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).