Dec 26, 2007

Have a break, have a Kit Kat

Or some foie gras and a glass of bubbly, if you prefer. The long-awaited Christmas break is here. And not a minute too soon, if you ask me.

It's one week after the end of exams, and I'm just about starting to feel like a human again. Lots of sleep, good food, and conversation that doesn't have anything to do with implied volatility according to Black Scholes, Newsboy inventories, or Blue Oceans, Ponds, Swamps or any other kind of water feature. Bliss.

After all the sleep and the food came the shopping for a new computer. Yes, I finally caved and decided that my 5-year-old, 250-pound laptop with no battery and a couple keys missing courtesy of my feline friends wasn't going to make it through the end of next period. To the great chagrin of my INSEAD techy-buddies, however, I didn't buy either a Mac or a Lenovo, but a Sony. I liked the funky blue colour, so sue me. Besides the painful and time-consuming ordeal of making my entire life Vista-compatible, I'm rather pleased with it so far. And all the keys work. And I can carry it around without risking a hernia. All good things.

Tomorrow, it's back to the INSEAD-bubble, a handy gadget that, much like my new laptop, can be carried with you everywhere. This time, the INSEAD-bubble will be implanted on the ski-slopes of Italy, with one of my (sniff, former) groupmates, one of my L'Oreal team members, a cheery Ozzie and various partners. Given the magnetic and entirely irresistible nature of the bubble, it's highly likely that more of our Fonty friends will be joining us before heading off to Singapore, and a good thing it is too, because after a week withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe.

So it is in snowier climes that I will be ringing in the New Year, in true INSEAD fashion, before heading back next week for a couple days of intense mental preparation for P3, when we will welcome our classmates from Singapore (sorry about the cold, guys) as well as the new P1s, and start the second part of our epic MBA journey. Crap, is it already time to start thinking about finding a job?!

Dec 13, 2007

Aligning incentives and the INSEAD grading system

Grades at INSEAD are calculated based on the z-curve, centered on a mean of 2.5 with a standard deviation of 1 (a curve all students will be intimately familiar with by the end of P1). This means that if you get a 3.5, you were 1 standard deviation above the average grade of the class. A failing grade is one that is 3 standard deviations below the mean (i.e. -0.5; yes, we can get negative grades here...)

INSEAD also has a policy of not revealing grades, and strives to make sure no one fails (or at least very, very few people).

So far, so good.

The result, however, is that professors put every effort into crafting impossibly difficult exams, that have very little, if anything, to do with what we actually studied in class. This, they tell us, is for our own good. With these types of exams, the average grade is ridiculously low, and the standard deviation very high (since some students get abysmal results, while others - who used to be Nobel-prize-level experts in advanced statistics or option pricing models - do quite well). This way, no one fails. For example, if the mean is 50, and the standard deviation is 20, even getting a 0 means you pass (since you are only 2.5 standard deviations below the mean).

Not failing is a good thing, don't get me wrong, but the (unintended?) consequence is that a) students are affected by severe depression after exiting an exam and b) (and this one surely is unintended) there is little incentive to study what we did in class. So basically we finish a period needing happy pills and having learned quite a bit less than we should have.

Of course I'm exaggerating, but still, there's a reason why I'm writing this instead of studying POM right now...

Dec 10, 2007

Big girls don't cry

Much has been said about the lack of time at INSEAD. Lack of time to sleep, lack of time to exercise, lack of time to catch up on the Kilimanjaro-sized packet of reading materials... There's a much bigger problem, though. Lack of time to deal with your personal life, and whatever happens to be going on in your mind, heart or body. Family problems? Relationship trouble? Feeling blue, heartbroken, deathly ill? Tough. You still need to study accounting. And finance. And and and... We always say INSEAD is a bubble, where we live cloistered and protected from the real world. But sometimes the real world comes knocking, or prefers the more subtle approach of smacking you about the head with a baseball bat, and there's really no time to do anything about it.

So back I go to exam prep. And since it's exam prep time again, I suppose it's also wrap-up time again, where I tell give all you avid readers the skinny on classes this period. So here goes:

Corporate Financial Policy (Pascal Maenhout): Pascal is a great guy, a great teacher, has tremendous school spirit (can't believe I embarrassed myself at Cabaret in front of the Finance prof!) and all around a superstar. Finance, on the other hand, I'm less enthralled with. Especially the derivatives part (which is about half the course). As I was discussing with a fellow finance-averse student today, it's not so much "WHAT???" as "WHY????"

Managerial Accounting (Jake Cohen): Jake is an INSEAD legend. Everybody loves him, and half of Cabaret is devoted to imitating him. Personally, the guy leaves me cold. However, we did learn something in his class, and he actually got me over my visceral hatred of accounting, so that counts for something.

Process & Operations Management (Taylor Randall): I don't think anyone was expecting much from this class (except maybe the cement guy). At first blush, it seemed like it was going to be pretty boring. But hats off to Taylor, who made it entertaining and relevant, and who is now largely responsible for the whole class wanting to work for Zara. My only concern is that the class focused mostly on qualitative analysis of processes, although apparently the exam is going to be mostly quantitative. We'll see how that goes.

Strategy (Andrew Shipilov): Sure, some people dislike the more "fuzzy" elements of the curriculum, but for me this is what business is all about. The case method approach worked really well, the Blue Ocean Strategy portion of the course was entertaining, and Andrew is a very engaging professor. So two thumbs up from me on this one.

Foundations of Marketing (Xavier Dreze): I'm going to risk creating controversy here, but I liked Marketing. Yes, I know this is not the majority opinion, as most of the class expressed a clear distaste both for the subject and for the professor. Not me, though, which is a pretty good thing considering I've got "Marketing" at the top of my future careers list!

Leading Organizations (Tom d'Aunno): I don't want to be mean, but honestly, what a let-down after GP's course in P1. I think the subject is quite interesting, but something about Tom just rubs me the wrong way. He definitely tries hard, so I give him credit for that, but I just don't feel he's sincere, and he has a tendency to pick on people in a way that is not always appropriate.

There you go. All 6 courses in under 100 words. Next period, which comes after a week of exams (#§%&!) and a much-looked-forward-to long Christmas break, I'll be taking two core courses ("Macroeconomics" and "International Political Analysis") and four electives ("Corporate Entrepreneurship", "Market Driving Strategies", "Strategies for Product and Services Development" and "Mergers, Acquisitions, Alliances & Corporate Strategy"). Probably not much time then either for a personal life.

Dec 5, 2007

What? Exams again?

So, I was feeling pretty good about myself.

- I handed in the final version of my CV for publication in the INSEAD CV book (apparently this best-seller, complete with mugshots of us beautiful people, will help us land a job to pay back all those loans; not sure how many recruiters still read books, though...)
- Our top-notch L'Oreal team submitted all decisions for the first round of the game, launching what promises to be an innovative, aggressive, blue ocean strategy of our own.
- My group finished the last Finance assignment due tomorrow (moral of the assignment: shareholders are not to be trusted) and has made good headway into the Strategy assignment due Sunday (moral of that assignment: the airline industry sucks).
- After many, many rehearsals, both performances I'm involved with for Cabaret tomorrow just about pass the giggle test, and I have a mask for the ball on Saturday.

But then I remembered we have exams. Again. And they start next week. And in the midst of all that working on group assignments, honing my acting skills, figuring out what to do with my life and attempting to sleep just enough not to get deathly ill, I completely forgot to study!

At this stage, it's best I just forget about all this exam malarkey and focus on the Christmas break...

PS: A quick personal thank you to all the people (from inside and outside the bubble) who made last weekend very special.

Nov 28, 2007

Happy Ending

All is well in the world: today, Emma came back. For all of you outside of France, and all of you in France but locked within the INSEAD bubble, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. Over the past couple weeks, the country has been under the captive spell of the largest teaser campaign since the famous "La semaine prochaine j'enlève le haut" ad. Paul's desperate plea for Emma to return to him has been broadcast everywhere: on the radio, TV, billboards, and "his" blog: www.emmajetaime.com Perhaps a future Marketing case study in the making?

In INSEAD news: I'm not going to Singapore after all. Having been finally allotted a spot at the very last possible minute, the hassle of subletting my room here and finding short-term accommodation there was just not worth it. So I'll be spending winter in Fonty, in a severally reduced campus (about half the class will be gone).

In the meantime, myself and the rest of the P2 class are struggling to stay afloat. With six subjects, and an average of two group assignments a weak, sleeping has become an unaffordable luxury, and participation in social events require advanced time management skills. I'm enjoying the greater emphasis on case studies, and the more practical learning we're getting this period as compared to last, but OMG I need a break!

