Fonty '18J: It's Finally About to Begin!

Sameer Ahmed

I'm a bit late to the party myself, but it's been great reading some of the introductory blog posts from my fellow classmates the last few days; I can't wait to meet you all from tomorrow!

It feels surreal to finally be here, in Fontainebleau and its gorgeous surroundings. I didn't do a campus visit, and I can vouch that you should; pictures just do not do this place any justice, it truly is a stunning environment within which to study and live and I'm feeling extremely fortunate at the moment!

Given induction week starts tomorrow, I don't have any juicy stories to share with you yet, but I thought I'd use my first post to introduce myself and give any prospective candidates a few pre-joining INSEAD tips based on my laziness mistakes experience. I'm not going to bore you with why INSEAD is a great MBA programme, I'm hoping hours of googling answered that before you stumbled upon this blog post!

I'm an English ex-corporate lawyer (boooo) from a small town called Bolton in the North West of England (think Winterfell from Game of Thrones), which I left at 17 to read law at the London School of Economics. Having secured a training contract during university, I spent 8 pretty great years at my old law firm (including just under 2 years in our New York office) before deciding to embark on the MBA programme at INSEAD. For many deciding to do an MBA, the opportunity is partly an escape from a previous career/ the chance to get a foot in the door in a new career, neither of which was the case for me. Whilst this can make it an even more difficult decision, if you're in the same boat here are a few questions I think are helpful to ask yourself before deciding to take the plunge:

  1. So I'm happy in my current job, but do I want to do it long term? This was the key question for me; whilst I liked my job and was on a progressive career path, I wasn't truly motivated by the thought of being a corporate lawyer for the next 30 years. In the last couple of years, I became increasingly excited by the thought of exploring new career opportunities, gaining knowledge in subject areas I had worked within but knew little about and, in particular, meeting and learning from a diverse set of interesting and equally driven people from around the world.
  2. Can I afford it (time and money)? I went through all sorts of anxiety at the thought of leaving a very lucrative career for what is likely to be a less lucrative one post-MBA (at least initially), the cost of a year at INSEAD, the lost year of salary, family concerns etc., and I won't deny it is a difficult question to answer. To me, it came down to thinking long term; I decided that over the course of a (hopefully long) career and life, the investment in myself and in the INSEAD MBA experience would not be something I regretted. If you haven't already, I would advise speaking to friends, colleagues and associates who have been or know someone who has been to INSEAD; they'll help you explore whether the opportunity cost is worth it for you as an individual.
  3. What is the value I see in an INSEAD MBA? This is a personal question, and the answer will be different for each of you. Answering this helped me realise that commencing an MBA at INSEAD, whilst not necessary for my next career step, strongly aligned with my long term goals; the chance to build a network across the globe (it is amazing how internationally and culturally diverse the INSEAD intakes are), to thoughtfully consider my career to date, next steps and long term goals with people in the same boat, and the chance to dive deeply into a wide variety of business-related subjects, sectors, industries, countries and political landscapes.

Now that it's finally about to start, my excitement for tomorrow tells me that so far I've made the right choice. Although, from a quick browse of the INSEAD emails, Yammer and Slack the last couple of weeks, I can see that I'm already far behind my classmates! So here are a few pre-joining tips for all you prospective candidates so that you don't make the same mistakes I did (you're welcome!):

  1. Give yourself some time off - it's not easy to leave your job, your home and to move country all at once, and you'll be a lot less stressed if you have a couple of months off to spend time with your friends and family and prepare for your year at INSEAD. If it sounds like a lot of time, trust me, there is a lot more to do than you think!
  2. Browse (but don't try to stay on top of) the Slack group - I'll admit it, I wasn't ready for the number of ridiculously well-organised, super-friendly people that had living/ vehicle/ course tips or wanted to organise trips, set up businesses, explore volunteering opportunities and talk politics, economic theory, art, space and even TV shows ALL. BEFORE. DAY. ONE. I feel like I've already missed out on so many trips and friends! I would advise that you monitor the Slack groups so that you can join activities, conversations and gain useful knowledge about the course as you wish - but don't worry too much about keeping on top of it all,  24 hours a day of Slack abuse and you still wouldn't digest everything!
  3. Set up your Email/ Accounts early - by playing around and getting a feel for Webmail, MBAConnect, Yammer, MyInsead, Grow360 and whatever else is thrown your way, you'll be in a much better position to understand and complete your pre-INSEAD tasks, take advantage of pre-joining opportunities (such as career coaching) and see what your course calendar will look like (particularly useful if you are planning trips home/ weddings etc!).
  4. Think about where you want to live - I can only speak for Fontainebleau, but understanding the driving vs walking, chateau vs apartment, sleepy village vs small town arguments took a while! And once I was ready to dust off my driver's licence (London and New York were not conducive to my average driving) and live in a chateau, many had been fully booked! I would recommend starting with this helpful wikispace and then browsing MBAConnect as well as the INSEAD Housing pages on Facebook (in which a number of real estate agents post properties). In the end, I was lucky enough to get a room at Shangri-La, a beautiful country house in Saint-Martin-en-Bière owned and managed by two very friendly and accommodating ex-INSEAD'ers. Check it out!