied by classical music. Around five AM, breakfast served. And last but not least : all the friends we have made this year, present to dance the night away!

So dancing ‘till dawn is what we did. The ball ended at 6.00 AM. A « survivors’ picture » was taken on the stairs of the main entrance of the castle. And as the sky turned light blue, and the birds began to sing, hundreds of people walked out of the castle, all smiling, more than one with her shoes in her hands.
It was a magic night.
Thanks for making me go.

Monday, May 19, 2008


I have hated it at times. I have wondered why in the hell I went to France. I have felt guilty for moving abroad, for not being here with my family, those last « healthy months » of my mom. For not being here when she heard the news.
And now, I don’t know how this whole situation would look like without INSEAD.

Without it, there would probably be no blog. And I wouldn’t get support and feelings of sympathy from all over the world, from people I barely or don’t know, or from people I never realized were reading my blog. Without INSEAD, I wouldn’t have a big handful of new friends, who were very present these last 2 weeks, if not physically. Strangely enough, what has happened has allowed me to give meaning to my whole Fonty-experience.

Next weekend I’m going back to France for a few days. It’s the big annual Summer Ball – and my mom has kept on pushing me to go, even when I refused to even think about it. So I bought a dress, and she bought me all the « accessories » : the outfit is completely ready !
I am looking so much forward to going back, and at the same time it frightens me a bit. It will be strange to step back into what feels like my « old life », before the « C-chapter » started. It will be emotional to see all my friends back. It will be difficult to go away from home again, for the first time, even if only for a few days. But I’ll be there…. in one hell of a smashing outfit ;-) !

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Keep on writing

After two weeks of loosing myself in grief and sleepless nights, life is slowly getting back to "normal". Yes, my mom has cancer, and is starting her first chemo tomorrow. Yes, the sadness and the fear are always there. But I can sleep again (most of the time). I can talk to people without bursting into tears every five minutes. I can read a book and listen to music. And I'll try to write again. Somehow, this big C-word, and all its implications, has found a place in my life - and I just have to deal with it. There are still times that I get very angry and very frustrated. Those are the worst. I prefer the tears over the anger.

A few things I've learned these past days:
- sadness can physically hurt. I told P that giving birth can't possibly hurt as much (I might have to change my mind on that one one day)
- even if you don't belief in God, you think of him when everything else seems hopeless
- strong emotions can make you very, very tired (I still feel like I just did four weeks of non-stop studying for exams at university)
- you can't understand how a sunset can still be so beautiful when your whole world seems to end
- when you feel hopeless, sad and very weak yourself, you can still manage to find the strenght to be there for other people
- "time" becomes a strange concept. It's your enemy and your friend at the same time. A day can last a week. But a week can fly by without you noticing it.
- friends try to find ways to help you. But their biggest help is just in showing that they're thinking of you. And luckily, that's what they did. In the toughest of times, their messages were like hands pulling me through.
- P is my hope, my love, my strenght. It's in his arms that I find some peace of mind.

So here we are: I managed to write more than a few lines again. Without crying. Without just staring at a white screen for half an hour. I did it. Pfew...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Waiting for P5

That's what we've been doing the past few months, when the weather was crap, when the workload at INSEAD remained heavier than expected. P5 would be : sunny weather, less courses, more quality time for P and me. Instead, my life changed from one day to another, and there is no P5 for me. I'm back home, P is in Barbizon. Or how "waiting" can become the biggest mistake you ever made. Waiting to get married. Waiting to have a baby. Waiting for better times. Take it from me: don't wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow your life as you know it can be over.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Searching for strength