A little relief has come in the form of the Barcelona rugby trip, preparations for Cabaret and (because I am a nerd) the work on the L'Oreal business simulation game. More exciting events are coming up - just in time to tear us away from exam preparations - namely the Desi week party on Friday (theme: traditional Indian wedding), a rather special weekend for me this weekend (with friends coming from all over France and England!), the Winter Ball in a couple weeks (theme: Venice carnival) and of course the Cabaret show.

And so, to future students and applicants, I repeat the words of wisdom we got from the senior class: you can sleep next year...

Nov 19, 2007

Gratuitous Advertising

I have just now been granted possible access to that most rare and precious of commodities, a P3 spot in Singapore, and have about 5 minutes to confirm whether I will take it or not. Within those 5 minutes, I have to sublease my room, find accomodation in Singapore, and tear my hair out. More about the nightmare that is campus exchange later.

In the meantime, I will shamelessly use this little internet space of mine to advertise my wonderful, fabulous, one in a million room at Club 16, right smack in the middle of Fontainebleau and a short walk to school. If you're interested in living the jet-setting life of the Club in January/February 2008, at a very special price, please email me asap at res.ipsa.insead at gmail.com.

End of advertisement. You can now go back to your regular programming.

Nov 11, 2007

A Week in the Life of P2

Sorry it's been a while. If you knew what a typical INSEAD week looks like these days, though, you'd understand. In fact, let me give you a guided tour of a fairly standard week in my life:

Saturday: (we start here because all good things start on a Saturday, in my book)
No class today. This is very exciting. Lots of reading to do, though... slightly less exciting. Plus there's rugby practice (and trust me, it's cold). Then there's the frantic last minute shopping for essential accessories for whatever themed party is going on. Tonight, it's the Montmelian Ball 7 Sins extravaganza. My sin of choice for the evening: greed. Goes very nicely with all the champagne. Mmmmm...

Sunday: The day of rest. Well sort of. Very little time to actually recover from last night's party before I realize I better finish the reading in case Jake Cohen (accounting superstar and my worst nightmare) decides to call on me. And you know he will.

Monday: We kick off the day with Accounting at 8.30 am before running off to Finance and an all-afternoon-long CV workshop. By this point I'm already exhausted but I have rugby practice again. (Yes, dear friends, you weren't misreading earlier, I have actually joined the women's rugby team. Laugh all you want). It's even colder now than it was on Saturday.

Tuesday: Long day of class today largely spent discussing power tools, until it's time for our section's long-awaited champagne party. As co-organiser, I naturally feel obligated to get there early and drink as much champagne as possible. According to all those surveyed, as well as the tell-tale glazed expressions the next morning, the party was a huge success.

Wednesday: L'Oreal comes to school today to present it's e-strat business game. My team is now all set and ready to shine in the glitzy world of cosmetics. We quickly come back down to earth in POM and Accounting. In the evening, my study group spends a couple hours playing with single-server queue theory before devouring a delicious meal at a local Michelin 1* restaurant (La Table Saint Juste, I recommend it).

Thursday: Heavy class schedule today, and I'm determined to go to bed early tonight. But first we have to learn about Black-Scholes and apply it stock options for our group assignment in finance. And then there's people having drinks at Aussie Bar and, well, life is short, I'll sleep next year.

Friday: Today is big scary exam results day. If you want to know how I did, well, I can't tell you. INSEAD non-disclosure policy, you understand. Things have been happily coordinated, and we end up having our exam results distributed in a 1-hr window from a single, small office during class time. Needless to say there were suddenly quite a few empty seats in what is usually a packed amphi for Taylor Randall's one-man-POM-comedy routine. And then we still have to sit through 3 hours of LO until 7pm before finally being able to run screaming through the halls on our way to the closest bar (seeking either celebration or comfort...)

And then it starts all over again...

Highlights for the upcoming week include: the INSEAD Dash on Wednesday morning (8am), two group assignments to prepare, auditions for Cabaret, more rugby practice, and a weekend trip to Barcelona with the team to play against LBS and IESE...

Nov 1, 2007

We're Back

It's the beginning of P2, and there's a new motto around here: "Bring it on." You want to give us 6 core courses instead of 5? You want to overload us with readings? You want to cold call in accounting? You want to make us hand in assignments every week? Fine. We got through P1, we learned from our mistakes, we can do this. Bring it on.

We're all still feeling refreshed and rejuvenated from our break, and ready to enjoy the "fun" side of INSEAD again. In some sense, the tragedy that struck our class last week has served to deepen our resolve to make the most of this experience. Coming up this weekend is the famous (or infamous) Montmelian Ball. This year's theme: the 7 deadly sins. Also back are the house dinners, the house parties and the weekend trips. Nothing the profs do to us can bring us down now.

I expect the positive, go-get-em mentality will last at least until we get our exam results next week. Then we'll all go home with our tails between our legs to lick our wounds...

In the meantime, I leave you with a few pictures from sunny Morocco:




Oct 21, 2007

The End of Chapter One

Last P1 classes were held on Friday, exams start tomorrow: this is it. The end of P1. I won't bore you with additional grumblings about exam prep because a) I've already gone into that and b) my fellow blogging classmates have already given a pretty vivid portrayal of the the whole ordeal.

But I do want to give you a quick run-down on my P1 profs since only the E1/E2 profs have been mentioned by other bloggers and I think their E3/E4 counterparts deserve a little recognition (besides Nikos, the Athenian Econ legend of whom much has already been said, profs only teach two sections each.) So here goes:

Gianpiero Petriglieri (aka "GP") (LPG): This guy is awesome. Future intakes take note: no matter what your preconceived notions may be about the value of organizational behaviour classes, you are going to end up loving GP. He somehow managed to make an entire class of finance-obsessed geeks delve into their dark, touchy-feely hidden depths to the point where, by the end of the final class, half of us were actually choking up (and the other half were squirming uncomfortably). Group psycho-therapy at its best, led by genuinely nice, Burberry-wearing Italian. What more can you ask for?!

Ioana Popescu (aka "Yo-anna!") (Stats): Statistics is not funny. Nor is it an easy subject to get your head around, especially if you've never done it before. And then comes Ioana, and with a little help from inspirational music, a sense of humour, and some brilliant teaching skills, statistics actually becomes cool. Or cool-er than you thought it would be, anyway. Hats off to you, Ioana, you actually made me consider becoming "the statistician" for a brief second (but then I took the practice exam and realized my skills might be better used elsewhere...!)

Jean Dermine (aka "The Dreamer") (Finance): I came in not expecting to understand anything in this class. And indeed, at first, my expectations were verified. But then some of it actually started making sense, and now I can calculate a WACC and unlever a beta like it was second nature (well, maybe third or fourth nature, but still...) Jean has a more traditional, "gallic" professorial style than the other profs, which did not sit well with everyone at first, but I think he did a first-rate job. And his cracks about other INSEAD-profs and their obsession with EVA are the stuff of legends.

Steve Baginsky (aka "Budweiser Man") (Accounting): I like Steve, I really do. He's a nice man and he clearly tries hard. I just don't like accounting. I could fill reams of A4 double-sided paper explaining how much I don't like accounting. Sorry Steve.

But now it's time to say goodbye to these folks and move on to the next batch of profs and subjects. Coming up in P2: Corporate Financial Policy, Foundations of Marketing, Leading Organisations, Managerial Accounting (groan...), Process & Operations Management and Strategy. But first we have exams, and a four-day group trip to Morocco (Marrakech and Essaouira, about which more later) which will hopefully do wonders to relieve tensions, make everyone happy and love each other again, and provide us with some much-needed warmth.

And so, from the sub-arctic igloos of Fontainebleau, I wish you farewell, for now.

Oct 14, 2007

Positive Thinking for Dummies

MDS is right, positive thoughts can come in handy during hard times. So here's my brave attempt:

Bad Thing: The finance group project is insanely complicated, and we have spent hours working on it already, thereby severely cutting into our exam prep time.
Good Thing: Little old public international lawyer me has actually valued a company. Seriously. How cool is that?!

Bad Thing: I hate accounting, can't seem to put the time or energy into getting my head around it, and as a result may end up failing that class.
Good Thing: I can now definitively strike off "accountant" from my list of potential drastic career moves.

Bad Thing: I am so behind in my studying I feel I would need an entire sabbatical year (yes, another one) just to get on top of things.
Good Thing: One of the reasons I am so behind is that I was dancing the night away at the end-of-Lebanese-week "Absolut Beirut" party. Pretty good trade-off, in my book.

