A Fired Up Feast at INSEAD, Fueled by COVID-19

One never forgets the delicious taste of freedom. For me, it was in the form of pizza. Fresh from the oven, topped with salami, olives, and cheese.

Why pizza? Because that was my final dine-in meal, right before COVID-19 forced France into lockdown.

I remember being with several MBA friends, having dinner at a pizza parlour near our Fontainebleau campus. Our meal was winding down when we were jolted by news alerts on our phones. Restaurants and other non-essential services in France would have to shut down by midnight that day, screamed the headlines.

Looks like we have just had our “final” meal – luckily, it was good, one of us joked. That day was 14 March 2020, a chilly Saturday evening. Two days earlier, the French government had also decided to close all schools. Essentially, France had entered lockdown mode.

Today, 1.5 months later, I miss the pizza. With this ongoing lockdown, my meals – mostly microwaved or home delivered – admittedly taste bland in comparison.

Yet, even as sweet freedom remains elusive, the situation has inadvertently stirred up the INSEAD community, infusing other flavours and spicing up our MBA experience into something of an unforgettable feast.

A fired up feast

For sure, bitterness kicked in initially. The lockdown meant that classes and events became virtual. The faltering global economy also evoked job uncertainties. These were not on the menu when we applied for an MBA. Naturally, many of us felt some stress and dissatisfaction.

But as the heat turned up, the INSEAD community got fired up.

Immediately, to improve online classes, the school administration sent regular surveys for our feedback. Students organised fun activities online, from live radio shows to a bread baking class. Alumni members banded to launch projects in countries such as China, Spain, and Brazil, aiding their governments’ fight against COVID-19.

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Covid-19 initiatives in Spain by INSEAD alumni
COVID-19 initiatives in Spain by INSEAD alumni

 

Still, my MBA peers and I were in a pickle. With companies postponing recruitment, what can we do? What will happen to our campus exchanges and paid up tuition fees? Can we terminate our housing leases early to fly back home?

To tackle these issues, many students stepped up, forming various committees to seek solutions with the school administration. It felt like a potluck feast, with everyone determined to bring their best dishes to the table.

Such collaboration has even led to innovative measures being cooked up. For example, an online platform was created for companies to offer short-term business projects to INSEAD MBA students, allowing us to beef up our credentials amidst the tough job market.

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Screenshot of online platform for companies to work with students on projects
Screenshot of online platform for companies to work with students on projects

 

Some tricky issues remain unresolved, with solutions in the making. Regardless, I have seen leadership of all forms emerge from the INSEAD community.

I am awestruck that, despite the unsavoury circumstances, we have united and cooked up a storm.

The pizza parlour

Today, countries including France are gradually easing out of their lockdowns. My mind wanders back to that pizza parlour near school.

One day, perhaps upon our graduation in a few months, my friends and I might hang out there again. We might reminisce about having experienced a full range of flavours and emotions together, and emerging stronger. We might even smile – thankful for the feast of an experience at INSEAD – and then sink our teeth into good, old pizza.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to post a couple of links about how you can support the INSEAD community in its COVID-19 initiatives (non-exhaustive):