Writing is tough right now, but I'll give it a try.
Over the past few days, I've received phone calls, emails, blog comments. All little stars in a pitchblack night. All wishing me strenght. And you know what? Sometimes I manage to find that strength. Like when I join my mom in hospital for another test, and I see her lying there in pain, suffering and completely helpless. Then I feel a force within me that somehow just takes over. Only to crash again when I come home again, late in the evening, all alone, surounded by pictures and memories.
I have no control whatsoever over how I feel. One moment I'm furious and so angry I could happily hit somebody. The next moment, it's like I took a box of tranquilizers. I go from hopeful to hopeless. From denial to raw reality.
Right now, I'm just going to sit outside in the sunny garden, with my mom, dad and our two cats. And try to just live in the moment, not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Daisies by the lake

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon, and I’m sitting in one of my favorite spots : the lake side in the park 5 min. from my doorstep in Brussels. (I’m scribbling this down in my notebook – will post it later on the blog).
For the first time in days, I manage to feel a bit at ease. The anxiety is still there, but instead of attacking me, it’s making me numb. They’ve found « bad cells » while examining my mom in hospital. There, I’ve written it down – it’s real now. We’ll know more on Tuesday, after more tests.
How I feel ? Like this : a little boat, drifting in a huge ocean, without a harbor in sight, without a safe haven to go to, without any anchor. No job to go to, no money to earn, no securities, no place I can call home for the coming years, no mom to take care of it all. And P at INSEAD .
I’m staying in Brussels for the coming two weeks. I’ve rented a car with my saving money . It may sound stupid, but having a car again gives me the impression that, at least, I have a bit of a life of my own again. I don’t know how that life will look like after Tuesday. For now, there are daisies and green grass around me, someone playing the guitar in the distance, the bubbling sound of the lake fountain, and the warmth of the sun on my face. This moment is ok. The first one in four days and three nights.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

P4 endings

Finally the French weather gods showed some mercy. Finally, campus looked and felt again like it did during those sunny September days. That’s right, while the last papers were printed and the last bits of ball pen were chewed off over a too difficult exam, the sun came out. It was the perfect ending of P4, with wine and beer flowing freely, and spirits rising along with the temperature.
We ourselves enjoyed an excellent three-hour lunch on a terrace along the Seine, getting sunburned and slightly drunk on the first summery tasting rosé of the year. The day continued with more sun, more drinks, and more food.

Today, everybody is heading off into different directions to enjoy the break. Our plans are : first going south, then going home. My bags are packed, I’m ready to leave !

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Keep checkin' the horizon

As the last period is only a break away, mixed feelings are welling up, stronger than ever. People want this to be over with, it has been more than enough (if you want a partner’s view on it, just have a look at the last entry on CC’s blog ). And yet, saying goodbye is something we would like to postpone as long as possible.
More than one is fed up with the stress of job search and the unavoidable “dings”, causing self doubt and doubt about this whole MBA-thing (How could this ever be “the best year of their life”??). Yet at the same time, it’s the friends they have made throughout this year, that are most likely to provide the so needed emotional support and keep them going (‘cause frankly, who back home could ever understand this crazy b-school world?).
Uncertainty is taking its toll, for those who still not know where “home” will be. Relationships that have managed to survive this year, are once more facing quite a challenge: “where will his/her career take us now, and what about me?”
And then there are the happy faces of those who do have it all figured out yet. A minority, but a very present one to those who are still struggling .
In short : these are no easy times we’re living in. I would like to say “common, just enjoy it while it lasts!!!”, but I know I would be the last one to be able to do just that if I were in the same boat. Still, I stick to my conviction: sooner or later, everyone will find the right job for him/her and everything will turn out all right.

In the mean time, to follow an INSEAD blog trend (i.e. post a song), here’s one I think will make some sense to both students and their partners….

Colin Hay - Waiting for My Real Life to Begin

Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I'll keep checking the horizon
I'll stand on the bow, feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down down down, on me

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in
But don't you understand
I already have a plan
I'm waiting for my real life to begin

When I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened
But in my dreams, I slew the dragon
And down this beaten path, and up this cobbled lane
I'm walking in my old footsteps, once again

And you say, just be here now
Forget about the past, your mask is wearing thin
Let me throw one more dice
I know that I can win
I'm waiting for my real life to begin

Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
And I'll check my machine, there's sure to be that call
It's gonna happen soon, soon, oh so very soon
It's just that times are lean

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart, let the light shine in
Don't you understand
I already have a plan
I'm waiting for my real life to begin

Hey....hey, heeeee.....hey.....hey, hey....heeee....heeee...

