Monday, February 25, 2008

Garfield, the movie

I think the beginning P4-virus is contagious, and has already found me. Even if I’m not doing an MBA. And even if I could go quietly back to my old job.
I belong to that group of people, who, at this point, really haven’t got a clue anymore. And not only in the job-department. My life seems robbed of securities and certainties. Go back or not go back, same career path or not, change (uh-oh, the C-word…RUN !) or not, career or family, when family, what family, how family ?! God, there’s just too much in my head these last few days. There’s actually so much in my head, that, in a desperate attempt to empty it, and to silence all inner arguing voices, I’ve bought « Garfield, the movie ». Yep, it’s that bad.

I guess that’s just one of the things INSEAD does to you : « we put you together with a few hundred people of different background and nationality in the middle of the French woods. You leave everything of your current life behind, and you don’t know what will come next. We make sure your partners are only rarely available to you, even if you are here because of them. We supply you with more than enough bottles of wine, or any other alcoholic beverage you might want. Your primary means of communication are Facebook, Skype and the Yahoo-mail group. Every drunk action you undertake will be reported with visual evidence on the net. » I mean : it’s not a complete surprise that some of us are going gaga, right ? It even sounds almost too cruel for the next reality tv show.

So when you find yourself out of the Bubble for a few days, you realise you’re quite messed-up (and sobered up). Reality is still out there ! And we’ll have to go back to it, permanently, in like...4 months !
And by that time, I’ll have to know : what I want, want I don’t want…..In five words : what would make me happy. For now : long term - haven’t got a clue. Short term - watch the second part of « Garfield, the movie ». I hate Mondays ;-)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My first French CD

Yesterday I bought “Mon Paradis” from Christophe Maé. Maybe you don’t know him - neither do I (for the curious ones : I just heard one of his songs every time I turned on a French radio station and each time I walked into a French shop. And catchy tunes they were, ‘cause I found myself humming them morning, midday and evening. So I googled “On s’attache”, found out it was sung by Mr. Maé, and went out and bought his album “Mon Paradis”: I’ve listened to it a couple of times by now –it’s a fresh and funky sound, with a nice rhythm and a lot of emotion.

So there it is: my first French CD, or how the French culture is slowly starting to invade my life. After the wine, the baguettes, the cheese and the music…what will be next? I hope for 12 weeks paid holiday per year ;-) …

Friday, February 22, 2008

When what you write is being read

P : « The reality of the blogosphere sinks in : people read it »

I like to be cynical, sarcastic and I love to criticise things on my blog. It’s a writing style, and it also helps me to get things out of my system. For instance : I could have written an entire piece about how excellent the new gym is, and how I’m already addicted to it…(which is true), but that’s just not me - it’s not what I like to write.
To quote Res I(p)sa’s last blog posting : « it's a lot easier to complain and criticise than to express satisfaction and, as all those in "media" know, bitching excites the reader/viewer a lot more than does praise.”

However, I've discovered that my occasional « bashing » can offend people, and even hurt their feelings (while this is by no means my intention). Because, all of a sudden, this blog is being read, by more people than I ever expected (or wanted ?). And while this should not affect what I write, it surely adds a whole other dimension to my scribbling on this futile page on the net. The pen just became mightier than the writer.

How do I deal with all this ? Not really well. Highly sensitive as I am, I ended up having a troublesome and almost sleepless night. I can’t bare the thought that I’ve made people feel bad. I’m the restaurant critic who destroys the new place in town, only to end up crying because I’ve offended the cook…

So what is the lesson learned here ?
In the first place, I now realise that a blog is not just a kind of online dairy ; it’s a medium that conveys your words to a group of readers.
Second : these readers don’t necessarily interpret your words as you have meant them. It’s like P making jokes about me, intending to have a good laugh together, and me completely failing to see the humor of it, and getting angry and all defensive.
Third : I’ve got such a dual personality ! I can be so harsh in my words, while so weak and fragile in my feelings. I can be such a people-hater sometimes, while I’m actually the sweetest girl in town :-)
Conclusion : I must find some balance (if only for my own peace of mind), in what I do, think, feel, say, write,…while staying true and faithful to myself – and the way I like to write about things.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The brand new INSEAD gym

After climbing three flights of stairs (and wondering if that wasn’t enough already), and after being faced by the most unfriendly member of the INSEAD – catering admin staff (who plainly told us it was really not her job to do the subscriptions for the gym), we took a deep breath and decided to join the new INSEAD-gym.
After the stairs and the lack of smiles, there was one more incentive to join : a promotion ! For just 11 Euro. you could join for two weeks. C, one of the partners, tried (with a lot of friendly determination) to explain that there was such a thing as « the break » next week – was there no price we could pay for just one week ? « No, not possible. » said the unfriendly catering admin lady. And you really didn’t want to argue with her.