Bad Thing: I didn't get a spot to go to Singapore.
Good Thing: I don't have to stress and lose valuable social/study time trying to find a new place to live. And I get to go skiing while all my classmates are exploring the beaches of South East Asia. (I'm trying really hard to find the positives here...)

Bad Thing: Exams start in one week.
Good Thing: Post-exam exhilarating madness in Morocco starts in ten days.

Bad Thing: P1 is almost over.
Good Thing: P1 is almost over.

Oct 9, 2007

Contagious Panic

It is fortunate that we have the Lebanese week on campus to bring some much-needed cheer (not to mention free kebabs and beer) to this cold, rainy penultimate week before the end of P1. That's right, less than two weeks left before the dreaded exams. After a sobering talk about grading from Dean Fatas (I think he was trying to reassure us, actually, but had the opposite effect), stress about campus exchange (more on that in a future post), and an ever-increasing pile of group projects, essays, "games" and other assignments, I have come to the conclusion that the most attractive strategy is to hide under the blanket, screw your eyes shut really tight and wait for it to be over. Not necessarily a mature or effective strategy, granted, but definitely tempting right now.

Instead, being a super-alpha-high-achiever (like most INSEADers), I have been staying up late scribbling illegible finance notes, going to too many parties (how could I say no to togas in Chateau Fleury?!), and lugging around some very large bags under my eyes. This week will bring much of the same. Social activities on offer include a Lebanese dinner on Wednesday, two competing parties on Thursday, a Lebanese disco on Friday and the unmissable France-England semifinal on Saturday. On the slightly more academic side, there's the LPG essay to finish writing, two statistics group projects to prepare, one group project in finance, class readings to do and exam revision to get started with. Someone catch me if I pass out. Please.

PS: Apparently we J08 bloggers are scaring future intakes and, in particular, the incoming D08 class (welcome D08 bloggers, by the way). Well, all I can say is.... be afraid, be very afraid (and be sure to practice your not-sleeping, speed-reading and multi-lingual-costume-wearing-alcohol-consuming skills before you get here). You're going to love it.

Oct 2, 2007

Prices, Markets and Group Bonding

Prices and Markets is the name of our Micro-Economics course in P1, taught by the INSEAD Greek legend that is Nikos Vettas. And this week is definitely Prices and Markets week.

On Monday, we had our second quiz, designed to help us assess whether we've understood what's been going on so far, and more generally give us a first taste of exam panic (yup, those babies start in less than three weeks...) Despite counting for only 10% of our grade, the quiz kept my entire house up late Sunday night, frantically trying to understand why profit-maximizing output should be set at P=MC.

Also on this week are the "P&M Games." No, this does not involve our class stretching its collective athletic muscle to compete for laurel wreaths before our great Athenian leader. Instead, each of our study groups is matched against another group from Fonty, Singapore, or the Wharton MBA class (an example of the INSEAD/Wharton Alliance at work) as we set prices and quantities for products in an attempt to make more profit than the other guy. Every day this week, we input our decisions into the network and wait to see what the other teams come up with before moving on to the next round. While rather time-consuming (but hey, who needs sleep...) it's a fun way to apply all these nifty equations we've been learning, and also allows us to work more closely with our groups.

In a similar vein, the P&M Class Exercises also start this week. This is based on the same principle as the P&M Games, but carried out on a smaller, less high-tech level. First up, pricing pharmaceuticals when a patent is about to expire and a new generic brand wants to enter the market.

As you can see, slight Econ overload, but I actually really enjoy the subject so no complaints from me (all I can say is thank god I don't have to spend that much time doing accounting...)

Another feature of the week is frantic, generalized study group bonding. Our LPG (Leading Peoples and Groups) essay is due next week, subject: your study group, its mechanics and your role within it. This essay counts for 50% of our grade, and while it may seem "warm and fuzzy" compared to the heavy finance and stats stuff we have to do, it's slowly dawning on most of us that writing an essay like this will not actually be simple. So, groups that have until now been spending as little time as possible with each other are planning dinners, study sessions, drunken brawls, anything that will allow them to "observe" each other while surreptitiously scribbling notes in a little black book and gathering fodder for the essay. Spies are everywhere.

And with that I leave you to go meet my group for the next round of P&M Games. Shhhhh....

Sep 25, 2007

Doldrums

The end of September is fast approaching, the weather's getting cold, we've now passed the P1 half-way mark, and the blues have descended on Fontainebleau. Well, sometimes it feels more like Holly Golightly's reds, actually...

So why the gloom and doom? For one, the level and pace of classes has shot up exponentially over the last couple weeks. Falling behind is not an option, it's an inevitability. The whole experience reminds me a bit of a Texan rodeo, where you cling on for dear life, attempting to stay on top of things for as long as possible and hoping that when you do fall off (and you will), sheer dumb luck will intervene to keep you from getting crushed to death. Exams are in less than four weeks, and there are quizzes, group projects, exercises and essays due in the meantime. God help us.

The second cause of the "blah" is the to-be-expected mid-term anticlimax. We all started out a few weeks ago eager to great every new face and immediately love them forever. This kind of attitude is simply not sustainable in the long run. Now, we studiously ignore anyone whose identity, family history, and first pet's name we are not intimately familiar with; there are just too many people, not enough time, and energy levels are running low. This is also the time in the year that we realize that despite the fact that we're all sharing this amazing INSEAD experience together, it hasn't been long enough for us to really be friends yet (I am aware that I may be upsetting a few of my classmates who read this blog. Maybe I should qualify and say that might just be how I'm feeling about it.) Four weeks, even four intensive INSEAD-bubble-quality weeks, is too short for us to really know each other, especially when we've met around 300 people at random parties wearing silly costumes. My networking skills are just not that honed. But this aspect of the blues, I'm convinced, will lift slowly, as time passes and relationships become more real.

So, what to do when the blues hit? Well, some of us have taken to living in the library, in an attempt to stave off exam worries. Others have chosen to take a 12+ hour bus ride to Munich to drown their fears and sorrows in copious amounts of beer. Still others have reunited with friends, partners, families, seeking to reintegrate the real world (this can actually be quite dangerous; kids, don't try this at home).

And then there are the never-ending, pointless but highly entertaining INSEAD events to keep your mind off things. Here's a quick run-through of fun INSEAD life (yes, it's still there!) over the last few days.


Saturday witnessed the crushing victory of Section E4's football team in the inter-section Football Championship. Despite threatening clouds, the orange-clad, crown-wearing boys and girls of this fine athletic formation quickly disposed of their rivals, winning each match 4 to 1 and celebrating with true E4 panache and flair.


On Sunday, I was invited to dinner at Montmelian, served by the finest Dutch chef on campus. Who needs three Michelin star restaurants when you can get delicious cream of broccoli soup, scallops and apple pie in an idyllic chateau setting?!



Then yesterday was the start of Korea-Japan week, the first of many national weeks to come where we are all treated to the finest and funnest of our classmates' cultures. Calligraphy contests (it took me close to an hour just to write "friendship".... badly), Korean and Japanese food, Tug-of-War, lovely national costumes... what's not to love?!
And so the smiles return, at least until the next Econ quiz.

Sep 16, 2007

Girls, Girls, Girls

Thought that would get your attention.

Anyway, a big congrats to all the girls in the INSEAD team who ran La Parisienne today. Despite the heat, the crowds, and general exhaustion.... we did it! (A big sloppy thank you kiss as well to our unparalleled boys' support team and picnic providers.)

And, choses promises choses dues:


Sep 13, 2007

Dazed and Confused

The reality of the MBA has finally hit home. Hard.

Social life at INSEAD being directly (and very much negatively) correlated to the level of difficulty of the classes, the drawn faces around campus are now the result of spending all night grappling with stats and valuation exercises rather than excessive alcohol consumption and dancing to Mika. This was not helped by the fact that we had our first Econ quiz this week. Still, we managed to get through it and the end of the week is looking decidedly cheerier.

Today was the Career Fair, meaning a free afternoon for us P1s not quite prepared to think about jobs yet. That, and the fact that the sun came out in force, resulted in the left-hand side of my face turning a rather odd shade of purply-pink. Not quite the look I was going for in preparation for the Shangri-La party tomorrow night, the theme of which is Quentin Tarantino movie characters, not bizarre suntanning accidents. Shame.

Then it's off to Paris this weekend, for a little friends-and-family time, as well as the sporting event of the century. No, not the Rugby World Cup (which I really would prefer you didn't mention), but the INSEAD all-girls running team's first competitive outing. In the name of charity and school spirit, I have accepted to humiliate myself by joining some of my sportier female colleagues for La Parisienne, a 6.5km run through scenic Paris. Embarrassing photos of us (well, me) looking like we're about to collapse will presumably follow. I can tell you're on the edge of your seats...