On a clear day
I can see...

On a clear day
I can see...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A taste of INSEAD

People drank beer, walked in 10 to 15 minutes late, picked up their cell phones, ate crisps and other stuff, answered emails or wrote papers on their laptops, and about 50 % were clearly unmotivated and showing it : that’s right, I’ve attended my first INSEAD class !

P was in the middle of a « Blue Ocean » - project and could not go. I found the subject interesting from a personal and professional point of view. So the decision was made, and the professor approved : I would go instead of P. I filled out the questionnaire, I read the case, I read the article, I even read the « optional-reading » article. I think that must have made me about the most prepared person in the entire class of « Leadership and change », sessions 13 and 14.
Giving an objective opinion on it is somewhat difficult, as I have no comparison material whatsoever. But personally : I liked it, it was interesting, I learned something, and the professor was way too nice. (I would have kicked out the latecomers and the beer drinkers, but that’s just me).

And while sitting there (and actually taking notes), laughing at some jokes, looking at some bored expressions, I couldn’t help but thinking : I wish I was one of them.
(Unfortunately, I lack some of the necessary skills… I scream and run whenever I see a number.).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Planning your place and space

Every time I’m in Paris, I can’t help but notice the posters for “Espace Loggia” plastered throughout the metro system. And each time, when I get back home, and want to have a look at the website, I realize I’ve forgotten their name. Until today!! Some conscious brain exercise, and viola - I can finally share it with you :

As a lot of MBA students will be living in an apartment only slightly bigger than a broom closet in downtown Paris or London next year, I thought this might be a useful link. Espace Loggia somehow packs all the necessities of a home in a tiny place. How about an electric mobile bed that is somewhere hidden against the ceiling during the day, only to reappear at night (no need to move any furniture!). And to give it all a final French touch : the company was apparently founded by Brigitte Bardot’s sister.

So from now on, I don’t want to here any more complaints about nail technicians and hairdressers who have four-bedroom houses. No more anxiety attacks about “we can never afford a decent place in capital city X, Y or Z” . As Insead-alumns (+ partners) we can have electric mobile beds ;-) ! Now how cool is that?

Friday, April 18, 2008

First time Fonty

Browsing through the contents of my lap top, I found the text I wrote exactly one year ago, after we had made our first visit to Fonty. I didn’t have a blog yet, and was still doubting whether to start writing again or not.
Re-reading it feels strange…it seems so long ago, and so much has happened since. Back then, the “Year @ INSEAD” was still a white, innocent page, full of illusions, hopes and dreams, but also with fears of the unknown.
I let you go back into time with me :-)

14 + 15 April 2007 : first time Fonty

This could be “the MBA story – part 1”. However, in reality, it’s “part-I-don’t-know-how-much”. 'Cause it all started one year ago, on the first of May 2006, when P officially decided he was going to do an MBA. Followed : the first of many emotional breakdowns (this was not in my plans). Then came studying for the GMAT, then came the actual GMAT, then came the writing of the essays, followed by my worst emotional breakdown, and then…finally the two last interviews and * the email* : “you’re in”! So as from September 2007 P will be in Fontainebleau for one year. After my emotional roller coaster of the past year, I’ve decided to join him for about 2/3 of the MBA program – probably from January until June.

