Halfway Through the World - P3 in Abu Dhabi

Catherine Zhang

Today is Sunday, February 3rd. It's the first work day in February in Abu Dhabi. The official first work day of our second half of the INSEAD MBA programme. The 40+ of us in Abu Dhabi just spent an entire eight hours in a Crack the Case session with David Ohrvall, and about 1/5 of the class was filled with GEMBA students. Because we are a much smaller class than on the other two campuses, David said he could give us one more session hence bring us to a next level of cracking case interviews.

Not only is our INSEAD journey halfway through, but also our geological location, right in the middle of Singapore and France. Somehow, from places that are four hours ahead and three hours behind, the 47 of us gathered nicely together in an office building on a tiny beautiful island in the middle of some huge construction sites on the sea, and happily started our third period.

For me, it's so far a happily-ever-after story. For many reasons.

It's one of the most luxurious lives you could imagine being a student. Waking up in a suite in a five-star hotel in the middle of the city, stand up three times for more food at the buffet breakfast, take the free shuttle bus to campus with free and unlimited coffee, tea and fruits, enjoy a buffet lunch that never repeats itself with the view of the ocean, hold group discussions at your assigned break-out room, share a taxi back to the hotel, your room is already cleaned, then go to the gym and sauna and wrap up the day with some snacks in front of the TV.

Obviously, due to proper (=heavy) workload, the last part is only theoretically true. The schedule in Abu Dhabi is designed in an unconventional way. Almost every week, we take a big leap forward by completing one of the classes. Some classes are designed in a way that all we do is to talk to clients and send them deliverables, visit famous companies, have intense discussions with each other, and listen to wonderful guest speakers.

Right now we are in the middle of a two-week break when our calendars are filled with visits to companies in Dubai, all kinds of career development sessions and real-life projects. No classes. Whoever gets lucky and efficient with their project would have more spare time.

The comforting work-life balance in the region, together with the amazingly well-maintained work environment on campus, have brushed away some of the pressure from P1 and P2. But when you really wonder why people seemed much happier now, my answer would be ---- because we survived the four months of hardship, now we can shine. 

It's a magical feeling. You still see people running around and rushing into all kinds of meetings, initiatives, recruiting sessions like before, but their facial expressions have changed drastically. When priorities are managed in a smarter way, even at the same output level, people tend to look more at ease.

We are simply more confident and comfortable with ourselves. 

Then we become more flexible in shifting our focus among all kinds of activities involved, may it be weekend trips, creating an action plan, revision for exams or preparing for interviews. We can directly go to an interview after chasing dolphins and beach camping in Oman. We can take family and friends around the city while discussing group work in taxis, or sending out emails for recruiting events in a nightclub. These may sound like a hard mode of life for some others. But not for us.

Multitasking is art. Once you got a taste of it, the beauty comes all the way. It doesn't mean that your mind is focusing on multiple items at the same time. It means the friction time for your focus to switch from A to B is minimal, almost zero. Now you are a superpower bouncing ball.

Till now, consulting folks will think of this article as severely unstructured. Yes, that's what I want it to be. Besides the confidence and flexibility that I learned in the first two months, I'm forming a gradually transparent picture about myself, linking past, present and future. I appreciate structural thinking and would embrace it if needed. But I've decided to stay divergent, spread-out and slightly cynical as I always am. Trying to cross the line when appropriate and leave an impression. Release the real self.

It's the same for others. We are locked up with each other for 10 months. No one can hide or pretend. Eventually, those who stay real to the world around them will become stronger. And in the MBA world, strength somewhat equals happiness.

So here we are in Abu Dhabi. Halfway through, halfway stronger, and halfway happier.