So there we were, on Monday afternoon, with our new membership and with exactly one week (for the price of two) to try it out ! Determined to get our money out of this crappy deal, some of us drove straight to Decathlon to buy a new sport outfit :-)
We’ve been in the gym every single day since – let me enlighten you with some insiders’ information.

- The new gym looks splendid : they’ve changed all the equipment , and the cardio machines have TV-screens. The changing rooms have everything you need : lockers, private showers with soap and shampoo, hairdryers, etc. The sauna and steam room are not ready yet, but look promising (although I think they’re way too small, and are quickly going to be overcrowded). There are free towels, a drinking fountain and daily newspapers. So all’s perfect, right ? Euhm, yeah, except for the 25°C temperature in the gym……
When I asked whether there was an airco, and if it could be turned on, I (and others) got this answer : « the system needs two weeks to find out what the right temperature is for the room, and then it will be ok. » ?????!!!!!!!
- Hours to avoid the gym : lunch hour (roughly between 12 and 13 pm. During these hours, the gym is packed with INSEAD staff, who seem to be thrilled to have found yet another excuse to have even longer lunch breaks than before.
- About the classes : there’s a girl who gives really good Pilates and Step classes, I can recommend those( but beware : classes are entirely in French !). Most of the other classes however are (temporarily ?) given by what seems to be an intern, and the poor guy really hasn’t got a clue….Yesterday, during « Abdo-fessiers », we were doing side steps for like 5 minutes. After that, he had to check his notes to see what was coming next : again side steps, but now with a swinging arm movement. Well, the female INSEAD staff seems to like him, as I heard them talking about him in the changing room today : « Il est mignon le petit nouveau » (as in "He’s cute the little new guy").
- The gym staff. Very friendly in general! A big blond lady is clearly in charge. She’s French, but wants to sound English. So when leaving the gym, you are showered with : « bye you guys, cheers, hope you had a good work out, see yah, cheers. »

And with these goodbyes, I leave you to discover it all yourselves !

Saturday, February 16, 2008

INSEAD from A to Z

Inspired by a few other INSEAD bloggers who have mentioned the occasional « INSEAD-word », I think it’s time for an overview of some intensively-used terminology on campus. I’m sure I’ve just mentioned the tip of the iceberg, so please feel free to complete !

Alliance : the cooperation with Wharton B-school
Amphy – storming : invasion of an amphy by one particular nationality, to announce the start of another « national week »
Bar area : comparable to the playground, i.e. where everybody gathers in between classes to gossip & to eat and drink unhealthy stuff
Break : the few days of holiday everybody is granted in between periods
Bubble : as in « the INSEAD-bubble », meaning your world begins and ends at the campus entrance
Camembert : the reception (but outside the bubble it’s just a French cheese)
Case : after finishing the MBA, this word will definitely cause all kinds of allergies and unwanted reactions
Class : all the MBA students that started the program on the same date as you, and with whom you’ll hopefully graduate
Cubicle : your natural habitat during your 10-month stay at INSEAD
Fonty : the internationally pronounceable version of Fontainebleau
Foot Note : the book store on campus
Group : your micro-society in which you will live 90% of P1 and P2
Group member : one who becomes friend or enemy (if you haven’t killed him/her before)
National week : just another excuse to eat, drink and party
P1,2,3,4,5 : the 5 periods in which the 10-month program is divided (days, weeks & months are of lesser importance)
Participant : basically just an MBA-student
Partner : boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, spouse, significant other,…you get the idea
Restaurant : the cafeteria on campus
Section (E1, E2, E4, E4) : during P1 and P2, each class is split up into different sections of aprox. 70 students, with whom you’ll follow all the core courses
Z-curve : INSEAD’s grading system. Please don’t make me explain it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Back in Barbizon

Day number four after my return to wild-boar country, and I have to admit I've been having a good time (can’t complain in every single posting now, can I ?).
A little overview of this week ; kind of superficial, but I think I did enough intro-and outro- spection the past few weeks…

- Tuesday : was full of teaching, and massage-class of course. I was glad to have a very busy day ; it proved to be the best remedy against home sickness.
- Wednesday : I spent a great day with K and C, two of the other partners. We went on a wonderful walk through the forest, went to Barbizon for an early aperitif afterwards, and ended the day in (where else ?) the INSEAD bar, waiting for our significant others. In the evening there was the Chinese dinner, and the food was absolutely delicious.
- Today, Thursday : again a lot of teaching and….Valentine’s day ! P kept his promise, and cooked for me this evening. A really nice lasagna, prepared with so much love you could almost taste it :-)
- Tomorrow : I’m planning to take up my self-study in French again, and in the evening there’s the Chinese Party
- Saturday : We’re going to Paris. No more excuses, no studying, no washing, cleaning or grocery shopping. No swimming or hair cutting either. We’re going, period.
- Sunday : P can dive back into his books, go swimming or whatever. I’ll have to prepare my lessons for next week. In the evening dinner with another INSEAD-couple.

So all in all, I think I succeeded in taking a new, fresh start here in France !