Why could this be “the MBA story - part 1”? Well, as from this weekend, “Fontainebleau” finally became something real! Been there…and well, not done that – but going to! On Saturday morning we left Brussels at 6.15 AM and arrived in Fonty at 10.00 AM. On our to-do list : visit 4 apartments/houses, pick up the welcome package on campus, visit the town and some surrounding villages.
Before we left we had made up our minds : we would go for an apartment in Fonty. Until it was love at first sight this weekend, when we saw a cozy duplex in Barbizon. ‘Cause when in the rest of our lives would we have the opportunity to live above an art gallery, to have a garden with a more than 100 years old art studio of the painter, our landlady? And we’ll need a car anyway, whether we live in a town or in the countryside. And so many more reasons we could come up with to “rationalize” our choice. In the evening we went back to Barbizon, to have a last look at the village, and at what could become “our place”. We also did a quick tour along all the other ones, like Bois Le Roi, Bouron-Marlotte, etc. to compare them with Barbizon. It was then that we realized that we were on the road of no return : Barbizon was / is the prettiest, we were already making plans about the interior decoration of the apartment we saw there, and the landlady was by far the nicest of all.

Back in Fonty, we had a very nice dinner at “Côte Sud”, and then it was back to our Ibis hotel room. P’s analytical mind was not at ease without doing a thorough market study, so he went online looking for more confirmations of our already made decision. And luckily, he found the final piece of evidence he needed : a recommendation of the apartment and the landlady, by, yes indeed…another Mexican! So at 11.00 PM the email was sent to the agency : “GO for the duplex in Barbizon!” Now let’s cross our fingers that everything will be confirmed on Monday.

So , in spite of the first and worst hay fever attack of the year on top of a sinus, throat and ear infection, and a small heat wave in the middle of April, our first encounter with Fonty was a very nice one. And who would have thought that P could make a decision in one day. Hmmm…this MBA is already making him smarter ;-)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Drinking games, visiting mothers and job interviews

From time to time you wonder if « growing up » is not hugely overrated. At INSEAD, you wonder if it happens at all. Yes, we are back at school, and somehow people behave accordingly to it, even if we are ten years older than at university.
Girlfriends are hidden in the closet when parents visit, 10 people in a room go silent because someone’s visiting mom walks in, parties end in drinking games and sex talk. The main gossip is about who’s with who, cheating on who ? Other favourite conversation topics are of course teachers and unfair exams (= job interviews). Honestly, it’s not hard to feel 16. I even experience an outburst of spots again.
The downside of this rejuvenation ? Well, we blew all our pocket money and some more on it. And somehow, this has to pay off. So take an aspirin to deal with the hangover from last night, get your suit on (again), and convince the umpteenth company that you are a well behaving, responsible, motivated, trustworthy and earnest candidate. And if you get another DING, well….then there’s always the bar or some party to get wasted again.

Looking at the above described processes from the sideline is an interesting experience. One day you see future investment banker X walking around in a suit, the next day you see him jumping around in someone’s living room, pretending that the 1.50m long red pillow is his overly excited *beep*. Future consultant Y is walking the streets of Singapore dressed up as a strawberry. And overly self confident manager Z is shredded to pieces because for the first time in his life, he had some real competition, and didn’t get the job he wanted.
All of this is clarifying a few things for myself as well :
- HR is definitely NOT the most *human(e)* field in business. If you still want/have a job in HR out of your love and interest in people, come and have a walk around campus after there has been another recruiting battle.
- Next time I’m a bit shaky about interviewing a high potential, I’m just going to picture all the things he probably did in business school (i.e. dress up as a nurse, do a lap dance and drink a beer while standing on his head).

Monday, April 14, 2008

A little taste of normal

A quick trip to Brussels this weekend learned us that « going back to normal » will be kind of difficult.
Some comments of the past 48 hours :
P in our favourite coffee bar : "hey, no one’s wearing their badge !"
P about going out for dinner : "OK, but there’ll be no 10 % discount, nor any kisses from La Mama when you leave the place"
N about calling friends to go out for dinner : "it’s so much easier to hang out in the bar around 7.OO PM. You just have to ask « who’s joining us ? » and you immediately have a group of at least 6 people. Now we have to start calling people. At least 10 to find 1 available…"

