INSEAD: First Impressions of Fontainebleau

Rayan Dawud

When describing life at INSEAD, students and alumni often talk about the world-class courses and professors, the enriching extra-curricular activities, and the outstanding career services. After an exciting kick-off to the program these first two weeks with a variety of team-building, orientation, and preparatory activities, I thought it would be worthwhile to share some first impressions which I plan to reflect on at the end of the year.  

The People

The INSEAD MBA Class of December 2016 is comprised of over 70 nationalities. My first reaction when I looked around the auditorium of my peers waiting for Dean Ilian Mihov’s welcome speech was to think about how incredible it was to experience this new meaning of the word “diversity”, and to hear seven languages being spoken in my immediate vicinity.


As I got to know my classmates, I realised that the diversity extended far beyond nationality. We had former doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, engineers, semi-professional athletes, consultants, soldiers, bankers, and even a member of an Oscar-winning movie production team. As someone who spent most of his life in one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world and spent the past five years working for an international consulting company, I was extremely impressed with how well the admissions team had crafted our community. As Dean Ilian Mihov stated in his welcome speech: “Everyone is a minority at INSEAD”.

The City & Campus

Between talking to alumni and googling images, I thought that I had a pretty good idea of what to expect when I arrived. For the most part, I was way off.

Fontainebleau is a bit of an oasis in the middle of the forest, but it’s by no means a village. The town itself was much larger and developed than the sleepy French countryside I had originally pictured in my head. The school itself sits on a busy road about a 15-minute walk from the center of Fontainebleau (and Château de Fontainebleau) and neighbours several sports facilities.

Although English is the language of instruction on-campus, it doesn’t hurt to pick up a few phrases in French to help with tasks like opening a bank account or getting a haircut, even if you fulfill your entry and exit requirements in two other languages.


Dean of MBA Programme & Professor Urs Peyer speaks at the 16D welcome event

Orientation Week activities

If our first week was any indication of what to expect from INSEAD, we’re in for a challenging, exciting, and rewarding year! The activities kicked-off with campus tours and logistics sessions (how to apply for a residency permit) and was followed the next day, a Friday, with a welcome address by INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov and Dean of Degree Programs Urs Peyer. The following Monday many students sat for exemption exams where those with prior knowledge in specific topics could attempt to waive up to two core courses.

Aside from logistics activities, the Career Center engaged with us right away to ensure that we began working with them to plot our career paths against our industry, geography, and role preferences. We were immediately asked to schedule two meetings with our career advisors: one for CV review and one for career planning.



The SPLASH program is a community service project whereby INSEAD students take part in a team-based construction projects in INSEAD’s local communities, both in Fontainebleau and Singapore. We were divided into groups (by section) to build a playground at a local school for children with learning disabilities. Each section was tasked with setting and meeting specific goals with the support of the SPLASH project team. As talented and diverse as we are, few of us had any real hands-on construction experience which made for an interesting day. The project was physically and mentally challenging, but it served as a crash course on how to communicate with a group of people from different backgrounds and work together on a tangible project. Although the early bus and weather were challenging, the work was both personally and professionally rewarding and made many children happy. To get a closer look, check out this video.

Start of Classes

By the time classes began, I was already so busy I had almost forgotten that I was here to study. My schedule for Period 1 kicked off with Prices & Markets, and Financial Markets & Valuation.  Although we had the option to sit for exemption exams in certain subjects and replace them with electives, the experience and levels of business acumen varied greatly among the classes. Professors recognized this immediately and their class discussions and assignments to strike a balance so that the more advanced students don’t feel bored but the students new to business concepts don’t fall behind.

So far, so good here in Fontainebleau! Stay tuned in the coming weeks on how I landed at INSEAD, the INSEAD Startup Bootcamp, and tips for a smooth transition when moving to Fontainebleau.