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I’ve been home for three full days now. Still today to go, and a bit of tomorrow. And it’s been absolutely wonderful to:
- Read the news in a real newspaper instead of on a laptop screen
- Sleep in the best bed in the world (your own)
- Eat my favourite brand of cereals in the morning
- Hang on the phone for more than five minutes without thinking about the costs
- Have my family and friends within a 40 km – range
- Watch TV!!!!
- Go to all my favourite shops, including the Delhaize supermarket (only Belgians will understand this one)
- See my cats in real life (and not through the webcam) – although they seem confused now, and I guess they’re thinking I somehow popped out of my mom’s laptop…
- Just wander through the streets of my neighbourhood, feeling very strongly that this is “home”
And all of this while we’re being spoiled by a very early spring, with clear blue skies, and temperatures climbing up to 17-18 °C.
Honestly, the one and only reason why I’m taking the train back to France on Monday is P (and Phoebe the hamster of course)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The perception of the partners

(The following was written at the train station in Paris, while waiting for the train to Belgium. I wanted to get rid of some irritations before heading back home. So I decided to write it all down. It helped :-)

Comment of an MBA student during dinner yesterday evening, about the partner group :
« I’m really surprised about the partners here. I mean : I’ve realized they’re not just a bunch of housewives, but they’ve all got like serious careers going on… »

This comment should tell you something about how the partners are perceived by quite a few (single) MBA students at INSEAD : as a bunch of housewives, who basically have nothing better to do than follow their husbands/boyfriends around the globe. I’ve sadly come to realize that this is a widespread prejudice, and that we definitely are being looked down on. What started out as just a feeling I had in the beginning, has been confirmed by remarks, other happenings, and comments like the one above.
Let me go into detail a bit

1) You meet new people. They ask you what class/section/etc you’re in. You say « I’m a partner ». The reaction is very often « Oh… » and you are left out of the rest of conversation and no longer addressed in any way.
2) Other students are very friendly to you when you’re in the company of your partner. But refuse to recognize you or say hello when they meet you alone in the hallway, bar, cafeteria
3) A subtle, but very real one: the looks you get when your sitting with the other partners in the bar area.
4) Invitations for dinner parties like « P, we suppose you bring along your girlfriend – let us know if she has other engagements for that evening ». So you’re not really invited (they don’t even bother about your name), you are brought along simply because you are there, and well, they don’t have any other choice but to invite you too, but they secretly hope you already have other plans and won’t come anyway.
5) I could go on ……

So for all these people, let me clarify things a bit :
- It’s not because we don’t have GMAT scores of +750 that we are dumb. I still have to meet the partner who didn’t get a higher education.
- It’s not because we are not working at the moment, that we don’t have careers going on
- It’s not because we maybe have other values in life, like family and being with the one we love and supporting him, that we are « weaker » human beings who are putting themselves in second place
- It’s not because you see us sitting in the bar a lot, that we have absolutely nothing to do. Most of us have activities going on, like teaching, studying, part time jobs, etc.
- It’s not because we actually do all the household chores, so that our partners can devote all their time to study, that being a housewife is are only goal in life.

Sorry if I’m ranting a bit, but I’m just fed up with this kind of closed mindedness I didn’t expect to encounter at INSEAD. Another MBA student who recently became a father, had experiences along the same line. Some people thought it was great, others were indifferent. But with some (and I presume the same sort as the one I described above), he told us he could really feel their reaction was one of « how can you be so stupid by not focusing on your career for 100% and actually start a family life now ». Once again, other values were being looked down upon.

Fortunately, this group is « countered » by a lot of other people.
Who : remember your name, ask what you’re doing in life, are genuinely interested in you, believe you can engage in a conversation, value you for the choice you have made.
So thank you to all the guys who know that I’m N, and say « Hi » to me. It means a lot.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Back on the teaching track

Teaching seems to be one of the red lines running through my life.
When I was finished with high school, and I really didn’t have a clue what to do with my life, I choose to do a bachelor in teaching English, History and Geography. What followed were three intensive years of internships in different high schools, and I really enjoyed it. But then I said goodbye to teaching, and hello to four more years of studying to obtain a master in Modern History. Graduation was sadly the day after 9/11....With a frozen job market, it was once again teaching that saved me. I started working at Berlitz, as a language teacher. After one year, I decided the time had finally come to explore what was outside the school walls. I ended up in Human Resources, in which I have climbed the ladder the five past years, and in which I also obtained a master through evening classes.
And so the Teacher became the Consultant (is there a difference ?).

Now that I’m on a break from the rat race, enjoying a 7-month leave of absence, guess what I’m doing here in Fonty ? Right, teaching (English to some of the other partners) Once again, it proves to be the life-saver I needed. It gives me a purpose, a goal, joy, fulfillment…. and some very welcome pocket money :-)
So INSEAD is really "back to school" for everybody. For some as students (be a good boy P), for others as teachers (get started on correcting those essays N).