We are getting older

But that we can handle. So the * 3 * popped into sight, and the biological clock turned into a timebomb, but all in all : midlife crisis still seems far away. Our aging parents on the other hand : that’s something else. Suddenly they don’t look like parents anymore, but like grandparents, even though there’s not a grandchild in sight. They are still always there for you – but when you take one of them to hospital, there’s this strange feeling that roles are being reversed. There’s the ice cold realization that they won’t be around forever – and you feel yourself dangeling at the end of an existential line. They showed you the world – now they’re not grasping the world you live in.
You still love them as much as you did as a kid, maybe even more, but with a melancholical twist to it. You admire them, not because you still believe they have some kind of superpower and can do or make everything, but simply because they made their way through life – giving you all your chances while doing so. And you realize that those gods of your childhood are in fact mortal beings, with their flaws, mistakes, limitations, wrong judgements and bad decisions.
It’s the irony of life : as you grow up, and start realizing how much you love them, at the same time, you find they are no longer your role models in each and every aspect of life. The moment you fully realize how much you love them, at the same time, you know your time together is limited.
So I’m glad I took Fernando’s advice, and told (or rather wrote) them how much I love them. I never thought an INSEAD professor would make me do such a thing – it’s just another surprise of those months in Fonty.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Barbizon : a healthcare heaven

With little more than 1500 inhabitants, Barbizon has amazing healthcare services. There’s a GP who graduated top of his class at med school, and who is indeed the best doctor I’ve ever visited. There’s a pharmacy with no less than 4 assistants working in it, ready to help and advise. And there’s the dentist, who just did a better job in five minutes than my dentist at home in half an hour. It’s maybe even more amazing that I needed all those services in the three months that I’ve been here…..

Anyway : you might wonder – why is it that such a tiny town has all of the best ? I can only come up with one answer : money. There’s loads of it.
You realize it when you go to the baker’s, and the guy in front of you walks out and steps into his Lamborghini. Or when you come to the conclusion that more than one fabulous mansion is actually just a weekend house. And of course, all those well-off Parisians want the best. When they go out for a cup of tea, they want Marriage Frères. Dinner is in a Michelin-star restaurant. And toothaches and coughs are treated by number one dentists and doctors.
And that’s how , while being on a student budget but being in Barbizon, we are enjoying the benefits of ( a very small part of) the wealthy life ! (although I do wish that croissants would cost less than 1.50 Euro)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Fabulous Phoebe

I’ve mentioned her occasionally, but really : she deserves a posting all to herself. I’m talking about her little Siberian dwarf hamster Phoebe, who is joining us in this MBA-adventure in France. She has conquered a central place in our Barbizon apartment, and has become one of the main attractions of Le Jardin des Arts. Visitors pay her ridiculous amounts of attention, and she adores it, showing off while we are trying to have a civilized dinner.

It’s amazing how such little animals can have a real « personality ». She’s our third dwarf hamster, so we have some comparison-material. First there was Frits, a light grey male. Super placid, quiet, cute, loved to walk on your arms, back and neck, but only if you were wearing a woolen sweater. Loved carrots. Then came Clio, a brownish female. Vivid, in love with P, and jealously demanding attention each time she saw us cuddle on the couch. Also quite culinary interested, with an outspoken taste for everything Italian (pasta, olives, parmesan cheese, tomato sauce, pizza, ..). And then arrived Phoebe. Hmmm, how to get started ? She looks adorable, cute, almost like a cartoon character. She likes to climb the sides and ceiling of her cage, Rambo-style. She’s currently working on a tunnel, digging and actually biting her way through the bottom of her cage. She has very sharp teeth and wants everybody to know. And breakfast cereals are her number one food (she even recognizes the sound of the bag).