Until then, I must leave you to bash myself about the head with a calculator some more.

Sep 8, 2007

Friends, foes and parties

Psychology students should really come do a case-study on INSEAD MBAs. Let me tell you, when you throw 300-odd intelligent, driven people together, force them to live in an isolated bubble in the middle of the French countryside, deprive them of sleep, subject them to a stressful class schedule and provide lots and lots of alcohol, passions run high. You will suddenly find yourself BFF with someone you've know for less time than the average shelf-life of a bottle of milk, and whose last name you can't spell, much less pronounce correctly. Equally, you will wake up one morning to find yourself implicated in a full blown diplomatic incident resulting from Mr X insulting someone else's country, or asking an annoying question in class, or hitting on the wrong person at a party, and all hell will break loose.

Human relationships at INSEAD are intense, emotionally exhausting, and seem to develop at a pace five times greater than what you're used to from the "real" world. Ideal fodder for a television show...

In other INSEAD news, Club 16 (our new official house name) held its opening party this week to great acclaim. Attendance estimates ran between 150 and 250, an outrageous number in any case that we somehow managed to squeeze into our still-under-construction courtyard and the very popular terrace. Standards have been set; let the battle of the houses begin. Here is one of my favourite Club 16 group pics (I've decided any photo posted on Facebook is fair game for this blog):


In entirely unrelated news, a Swiss guy tried to get out of a speeding ticket in Canada by blaming the absence of goats. Perhaps some of my gas-pedal-heavy friends should try the same in Fontainebleau.

Sep 5, 2007

Running to create value

I've received a bit of a scolding for not posting enough, so in the interest of the greater good, I am sacrificing my econ and finance homework to bring you updated news from the world of a weary P1. Oh, the generosity of spirit...

The key "take-away" from the last few days (note increased use of INSEAD buzz words) is that classes are severely hampering our social schedules. There are a lot of classes. A lot of them start at 8.30 am. There is also a lot of reading, which usually doesn't get finished (if at all) before 2 am. Ergo, I am exhausted, ill, tragically behind and in desperate need of a drink.

Here's a little technical info on the actual work that goes on at INSEAD. (The following will be of interest only to future students and applicants, and my parents. The rest of you (i.e. my classmates) can stop reading now and go back to cooking up Paris and Nicole's balance sheets.)


We have five classes in this first period: Micro-economics, Statistics, Finance, Accounting and a "leadership" class. The latter is the only one with a true level playing field; for everything else, the competitive advantage goes to the finance and maths geeks among us (sadly, I am not one of them). Professors come from all over the world, and each have their own teaching styles, which adds a little extra spice.



Students are divided in 4 sections in Fonty, with each section assigned its own amphi (here's a pic of my amphi, as we slowly drifted in for our stats class). We also all have assigned seats for all our classes, where we dutifully sit behind big name cards waiting for our professors to come to us. We are further subdivided into study groups of 5 or 6 people; these are the poor souls who will bear the brunt of our frustration, desperation and occasional bursts of irrational anger over the next four months. Bless them. There's quite a bit of group work required for class, but also tons and tons of individual reading and problem sets to prepare. Basically, there's a lot to do, and very little time to do it in.


The main time sucker is, of course, our hectic social lives. This is especially true for those of us who live in large shared houses. Official house dinners, unofficial house dinners, house party planning sessions, house rules discussion sessions, house "please help me with my accounting homework" sessions, you name it. Then there's all the parties at other people's houses. And study group dinners. And bumming around the campus café with the people who's names you've managed to remember and their friend Bob.


Second main time sucker: recruiting events. Given the overlap between the two class intakes, there are recruiting events on pretty much every day of the week. So, despite the fact that we've been here a grand total of 10 days, have only just about managed to unpack half the stuff out of our suitcases, and still can't quite find our way around Fontainebleau, my house collectively has probably attended half a dozen presentations already from banks, consulting firms and top industry companies.


Given that there are only 24 hrs in the day, to say that we are suffering serious scheduling conflicts and time management crises is the understatement of the century. And there are 10 months of this to go, folks. God help us.


I should perhaps end this post with a disclaimer. Apparently - given the nature of some of my previous grumblings - my loyal and much beloved readers are under the impression that I am not enjoying myself. This could not be further from the truth. Trust me, on the rare occasions that I manage to get a nanosecond of peace and quiet conducive to solitary reflection and introspection, I am suddenly hit with the realization that I am, indeed, having fun. But if I stop to think about that too much I'll fall even further behind on the reading and be late for the next party.

Sep 2, 2007

Plot the demand curve for sleep at INSEAD...

Phew, welcome week is finally over; it's all downhill from here.

The latter half of welcome week focused on getting to know our study group partners, and getting a taste of class methodology. INSEAD tradition is to put groups together in such a way as to ensure maximum conflict. From what I hear, this is the case with some of the groups but fortunately (and I realise I may be jinxing things here), I've been very lucky with mine. After several hours working on our first case presentation, many more hours trekking through the forest and some rather embarrassing dancing at the end-of-week party, we still all really like each other.

As far as classes are concerned, despite some reservations as to teaching style, I'm relatively happy overall. But I have a feeling the proverbial shit will hit the fan tomorrow, when "real" classes start. First up: Prices & Markets (micro-econ) and Uncertainty, Data & Judgment (statistics). Will let you know how that goes (methinks I should learn to use that damn financial calculator).

Of course, no INSEAD week is complete without a massive party at some insane location, so Saturday night (and Sunday morning) saw us headed to Chateau Le Vaux le Penil for the welcome bash. Now, this is where my position as class blogger becomes a bit tricky; I'm happy for people to know who I am, but have my newfound friends authorised me to disclose written and pictorial evidence of their doings on this public forum? Perhaps there is a theory of implied consent I could rely on here? (where are law school interns with westlaw access when you need them...)

Afraid to jeopardise my new connections so early on in the year, I will have to satisfy myself with only a couple anonymous pictures... I didn't actually take these myself, so credit goes to those photographers who unknowingly let me steal their pics off Facebook.


Aug 29, 2007

Cherche bouée de sauvetage...

The recently returned access to our showers has done wonders to improve my mood, as you would imagine. Settling in is still proving a bit more difficult that I would have hoped, though.

So, quick update on the most recent goings-on at Planet Fonty (I actually need to glance back at my schedule print-out to even remember what I've been doing over the past few days).

1) Registration: an overly complicated procedure which involved paying lots of money to lots of people (yes, that's right, more money...). I am now signed up for the gym (the eternal optimist), paid up to be painfully tested on my third language skills (more on that later), and the proud owner of both a Bain corkscrew and a McKinsey lounge-tunes CD (who was it that said life here was surreal?)

2) After about two days fully employed filling out forms and finding Indian IT specialists to help you configure your laptop, it was finally time for the "Opening Ceremony", a rather understated affair in which we all got to assess our classmates' fashion sense. Before they ran out of champagne. How do you run out of champagne at a business school? In any event, by this stage the more networking-minded of our class had met about half the students (sorry, "participants"). The rest of us had met whoever we'd staggered into at Sunday's first Montmelian chateau party.

3) Ah, now we get to today, the most glorious of Orientation Week days, the day when yours truly finally realized she was in Way Over Her Head (yes, I am a girl, despite what some of you presumed...) First off, the aforementioned third language exam, allegedly designed to test our "basic" skills in the language of our choice. Right. The only basic skills of mine being tested were my random-guessing-I-think-there-should-be-more-Bs skills, not to mention my uncanny knack at constructing a 200-word essay using only 12 different words, at least 4 of which were French.

4) Thus feeling suitably inadequate, and cheered only by the quality of the cafeteria food, I moved on to the "INSEAD club" fair. INSEAD clubs (of which there are surprisingly few) are divided into two distinct categories. There are those for normal people, centered around sports, eating, drinking, and mild networking activities. And then there are those for the select few, or as the elusive, secret-handshake-and-royal-title-only Renaissance Club puts it, the "right kind of people." Even the normal clubs involve an application form and an interview. Welcome to biz school.

5) Finally, after an enjoyable intro presentation by Dean Fattas (and an undeniably more frightening presentation by our student government representatives), it was time to start the homework for our first introductory module tomorrow. As a result, I've found myself spending the last hour reading up on the Swedish textile industry in the 1960s. As I said, very much In Over My Head.

Will someone please remind me why I left my cushy job, and even cushier year-long sabbatical, for the epic-scale mother of all deep ends?!

