Fontainebleau Footnotes: Unravelling the Magic of INSEAD MBA’s Beginning

Varun Sharma

These past three months in the little town of Fontainebleau have been a whirlwind. Interestingly, it's only been five weeks since we began our MBA classes, yet it feels like five months have passed. This sentiment is not uncommon at INSEAD.

If there's anything that INSEAD makes you realise, it's the value of time, compelling you to hone in on what truly matters.

An often-cited metaphor is that absorbing the wealth of knowledge and experience here is like trying to drink water from a firehose; the flow truly is intense and unyielding.

The initial three weeks were focused on the Intensive Language Programme (ILP), a transformative experience that set a rock-solid foundation for my upcoming endeavours. The ILP is an optional course but a great way to begin the MBA journey. After soaking in the linguistic immersion, my peers and I set off on our three-week travels, venturing to various global destinations. Each destination was a treasure trove of stories and learning.

After that, some of the batchmates participated for a week in the Business Foundation programme, which helped them prepare for the core courses. While this course is optional, it's another fantastic way to kick off the MBA journey.

Two pre-MBA group trips, to Marseilles and Nice, and then Normandy, offered immersive dives into the heart of French culture and allowed deeper connections within our cohort. We, as strangers, didn't just explore locales; we explored one another's motivations, dreams, and aspirations. We often reflect on how, despite being strangers on those trips, we've become some of the closest friends in the batch.

Our "Welcome Week" was less of a gentle introduction and more of a profound deep dive into personal and group dynamics. Activities under the Personal Leadership Development Programme prompted introspection and growth. Watching videos of ourselves interacting and understanding how our actions are perceived – these experiences catalysed personal growth even before the official start of the MBA classes.

Though the initial weeks lacked formal MBA lectures, they captured the essence of the INSEAD MBA experience. It wasn't merely about academic pedagogy but an initiation into the deeper realms of interpersonal dynamics and self-realisation.

The connections we forged transcended mere professional networking; they were windows into diverse worlds and cultures.

Shortly after the Welcome Week, we began the formal MBA lectures. Just three weeks in, we faced our mid-terms, and three weeks later, our final exams loom. Remember how I said time is the currency at INSEAD? This example exemplifies what I mean by time being the currency at INSEAD.

Echoing my sentiments about INSEAD's unique environment, my friend, Nathalia Tavares, summarises it well:

"INSEAD's competitive advantage is, of course, its diversity, but it goes beyond that: its lack of an anchor, or how things "should be," helps the international, multi-functional community flourish in the way that best contributes to their personal and professional goals.

What I've observed in universities in other countries is that, despite the advertisement of "diversity," the end goal is assimilation: they bring international students to shape and mould them into an image. They teach you how things should be done in the country while often neglecting the fact that their students may interpret things differently or that what works in the countries may not work in the students' home countries.

Here at INSEAD, however, this diversity is welcome and is a big part of the learning. You don't have to fit a certain mould; you can build on your own experience and those of others to bring out what is best in you. In other words, INSEAD fosters an environment where everyone brings their full self and, with inputs of other equally authentic people, takes out the best version of their own selves."

Every day at INSEAD is genuinely an opportunity for enlightenment, epitomising the quintessential INSEAD MBA experience.