Most important of all, she is our first « shared » pet. Although P tends to talk in terms of « your hamster » whenever she behaves badly. I clean the cage, while P plays with her. I give her the healthy stuff which she ignores, P gives her the cookies she adores. I try to discourage inappropriate behavior such as biting, P makes up excuses why she does it, and says she too cute to be angry at. Is Phoebe a foreboding of the future…?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Almost there

A hiking weekend in the French Vosges and a broken tooth later, it’s starting to dawn on me : we’re almost there. At the end. This MBA-year is nearly over. There’s a small bit of P4 left, and then it’s P5 – the final countdown. Our Barbizon place is already rented to someone of the July ’09- class.

A big part of me is very relieved and happy because of this – there’s no denying it. Go back home, continue with "normal" life, with my life. I’ve been here for three months now, and lately I’ve thought more than once that I’ve made the wrong decision by taking a leave of absence and coming here. What have I gained from it ? Not what I thought I would….But I found an answer to the question anyway. Only one, but a very worthy one : new friends.

And that’s why another part of me is not so happy that this year is nearing its end. I can’t imagine saying goodbye to people, not knowing when I’ll see them again, or where. ‘Cause these people are now very much part of my life. I feel like I’ve known them for so much longer than only three months. They know me better than some of my friends back home. They are there for me, listening, understanding, accepting me the way I am. We’ve shared silly girl talk, doubts, hopes, dreams, and well, yes…quite a few bottles of wine :-) . And in little less than three months this bubble will burst, and we will be scattered all over the globe. Most of us don’t even know yet where they’ll end up.

So I’ll be doing my very best to enjoy the remaining time here. It hasn’t turned out the way I wanted, it hasn’t been what I expected, and a few dreams have been shattered along the way. But I also never thought I would meet such wonderful people. I never thought I would get to the point in my life where I had to actually plan an evening at home (instead of forcing myself to get out of my apartment once a week).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

All you need is...

A good hike from time to time : a friend who’s willing to join, nice weather and a beautiful bit of nature. Tadaaaa : all three were present today !
We went to the « Gorges de Franchard », definitely one of the most amazing spots in the forest I have seen up until now. Huge rocks, sandy clearings, a lot of pine trees,…It felt so good to use my brain for nothing else than to decide where to put which foot first, and to figure out where the hell we were on the map :-)
Up and down steep slopes we went, under and over rocks, following little blue signs. For two hours. The fact that some nice Easter pastry was waiting at home made it all the more motivating !
Anyhow, it cleared out my head and made me feel better – I hope it did the same for my friend. If a 2-hour hike can have this effect, than my prospects for the near future can only be bright : next weekend we’re going on a 2-day hiking trip in the French Vosges mountains ! Can’t wait…

"The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness." - John Muir

Friday, March 21, 2008

Stormy France

Last night another storm was raging over the French countryside, blowing the curtains of our bedroom window in every direction. As I lie awake until the small hours, I was trying to digest different things, in no particular order : my own emotional fatigue, a friend’s distress, the greasy pizza I had for lunch, the Ben&Jerry’s I had for dinner.
Life in France can be « not so nice », especially when :
- your car gets hit by a crazy French taxi driver, who then calls his French taxi-driving buddies to sign up as witnesses of the accident…only to make up their own version of the events (thinking about you C)
- the new sweater you've just bought, even though you couldn’t afford it, has already a tear in it.
- Even your hamster seems to have a cold because of the non-stop shitty weather
- Things are just not turning out as you’d wished / hoped they would

With my head heavy as a bowling ball, and my stomach still in several knots, I’ve decided to take the day off. Me, myself and I tucked away in the little flat in Barbizon. Trying to switch off the thinking-mode, and switch on the TV instead.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The famous and much discussed Professor Fernando Bartolome is organizing sessions on “Managing the Relationship Between Professional and Private Life”, open for anybody interested (notice the lack of the “fashion words” Work-Life Balance). The first session was this morning at 8.30, the next one, for those who couldn’t get out of bed, will be on Saturday 28 March. Please go if you haven’t been yet.
I’m glad I was one of the 15 early birds. Fernando made quite an impression. I like him. He cuts through the crap and is very down to earth. A pragmatist who knows what he’s talking about. So he likes to swear and he’s into insulting jokes. So what? I can handle that. What I can handle much less, is the wagonload of confrontational issues he sent me home with. I felt slapped in the face, turned inside-out, and in emotional turmoil when leaving the amphi after three hours. Running my head of for an hour didn’t help. Two easter eggs didn’t do the trick either.
Maybe I’ll just start reading the articles he gave us.
Sleepless night, here I come again !