That being said, there are up-sides to all this. For example, I get to leave you now to make my way downstairs for our first house dinner, where Indian, Italian, Lebanese, French, Spanish, Brazilian, Peruvian, German and English food will be frantically prepared and enjoyed over numerous glasses of wine. Well, hopefully no English food, actually...

Aug 27, 2007

Rant

I finally moved to Fontainebleau yesterday, and our brand new, renovated-to-the-highest-standards house is already literally falling apart at the seams. None of us can shower without turning the hallway into Bangladesh during the monsoon season, and the glass partition in the shower just shattered into a million pieces, all but lacerating one of our housemates. And that's on top of the construction grime that is still covering every possible surface, the broken oven and a million other "details" that are still at the "almost sorted" stage.

Then there's school. 400 eager, smiley faces with 400 names attached to them. I'm already struggling to remember the names of my housemates. I think from now on I'm just going to call everyone Bob. If classmates wasn't overload enough, there's also endless forms to fill out, dozens of identical-looking halls to navigate in order to find lockers, the cafe, the amphis, the library, and whatever "booth" the IT-tech guys, social security salesmen and geeky blue badge providers are holed up in. The small suitcase-size pack of "reading materials" is a health and safety hazard in itself, and clearly the direct cause of native forest depletion.

So to all this I say "non." No, I will not go to another party to bond with people I'm clearly supposed to recognise but don't. No, I will not study for my third language test. No, I will not start reading through the material so I can be "on top of things" when classes start. No, I will not google search the members of my study group to see which one I can copy the financial accounting notes from.

Instead, I will do the unthinkable at INSEAD. I'm going to bed. Before 2 a.m. So sue me.

Aug 25, 2007

Organ donor wanted

I never thought I'd say this but, there are too many parties in Fontainebleau. Lacking the swimming pools, Indonesian beaches, and cutting edge bar scene of Singapore, our campus makes up for it by having house parties; there are a lot of houses, ergo a lot of parties. One on Thursday, I skipped Friday's, a Paris outing tonight and yet another house party on Sunday. As a consequence, I am severely sleep deprived and on the brink of liver failure. Somehow my body doesn't seem to be recovering like it used to when I was 18 (back in the stone age, as some would say). I cannot fathom how people expect us to actually go to class on top of it all.

In other news, I've now met 5 of my housemates. That's less than a third of the total expected number, but so far so good. No raving psychopaths or heavy metal fans as far as I can tell, so we should get along. Which is a relief as we're all living in rather cramped quarters with annoyingly thin walls.

Now please excuse me while I lapse into coma.

Aug 22, 2007

Cold Feet

Something strange is happening. First day of school is four days away now; I should be all tingly with anticipation, counting down the hours with glee while I happily over-pack. Instead, I find myself cowering under the blankets in dread. This makes no sense. I have waited months for this day, and gotten in debt up to my eyeballs for the privilege of attending "The Business School for the World", so there is no reason why I should need to be dragged kicking and screaming to orientation. And yet. This must be what the first day of kindergarten felt like. I want my mommy. And a Rainbow Brite lunchbox.

Big break-through today, though. I think I finally figured out the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement. Yes, yes, I know, you're wondering how the heck I got into this school without knowing that, but give me a break, I'm a lawyer, we're idiots. (If you want I can tell you the difference between rights in rem and rights in personam, or between the lex fori and the lex loci delicti, but you'd be bored and I'd have to charge you for the privilege.) Break-through aside, that Finance book hasn't gotten any more interesting. I'm starting to regret not having done the Business Foundations course, maybe this stuff is more exciting in class (plus I feel like I've gotten excluded from the cool kids club before school has even started. Next thing you know I'll be getting picked last in gym.)

That's enough random rambling out of me for the day, must be getting back to staring blankly at some balance sheets. Before I do, though, we have a new tidbit for our regular "couldn't have happened anywhere else but Australia" segment. Woman killed by pet camel, because said camel had a bit of a crush on her. You can't make this stuff up.

Aug 17, 2007

This is your brain on... Finance

I am twelve pages into my "Finance for Executives" book and my brain is already, well... fried. Granted, I am not helped by the fact that I know absolutely nothing about finance or its snazzy lingo, but come on: there's got to be an easier way to explain this stuff. It really seems to me that so far, all I'm getting out of it is learning an incredibly convoluted, barely English way to describe concepts that are just common sense.

Like this, for example: "A business proposal... will create value only if the present value of the future stream of net cash benefits the proposal is expected to generate exceeds the initial cash outlay required to carry out the proposal."

Say it with me, folks... groan.....

I am acutely aware of the irony inherent in a lawyer complaining about unnecessarily long and complex definitions designed to ensure that knowledge and power (and money) remain in the hands of the select few, trust me. That, of course, is not going to keep me from complaining.

All of this bodes well for the start of classes, which is in a little over a week. I must admit, there's a little (rather annoying) voice inside my head wondering if I've made some kind of horrible mistake. It's a good thing all of my classmates seem like nice people, and quite fond of raucous social gatherings. I think we're going to need those...

Aug 14, 2007

Stepping Back from the Fringe

The final reviews of the season...
Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath: As far as depressing theatre goes, this was pretty up there. A one-woman play, it tells the story of Esther (self-proclaimed housewife and poet) in the last moments before her death (having stuck her head in the over). The "effects" (a talking oven, and Esther's hallucinations and memories portrayed on screen with her doing all the voice-overs) alternated between clever and slightly annoying. All in all, though, a remarkable performance and a moving story. Someone hand me the kleenex, please.

Owen Powell: Show number 2 of the Sunday was Powell's 1hr exposition on "the two closest Starbucks in Britain." Using powerpoint slides, pie charts, video footage and barrista testimony, this quirky and rather endearing comedian took us along for an entertaining ride in his quest to find same-brand coffee shops spaced less than a hundred steps apart. And find them he did; now what does that say about our society? Some interesting potential MBA case-study there, I think.

Sting for Nolte: Last few hours in Edinburgh, last show, and last-minute contender for the hotly disputed Res Ipsa award. This play is about a young philosophy professor who loses his fiancee (and his mind) when he ditches serious research in favour of a futile attempt to convince Sting to remake all of Nick Nolte's films. Sounds weird, I know, but somehow it works. An acting tour de force and wonderfully quirky, although I wouldn't recommend it to Sting...

So there it is, fifteen shows in total (out of more than 2000...) and almost all of them wonderfully entertaining. And of course, all set in the fabulous city that is Edinburgh. Now if you're only interested in seeing the city itself (and you should if you haven't already), then August is probably the worst time to go, as you'll be battling with throngs of not-always-sober theatre-goers and hounded by desperate performers pushing their flyers onto the unsuspecting passerby. But if you enjoy theatre, music, comedy, and people doing strange things in the name of art, then this is a must-see event.

Now I realize that these past few posts have probably held little interest for any of my readers that are not already at the Fringe or planning to go over the next couple weeks, but hey, it's my blog and I do what I want. In any event, my INSEAD-minded friends need not worry, I'll be back to blog about statistics and fancy-dress parties soon enough. Before I do, though, I would like to leave you with a picture of a large upside-down purple cow, because who doesn't want to see that?!



And, at DTLF's request, a snapshot of my fellow buskers from Grassmarket on Friday night, as we happily massacred Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue":


And now, here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you've all been waiting for, the 2007 Res Ipsa's Favourite Fringe Show award. I must have changed my mind about this a dozen times, but in the end, the award goes to... "Failed States" (with honourable mention to "State of Matter", "Out of the Blue" and "Sting for Nolte").

Aug 12, 2007

The Fringe of Reason

Lots more shows for me to review here, so let's "get stuck in", as the Fringe motto goes...

Breaker Morant: BM is a play about the court martial of an Australian soldier in South Africa during the Boer War, a sort of "A Few Good Men" for the Commonwealth. The acting was superb and the lawyer in me always enjoys a good courtroom drama, but I couldn't help feeling rather bored. Perhaps it's because I've seen so many original, quirky performances here that a traditional play just didn't seem quite right.

Failed States: With only 10 minutes rest between shows, I worried I might not be able to properly enjoy Failed States. I needn't have. A Kafka-inspired socio-political musical satire set at the time of the July 7th London bombings, this was an incredible performance. The lead (a Tom Hanks look-a-like) was amazing, the singing worthy of Broadway, and the story poignantly relevant. The overall effect was like getting slapped in the face and realizing it was just what you needed.

Stuart Goldsmith & Jimmy McGhie: On a whim, after a great catch-up dinner with a university friend, I decided to end the evening with this double-act stand-up comedy. Held in a room considerably hotter than the Nevada desert at high noon, the comedians more than made up for the discomfort by being very funny. The first was perhaps a bit funnier than the second, but that may be simply because his jokes seemed to be aimed directly at the specific market of people born precisely the same year as me. Good stuff.

