About a Yellow Submarine

Stefano Ceravolo

What is it like to meet 300 people in a week?

At the end of the Welcome Week here at INSEAD I could not help but stop for a second to reflect on the prior seven days. So many things have happened that is difficult for my brain to process everything as part of a single week. It literally seems like months have passed.

Coffee is definitely an ally of any INSEADer

In such a setting, albeit having been engaged with the most diverse and exciting activities throughout the week, meeting so many people had the lion's share in the definition of the overall experience so far.

INSEAD plays its part very well, as it tries hard to promote networking among the students and to encourage personal disclosure.

So, what's it like to meet so many people in such a reduced amount of time?

First, it is physically impossible to remember all the names. But everyone is quite sympathetic about this and it is common to introduce yourself for a second/third time to the same person without really upsetting anyone (I take the opportunity to apologise to whoever might have found it disrespectful from my part).

Second, I found interesting that basically most of the conversations follow more or less the same pattern, something like this:

  1. Hi, I am Stefano. Where are you from?
  2. What is your background?
  3. Where do you live here in Fonty?
  4. What do you plan to do after the MBA? Do you intend to go back to your country?

There is an old joke circulating among the students, that each one of us should bring a resumé to give to people with the four points above.

Usually, if the conversation continues after those, it veers to more personal topics. I have had numerous deep and intense discussions with people that were complete strangers to me only a week ago.

But even from the "small talk" much can be learned. Amazing and peculiar stories have emerged from a simple question such as "what is your background?". Indeed, I have heard a lot from people with the most disparate or non-conventional backgrounds, including teachers, doctors, lawyers, journalists, and even musicians.

Also, question number four leads to interesting considerations, as it speaks volumes about priorities and motivation. Some of us are willing to come back to our native country straight after the MBA, someone else said "NO WAY", others (a decent quota, I have to say) think of coming back in the long run, possibly after having successfully pursued more interesting opportunities abroad.

Here below a couple of expressions that have really touched me:

"I want to go back to my region at all costs, because I want to give back and contribute to its development".

"Well, if you can't go where your roots are, why don't you take a shovel, dig out the tree and bring your roots where you are?". That is, why do you think that you may want to go back to stay with your friends and family and it cannot be the other way around?

In any case, even if it is improbable to remember all the backgrounds and stories, a single, global narrative emerges. That is, everyone here has a truly interesting story to tell, a unique contribution to make, and will be part of a bigger mosaic where all the diverse - yet mesmerising - tiles combine into a greater picture.

So then what image is better than a yellow submarine? A moving community, looking for adventures but united by the same spirit and attitude. A place where "our friends are all aboard, and many more of them live next door?"

We will soon discover what is the route of the submarine, as tomorrow is the first day of class.