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Just N

When I arrived in January I had an hour long coffee chat with a life / career coach. We immediately got on very well, and that one hour proved to be a very interesting conversation providing a lot of food for thought. One question stuck with me : « What could be the positive aspects of change ? » It may sound silly, but I never considered this before. For me change was/is difficult, annoying, painful, disturbing, unbalancing, destabilizing, stressing, a wall I had to climb, to avoid…in one word : bad.
Anyway, I didn’t take the Life Coaching. Simply because I couldn’t afford it. So I was gladly surprised to find an email in my inbox yesterday from E, the Life Coach herself. To ask me how I was doing, how I was dealing with all the changes, and to have another cup in the Insead bar. Which we did today.
I’m still convinced she’s an interesting woman, who is very good at her job. She asks the right questions, and makes you think (hence this introspective post…). And it’s just nice to talk to someone "neutral" from time to time.

One of the things we discussed today, is my *need* for something to do. There’s the teaching of course, but alas reduced to 50 % of the hours as one of the students went back home. I could, as the cliché goes, "write a book". I just don’t feel the necessary enthusiasm when thinking about it (anyway, more than enough writing going on with this blog). There’s the gym, but I don’t hear anyone saying « wow, how good of you..Look at what you’ve done ! »
And maybe that’s what I’m missing most. Working hard at something, seeing results, and …getting acknowledged for it (be it in words, in gifts, in grades, in simply feeling proud of yourself or just in pure cold cash). It amazes me how much my job "defined" me, even if I wasn’t feeling 100% happy in it. I was N, the HR Advisor, 5 days a week, responsible for a whole lot of people and a whole lot of stuff. Now, I’m just N. And for my self-image and self-confidence that doesn’t seem to do it. Not an employee, not a wife, not a mom, not a student,…
Just N, in France. Writing a blog, making new friends from all over the world, being more socially involved than ever before, doing laundry, ironing too much shirts, encouraging P, living in a foreign country for the first time in my life, speaking every language but my own, dealing with more change than I can handle. Coming to think of it : more than enough !
(so why doesn’t it feel that way, and where is the acknowledgement …sigh)

Enters : the competition

The warm up–phase is definitely over and the race has started.
Who has already had first interviews ?
Who’s already in the kingdom of round two / three / four ?
Who got an offer and who didn’t?
Anyone a signed contract yet ???
I don’t like the atmosphere that comes with it, even if I’m only watching it from the sideline. Maybe it’s also because I’m on the sideline, that I’m convinced that everybody will find the right job sooner or later, and that the MBA will pay off one way or the other.

Another nasty side effect is the way sponsored students are perceived this period. And although I don’t like competition, I certainly get into defense-mode when I here comments like « a year’s holiday for them ». P is sponsored. And it sure as hell hasn’t been a holiday. I totally admit that at this moment there isn’t the same pressure to find a job. But whereas others spend a lot of hours writing cv’s, cover letters and doing interviews, P is spending at least the same amount of time helping others with all those things. He’s got more (mock-) interviews planned these weeks than your average recruiter. There are more cv’s in his mailbox than there were in mine before I left my job. Like all the rest, he’s going to a lot of company presentations, and doing some interviews, to make sure he’s making the right choice. And when he (most likely) goes back, there will be the huge pressure to perform and get that promotion within the following year. So much for a holiday. He has worked ridiculously hard the past months, he’s helping others so much that I’m getting angry at him (‘cause no time left for me), and I love him. I rest my case.