On my way back to the hostel, I stopped off for a quick drink at the pub, decided to stay to listen to the live music (there is live music everywhere during the festival), and ended up busking (badly) with a Scottish and an Irish guy. But that, as they say, is a story for another day...

Out of the Blue: Wow. This show, by Oxford University's male a cappella group, managed to put me in a good mood despite the torrential rain that beat down on Edinburgh on Saturday. It really put the whole American Idol thing in perspective; here are the guys with real talent. The performance (covering pop-rock history from the Rolling Stones to Green Day, from Michael Jackson to Green Day) was flawless and funny. Their rendition of "Mustang Sally", with audience participation, was a big crowd-pleaser, and the "Fat Bottomed Girls" finale absolute genius. I am seriously considering getting these guys to come perform at a future INSEAD party.

Game?: Blatantly copying from Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", this is definitely the most experimental piece of theatre I've seen here, or anywhere, really. Decidedly odd, and not a little bit disturbing, I can see why it has gotten some good reviews. But frankly, I just don't think I "got" it. One thing I can say for sure, is that that I'll never be able to eat a marshmallow ever again.

Aeneas Faversham Returns: Needing some light humour to get me over "Game?", I popped in to see AFR, which was not so much a play as a collection of sketches. Sort of like Monty Python's Flying Circus, but set in Victorian England. While the quality was a tad uneven, a few of the sketches were dead funny and did the trick, hopefully dispelling any lingering marshmallow nightmares.

Eurobeat: After an interesting chat with my new hostel dorm-mate (who's writing a book about his adventures hitchhiking through Britain), I set of for the much-hyped Eurobeat, a spoof of the infamous Eurovision song contest. Relative to other Fringe shows, this was a Hollywood big-budget production, with hundreds of people in the audience, a real set and snazzy costumes. Everybody really got into the spirit of things, cheering their allotted country (I was Iceland), waving flags, agitating plastic clappers and voting by text for their favourite songs. It truly was just like the Eurovision, with one notable distinction: these people could actually sing.

On my last day now, and frankly I'm a bit "showed out". The sun is shining on Edinburgh today, so it's a perfect opportunity to stroll through the cobbled streets and soak up the atmosphere... and catch a couple more shows, of course.

Aug 10, 2007

Living on the Fringe

Desperate for a culture binge before I drown in balance sheets and the intricacies of corporate ethics, here I am at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, living it up... at least until my loan officer has me arrested. And you privileged few will have the benefit of reading my daily reviews of all the shows I see. Let's get started...

Shakespeare for Breakfast: First up, Shakespeare for Breakfast, complete with free coffee and completely inedible croissant. A quirky comedy involving a selection of Shakespeare characters lost in the woods on their way to a movie premiere, it was a little like the Bard on magic mushrooms, with a liberal sprinkling of Harry Potter and Big Brother references. While I must admit I didn't quite catch every one of the jokes (heavy Scottish brogue doesn't help), it was a very funny way to start the day. The two girls who played Juliet's Nurse and Cleopatra were particularly good.

State of Matter: This was amazing. Performed by all-male 2Faced Dance company, the show ranged from ballet to break-dancing with some seriously nifty acrobatics thrown in (accompanied by a music track as eclectic as the dance styles). Being an amateur production, there was the odd timing error, but overall this production was moving, brilliantly original and just plain cool (and the audience went crazy for it). Definitely a serious contender for the little known but highly prestigious "Res Ipsa's Favourite Show" award.

Isy Suttie: The Fringe is the world capital of stand-up comedy, so I figured it was now time to see some. Turns out I didn't choose very well, and while a few of Isy's lines were smile-worthy, most of her stand-up musical routine was rather painful. In her defense, I should mention that the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy it, so maybe it's just me.

Tony! The Blair Musical: My spirits were much lifted by my next choice, one of two Blair-inspired musicals at the Fringe this year. I don't know what the other one is like, but Tony! was a blast. Performed by a group of students who couldn't possibly be old enough to actually remember anything of Blair's 1997 electoral victory, the show featured some great one-liners, impressive acting (the guy playing the PM should consider a career as a Blair impersonator), very adequate singing and some inspired appearances by Diana's ghost, George Bush, and former Tory leaders singing barbershop quartet. The Res Ipsa award might be a close call...

Chris McCausland: Although a bit worn out from my show-filled day, I joined the hostel's pub crawl, which included a stop at a free stand-up comedy show. The pub crawl was rubbish, but the show was much better that the one I'd paid for in the afternoon. Self-proclaimed "only blind comedian in Britain", Chris had me in stitches, and I don't think it was just the beers.

I'm going to try for a slightly more quiet day today (only 2 or 3 shows, I think). I've spent the morning soaking up the Fringe atmosphere on the Royal Mile, where performers promote their shows with singing, a little improv comedy, and lots of gratuitous juggling. All good fun. Now if only the sun would show...

Aug 5, 2007

Art for art's sake

The best stories always emerge from circumstances involving an incredibly stupid person, with an incredibly stupid plan, scaring the bejeezus out of lots of other stupid people. Such a happy scenario occurred this week, when an "artist" from NY (and I use that term with a pinch of irony) decided to build himself what was meant to be a replica of an American-Revolution-era submarine (actually an 8ft, egg-shaped buoy made out of moldy plywood), superbly and accurately described by the NY Times as "something out of Jules Verne by way of Huck Finn, manned by the cast members from 'Jackass'." Apparently in his underwear and, one can only imagine, quite uncomfortable, our hero proceeded to creep up to the Queen Mary 2 in New York Harbour (perhaps intending to emerge from his hideout at the last minute with glitter and a feather boa and shout "surprise!"). He and two of his "accomplices" were promptly arrested, for fear that the man and his soggy wooden egg was launching a terrorist attack on the 150,000 ton, 345-meter-long vessel.

Let's take a moment.


To help you recover from this shocking news and once more achieve inner tranquility, I leave you with this view of the Fontainebleau forest:



Aug 3, 2007

The Big Day Approaches

OK, so there's a little more enthusiasm now. Had a great dinner with about a dozen of my future classmates (including two future housemates), which was the perfect way to get back into the spirit of the thing. Like last time, this was a friendly, well-travelled and energetic bunch of people, with some distinct, strong personalities (so maybe we won't all share two-peas-in-a-Hallmark-card love, but classroom discussions should be lively and entertaining). If this group is anything to go by, next year should be a blast. (Agreed, that wasn't quite the tell-all I promised, but it's hard to uncover valuable information on a first meeting. The subject of blogging did come up, though, and I am pleased to report that the general consensus was that DTLF "writes like a girl." It's the ultimate "you throw like a girl" insult for the internet-age, apparently...)

Then today I saw my room, and my house, for the first time. While not quite "ready" for human habitation (rant, rant) it's looking pretty good and I have my own balcony, so I'm pleased. But where on earth am I going to fit all my stuff??? There's a chance I may have to scale down packing plans; either the life-size Trojan horse replica or the home cinema entertainment system complete with popcorn stand and ice-cream making machine will have to go...

Aug 1, 2007

2 Days in Paris

Saw Julie Delpy's film yesterday, about a French photographer and her New York boyfriend, and their very un-romantic stay in Paris with her family, friends, and numerous exes. While there is an attempt to make a general statement about adult relationships, this is really just another re-hash of the classic "frog-eating, free-love-indulging, once-a-week-washing Frenchie" meets "puritan, hypochondriac, fast-food-obsessed, only-English-speaking Yank" scenario. It is the French that are the most vividly and somewhat cruelly portrayed, in the form of Delpy's neo-68, left-wing artistic entourage. Theirs is not the Paris of Amelie and her garden-gnome. Their Paris is rude, dirty, often obscene, and enjoys nothing more than laughing at the Americans' expense, especially if some frightening carcass of a formerly cute animal is involved. The cliches are all there, with a couple post-9/11 nuances thrown in for good measure, but they are taken to such outrageous extremes and replicated with such evident fondness by Delpy that, instead of being insulting, the film is for the most part really funny. It is a shame, though, that films about that complex, passionate relationship between France and America must always be reduced to slap-stick comedy.

Speaking of inter-cultural mayhem, tonight I have a second opportunity to meet my future classmates. The great tell-all will be posted tomorrow.

Jul 28, 2007

Four More Years... euh... Weeks

You may now breathe easy, I have finally procured a copy of Harry Potter, and finished it, and I am a much happier, saner person for it. Unlike some, I will not try to ruin the ending for you (so no need for loud Smurf-music) but I will say that I, for one, enjoyed it tremendously. But maybe I'm just easy to please.