Once again, I admit that, in spite of being top of the food chain on the job market, these are stressful times for the ones who don’t have the “luxury” to go back to their previous jobs (and stick with it for the following two years if you want to benefit 100% from the sponsoring-deal). Hell, I even get nervous about other partners’ partners. I feel genuinly happy when an interview went well. I feel upset if somenone didn’t get an offer. I wish I could walk up to my HR colleagues and tell them that they’ve all deserved it, so just give them the goddamn job they want. But the game has to be played. So let’s keep it fair, let’s encourage and help, and let’s value and respect the whole team, be it active players, bench sitters, coaches, fans and, last but not least : cheerleaders ;-)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wined, dined, dead

There are ways to go from an I to an E. One of those ways is apparently getting drunk. No, I’m not proud of it. Yes, my parents are to blame. Yes, I had a great time. And, yes, I’m still recovering. But no, I’m not planning to do this more often.

What happened ? Saturday we went out for dinner with my parents (who are visiting to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday). My mom and I wanted wine. And I misunderstood the waitress. I ordered a really nice wine, and I thought the waitress was saying something about how it would be in a small bottle…Good ! But instead, the bottle was big. And the wine was just too nice. So I pretty much finished ¾ of the bottle. Around desert time, I noticed I was talking non-stop. Half an hour later, I was talking + laughing non-stop. And I really don’t know how the Villecerf party was, but I do know that I had a great time ! I drank Coke for the rest of the night, but somehow the alcohol kept doing its job…I never drink anything more than the occasional glass, and last time something similar happened to me I was still in my teens….

No time to recover though, ‘cause the following morning, after a mere 4 hours of sleep, I had to get up and wish "happy birthday !". And I had planned the entire day in Paris. With a nice lunch, a visit to Montmartre, a boat tour on the Seine, and a dinner to end the day. I did it all with a big smile and seemingly full of energy.

Today, I’m dead.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Accurate acronyms

I was already labeled as an HSP, and as of today I’m also officially known as an INFJ!
That’s right, thanks to INSEAD and the organized MBTI workshop of this morning, all the partners are now aware of their personality type. So I am Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling and Judging. In a few understandable words : I need time on my own now and then, I focus on the future, on patterns and possibilities, I base my decisions primarily on my values, principles and on subjective evaluations, and I very much like a planned and organized approach to life and prefer to have things settled. I couldn’t agree more.

Some scores were a bit unsettling though. Like my very extreme results on both Introversion and Judging. If I am really thàt introverted (and deep down I know I am), than I can only be proud of all the efforts I have made the past few months to socialize and get to know people. Granted, the first week I just wanted to hide under the bed. And there are days I prefer to be on my own, or to sit in the library or a cubicle to read. But all in all : thanks to some very extraverted people I got to know, I’ve done pretty well ;-) .
The Judging thing is something else. Yes, I’m a control freak. A big one. And whereas I can force myself to be more extraverted if I have to, I cannot, by no means, say "we’ll see what happens" and feel comfortable with it.
I try though. For our last city trip to Berlin, I did NOT read the entire guide before leaving, nor did I make a to-do-and-must-see list for each and every day. I try not to get upset each time dinner plans get changed or canceled – and a few times, I even succeeded ;-). But it’s not easy. I really wish that I could just take things as they come from time to time. That I could, for once, be the one who arrived half an hour late at the party, but smiling and not caring, instead of being the one sitting there ten minutes too early, all stressed ‘cause I rushed to get there on time. That my mind could be as flexible as my body (can I show off here, and tell that I can place my hands flat on the floor, bending down with straight legs, or is that totally beside the subject ?)

Anyway, if one of these days, you see me walking up and down the streets of Fonty all by myself, it’s not because I’m an introvert who wants to be alone. Nor is it because I’ve planned in my schedule to walk 5 km each day between 19.00 and 20.00 pm. It’s because I’m going to a dinner party, but I’m actually right on time or (probably) too early again, and I’m forcing myself to go in just a bit later :-) .