What concerns me today is the pre-P1 lull that seems to have settled over all of us. Gone are the months of frantic blog activity debating the merits of the different campuses, or relating the desperate search for funding, laptops, pre-reading books and a chateau-room with a view. With only four weeks to go until D-Day, an eerie quiet has descended. There appears to be nothing left of the initial excitement but a small flurry of NV postings between those wishing to partake in poker, tennis, golf or naked sky-diving in all that free time we're going to have (strangely, no one seems to have addressed the much more important question of when and where the first of the famous INSEAD parties will be, and what on earth we'll have to wear to it.)

So it seems it's not just me who feels strangely disconnected from the hectic future that awaits us. My things aren't packed, my eagerly sought-after books have been barely glanced at, and my CV remains pitifully unprepared for the first onslaught of recruiters. Maybe it's supposed to be like this, a side-effect of the sluggish summer weather, a necessary calm before the storm. I sure would like to drum up some enthusiasm again, though, if only to get myself motivated enough to start stuffing things into boxes...

Jul 26, 2007

Harry Lost on the Amazon

I have been a loyal amazon customer for years. I have probably bought an entire store-room full of books and DVDs from those people. In fact, amazon could probably survive as a company on my purchases alone. Which is why I am now very upset that they have perpetrated a grave injustice upon me and, frankly, ruined my week, my month, nay - my year.

Eons ago, like the good little consumer that I am, I responded to the Harry Potter marketing mania by pre-ordering, online, my long-awaited copy of The Deathly Hallows. I've been a potty Potter reader since before most people who now call themselves devoted fans had ever heard of a Muggle. And this was it; the last, the most precious tome in the series, where all would finally be revealed! Thus, lulled into a false sense of security by amazon's promise that Book 7 would be waiting for me on my doorstep on the morning of its release, I handed over my credit card information, unawares of any impending doom.

It is now almost one week since the day I was meant to be tearing open my brown cardboard box and finally discovering the truth about Harry. One week! And the blasted book still hasn't arrived. And my trusted amazon customer service representative tells me to sit tight until next week, and if I still haven't received it, then maybe they'll send me a new one that will probably take another week to get here. Don't these people understand the gravity of the situation? Don't they realize that, until I can get my sweaty little paws on that book, I can't listen to the radio, watch television, read my fellow blogger's posts (thanks a lot, DTLF) or even leave my own home, for fear that some idiot will give away the ending?

OK, so I could use this forced exile from the world as an opportunity to crack open those Finance and Accounting books, but really, my distress is too great even to lift myself from my bed. Besides, Finance and Accounting aren't fun and no one does any cool magic spells in them...

Jul 24, 2007

Road Trip

I am so, soooo tired of driving. After having spent the last three weeks hurtling through Western Europe, and driven over 3000km in the last 10 days alone, I have lost all romanticized notions I may have had about "The Road Trip". There were no wide open roads cutting across the American landscape, at the wheel of a 1950s convertible Cadillac, all Thelma-and-Louise-like (with a happier ending). Road trips in my little part of the world involve being squashed inside an impossibly small car, clutching your rosary as you try to make your way in between enormous Polish trucks and German road-rage fanatics driving at break-neck speeds, passing the time by counting the IKEAs. Ultimate driving moment today was being overtaken on the right-hand side, above the legal speed limit, by a nun.

Still, I got to spend "quality time" with loads of friends and assorted members of my extended family, and managed to catch my little cousin's wedding, so it was all worth it. But I'm happy the next trip isn't for another couple weeks and (phew!) by plane.

A couple photos for your viewing pleasure before I happily drift off to sleep, my dreams filled with speeding nuns:
Haltern-am-See

The happy couple

Jul 17, 2007

Le Beeg Buss C'est Moi

Barely extricated from the sauna that was my Twingo after a 14-hour trip back from vacation, and still slathered in sunscreen, I hurried to my computer to check on NV and see what my favourite bloggers had been up to in my absence. (OK, what I actually did was crack open a beer and then sleep for 24-hrs straight, cause I'm not that much of a geek, but it made the intro sound better...)

And oh, what fun it was to discover that DTLF had seemingly lost his/her cool, and created a new form of INSEAD-blogger: the profanity-spewing, mud-flinging, manic-depressive and potentially homicidal MBA student, a sort of Zorro-cum-Terminator for the 21st century's upper middle classes. And why this sudden outburst from the Guru of Zen? The notorious "Career Leader", a program which professes to be able to tell you what exactly you are meant to do with your life after having spent that hefty sum on b-school.

Undaunted and, I must admit, somewhat looking forward to being told that my ideal career path was to become either a potato-farmer in the Midwest or a road-train driver across Australia, I hastened to take my very own Career Leader test, as instructed to by INSEAD's already greatly-maligned career services. And, lo and behold, the results were.... spot on. You have no idea how disappointed I was; finally, I thought, an opportunity to draw additional readers to my blog by jumping on the "rogue blogger who shies not from telling the truth through expletives" bandwagon. But it was not to be, for Career Leader correctly identified me as a bossy, big-mouthed, smart-ass whose ultimate career goal is to achieve Total World Domination. (I apologise in advance to my future group members).

For those of you who are actually interested, here a few choice extracts from my "Professional Report":

You have a notable interest in three core elements of business work:
- Enterprise Control
- Influence Through Language and Ideas
- Managing People and Relationships
Your most promising career paths:
- Entrepreneurship
- General Management
- Management of New Product Development
- Marketing and Marketing Management
- Non Profit Administration
- Dictator of a Medium-Sized Country (OK, I just slipped that one in to see if you were paying attention)

Organizational Culture
You would fit best in an organizational culture characterized by an aggressive "rough and tumble" give-and-take in daily activity and by a high level of activity overall. ... People who thrive in these cultures view meetings, discussions and negotiations not as distractions from the "real" work but rather, as the work. And they have no qualms about making a little noise in order to get their ideas heard.

You would enjoy a culture that has a competitive spirit (internally as well as against industry rivals) and that encourages healthy conflict. ... People who thrive in these work environments tend to feel comfortable with conflict. They have no qualms about challenging co-workers when they think doing so will shed helpful light on a business decision -- or will give them the advantage in a negotiation or debate. Your tendency in this direction is very strong, so pay close attention to this aspect of any organization you consider working for.

And this is the best part:

Your assessment indicates that you are highly sociable, assertive, and outgoing. You like excitement, and you want to be where the action is. You're not someone people would describe as shy or easily manipulated. These qualities are great assets, but they can also cause you some trouble in your career.

Because you tend to have a strong, dominant personality, you may experience difficulty listening to other people and really hearing their ideas, concerns, or objections. At times, you may come on too strong, and be unable to take a back seat during a discussion or project and mesh with other members of a team. Without intending to, you may intimidate people who are less forceful than you are.

Habitually taking up too much "air time" can pose a danger in class discussions (if you're in school or in a workplace training seminar). This tendency can also hurt you during negotiations and on-the-job meetings. Be careful that you don't get a reputation for "sucking up all the oxygen in the room." And remember that sometimes the best thing to say, especially during a negotiation, is nothing.

I can hear my friends gasping for air as they roll about on the floor in embarrassing displays of belly-aching mirth. All I can say is, sorry DTLF but, either you did the test wrong, or you really are supposed to sell double-glazing to middle-aged women in hair-curlers...

On a completely unrelated note, here are a few pics from the past two weeks:

Above, and below, the Vienne Jazz festival, as shot in front of the local Roman temple.





And, of course, the beautiful St Tropez:

I don't have my friends' authorization to disclose pictures of them dancing, wearing bikinis, or pretending to be handy with barbecue tongs, so the above will just have to do for now.

A final note, in what seems to be a developing Australian-gag-of-the-week theme: can someone please explain the rationale behind Sydney's new "Go-Bag"? And, more importantly, if someone could show me how I'm supposed to carry my cats around in a cotton pillowcase (through a panic-crazed mob), that would be super. Thanks. In the meantime, I'm off again for a week but will be looking out for your suggestions, diagrams, youtube videos demonstrating this amazing feat.

Jul 5, 2007

Impromptu update

I just missed you guys too much, I had to scramble around for an internet connection to relieve my need for self-expression and give you a quick progress report on my vacation.

So, things all started very smoothly, as we drove my miniature car towards the southern sunshine at a nice, leisurly pace, stopping at Vienne overnight (no, not Austria) for an evening of jazzy relaxation. Vienne has some surprisingly well-preserved Roman ruins, including one mightily impressive temple surrounded by cafés, where a group of young musicians had decided to set up camp on this second evening of the annual jazz festival. There were lots of other bands around town, and the evening was passed in a most pleasant fashion café-hopping from one improvised concert to another.

On the second morning of my vacation, my car got towed. Turned out we parked it in the middle of the place du marché (conveniently not actually called "Place du Marché", and remarkable only by the surprising absence of any "no parking" signs; details, details). Fortunately, small-town police in southern France are extremely friendly people, as are those responsible for towing tourists' cars, so the whole thing got sorted out amidst much merriment and back-slapping comaraderie. Sweetened by a hefty fine.

After many hours spent in heavy traffic, we made it down to the mediterranean sea-front, apparently the one and only place in Europe to actually have had sight of the sun so far this summer. And if it wasn't for the tendonitis in my knee which is preventing me from running (swimming is such a boring replacement) and the three days of mistral currently swirling above our heads, everything would be perfect. Hopefully, both the knee pains and the howling winds will have quieted down by the time my gaggle of friends descend upon the house to turn it into Party Central.

Further updates are unlikely before another week at least, my loyal readers, but I do promise you pictures once I get back to a more internet-friendly environment. So stay tuned. Please. I'll buy you a steak dinner. (OK, I won't really, but I will be super grateful).

Oh, and for those who are wondering about my pre-reading by the sea, I have managed to read six whole chapters of my microeconomics book, all of them mind-numbingly dull.

Jun 27, 2007

Changing of the guard

Today is an historic day. I remember being in London ten years ago, gathered around the kitchen table with my flatmates and bottles of champagne, celebrating New Labour's victory in proper student fashion. It was a time of idealism and excitement and, even though I don't vote in England, the optimism was contagious and I cheered as loud as the next guy when Tony Blair's beaming smile filled the TV screen. Now, Tony has handed in his notice to the Queen, a little greyer, a little sadder, and it's almost like he's taken my youthful innocence with him. Good thing I'm going back to being a student again, so I can seek to recapture it; the youthful bit, I mean, my innocence having well and truly disappeared down a dark street corner eons ago.

On a personal, slightly less historic level, I met my first group of INSEADers last night. True to statistical form, between the five of us there were four nationalities present and the girls were outnumbered 3 to 2. After a few awkward introductions, we happily debated the pro's and con's of attending the Business Foundations Course, the best way to approach the recruitment process, and where the good parties were likely to be held. I was pleased to learn that my fellow admits shared my anxiety about the level and amount of classwork waiting for us come P1 and that, like me, none of them had started the pre-reading yet. A very promising start, I think... So now I can happily run off to the beach, books in suitcase, knowing that there will be at least a few familiar faces at Orientation.

On that note, dear readers, I leave you for a couple weeks while I catch some sun. Be good.

Jun 25, 2007

Muse-ings

After having gratuitously posted about Natalie Portman, DTLF is now seeking to increase blog traffic by publishing rather uninspired song lyrics. This is clearly unfair competition. And like any self-respecting lawyer, I will immediately stoop down to his/her level and do the same, although, I believe, with more panache. Hark, my friends, the most MBA-appropriate song to have hit the charts in recent rock history:

Change everything you are
And everything you were
Your number has been called
...

Don't let yourself down
And don't let yourself go
Your last chance has arrived

Best, you've got to be the best
You've got to change the world
And use this chance to be heard
Your time is now.

I take this opportunity to nominate this song as the official "Dean's List" theme tune for the J'08 class. (For those curious about the Dean's List, check out the youtube video posted by fellow blogger necromonger.)

Jun 23, 2007

La Familia

Big family reunion today; 15 people spanning 3.5 generations and a couple more by skype (ah, the modern, international family). We managed to finish lunch before 5pm, which was a bit of a record for our particular clan. Seems to me to be a cross-cultural truth that, when you stick a random bunch of people together of different ages, with nothing more in common than a few strands of DNA, they usually end up ingurgitating a lot of food. And making slightly unpleasant comments about whichever poor sod hasn't managed to get married yet (that would be me). You gotta love them, though (and I do).

There is a rather interesting study published yesterday about families, notably about the relative IQs of siblings. Apparently, first-borns have, on average, an IQ three points higher than that of their younger brothers and sisters. Something to do with the extra attention lavished on them by their parents before the rest of the brood comes along. According to the article in the NY Times, first-borns also have a tendancy to be responsible, disciplined high-achievers; whereas their siblings learn how to play the guitar, have more friends, start political and scientific revolutions and generally are way more cool.

This begs the question: how many INSEADers are first-borns?

On an entirely unrelated note, I did a little jump for joy when I looked at my spotted visitor map today. Not only are the little spots spreading faster than chickenpox on a kindergartner (don't want DTLF putting me to shame), but there is a new spot hovering above Alice Springs. Having spent some time in that "straight out of the far West, got to see it to believe it" community but a few months ago, the fact that someone there would read my blog tickles me pink. Dear Alice Springs reader, I don't know who you are, but thank you.

Jun 20, 2007

Reality hits back

London was incredible (it's funny how much fonder I've grown of the city since I don't actually have to live there); three days filled with vodka cocktails, mimosa brunches, a few too many cigarettes (oops), lots of tea and an unexpected visit to an antiques show, where I was given the in-depth history of the howdah created for the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. Apparently a similar one was sold to an American woman last year, and she now uses it as a bed for her beloved pooch. I love that: the epitome of not taking oneself too seriously... Here's what doggie beds look like these days:


But it's back to the real world of pre-MBA life now. Pre-reading books arrived in the mail today; they are filled with bizarre mathematical equations with incomprehensible acronyms, and one of them doesn't even have any pictures. Groan. The new Harry Potter is coming out soon, though, maybe I'll read that instead (hey, you never know, quidditch could be an essential skill for INSEADers...)

Speaking of the real world, I overheard this from renowned intellect, David Hasselhoff, while zapping through the TV channels: "If our show (Baywatch) had moved there, it would have put Australia on the map."

Australians must be bummed that, because they said no to the red-suited babes, people think the big blob of land with kangaroos on it is actually New Zealand.

(and can I just say to DTLF who thought he/she was oh so clever: HA! I like my beers German, please)

Jun 15, 2007

London, baby!

Off to London this weekend for three days of debauchery... well, mostly catching up with friends, really. Unfortunately, instead of going from Friday to Sunday as I planned, I'll be travelling Saturday to Monday; this was the only way to nab Eurostar tickets that were even remotely affordable. It's crazy how expensive and over-booked the Eurostar has gotten over the past couple years. I remember when I first started taking it, 12 years ago - it was practically empty and I systematically was sat next to an American tourist who asked me if we were going to be able to see the fish. Those were the days of sweet innocence...

On an INSEAD note, I still haven't received the pre-reading books I was hoping to skim through on the train, I have no idea if my first deposit to secure my spot has gone through, and am still undecided as to whether I should buy a new computer (hey, if I win the Lottery or something, I'll have to do something with that extra cash). I have, however, secured a spot on the "Vestibule" and eagerly checked out all my future classmates. Also read through some old posts discussing housing (how much easier would it have been if I'd had access to this two weeks ago), admin and social events. I'm struck by how friendly and eager to help everyone seems. Wonder if this outburst of generosity and love for their fellow man will wane somewhat after the first week of school...

Jun 13, 2007

Moving forward

I've been pretty productive these last few days (had to, really, classes start in two months). As of this morning, I am the proud tenant of a small, over-priced room complete with ADSL line (a blogging necessity!) Following in a proud INSEAD tradition, I will be living in a gigantic house filled with way too many MBA students, partners, electronic gadgets and endless supplies of alcohol. I don't know who any of my housemates are yet, but I do know some of them are from the D'07 Singapore class. Maybe they'll let me borrow their notes... So anyway, if I'm about to live with you, just wanted to say "hi" and "I promise not to hog the bathroom".

Also checked off my 3-mile list of things to do before I run off on my pre-MBA holiday ("Holiday?", I hear my friends shout, incredulous, "but you haven't worked in a YEAR????!!!!!") is my loan application. It's official, I am in debt. A lot of it. And all it took was hours spent in traffic in the sweltering heat of my non-airconditioned car (yes, a Renault), and a casual, 30-min meeting which ended with me signing away my first-born. Ah, the joys of private post-graduate education...

Having gotten so much done, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. Until my anonymous friend, "A", mentioned that I was probably one of the "older" INSEAD-ers. And so the panic rises again. Does that mean I won't get invited to any parties? What's the age cut-off between old INSEAD-ers and young INSEAD-ers anyway? Should I frantically start plucking grey hairs? Are my chances of getting a job with Bain after graduation inversely proportional to the number of wrinkles I have?