By Naz Mirza, partner of Rashad Mirzayev, INSEAD MBA’14D

Pamela Druckerman, Gina Ford and Lucy Atkins are just some of the major names that have somehow shaped the minds of so many parents all around the world: from Azerbaijan to Mexico, from France to Georgia, to China and so on.

Most books about parenthood tell us what we should do and how to do it, usually centered around the topics of vigilance, discipline, and repetition. Sometimes, however, circumstances leave you unprepared and the best answer to all questions is simply practice and experience, your own or that of other people around you. Preferably people who can walk in your shoes, understand your point of view and simply listen to your story.

At INSEAD, there is a community of partners who have to adapt to not only the new life of parenthood, but also a new place, often experiencing language barriers and cultural differences on top of all this. How do they cope? And how can we record and share their wisdom for newly incoming families, to make their life a little easier?

This is what motivated me to collect the stories of INSEAD Moms. Eventually, it led to the creation of the book "INSEAD Moms and How We Mastered the Baby Administration (MBA)". This book features 11 interviews with mothers from all over the world who came to Fontainebleau with their children when their partners began their MBA at INSEAD. Having found themselves in completely new circumstances (and for the most part, in a new culture), these women experienced and overcame many challenges - from sleepless nights to figuring out unfamiliar food and, above all, communication problems. What they all have in common, though, is the great bond they formed through the shared experience of living in Fontainebleau and experiencing the INSEAD MBA as partners and parents. The stories contain many tips that I, at least, was in urgent need of before even coming to Fontainebleau!

The book is available at the INSEAD Fontainebleau book shop, and you can read an excerpt of one of the interviews below.


Maria Kovalevich

Age: 32

Home town: Riga, Latvia

Partner: Pavel Yuriyevich Kovalevich

Occupation: Advertising executive

Married: 2009

Children: Philip (b. March 19, 2011), Mikhail (b. March 6, 2014)

What was your parents' and friends' reaction to your big move to Fontainebleau?

At first, our family and friends were shocked when they heard we were going to Fontainebleau. After all, we already had Phil, who was two and a half, and I was seven months pregnant with our second boy. Some were amazed by our courage, some considered it silly of us and tried to convince us that there were better ways of spending the money we were going to invest in education: buying a new car, an apartment, etc.

Were there any challenges that made you want to go back?

All the challenges we faced were related to the adaptation period: new place, new products, the French driving style which can take a whole page to describe. In addition, my hormones were adding to the stress and everything seemed scarier and stranger than it really was.

I should also stress that my husband was suddenly out of our lives. Always studying. It seemed incredible that a grown man could spend 12 hours a day studying, including group study over the weekend, plus all the networking and socialising. I am not sure whether it was tips from the MBA or my pregnancy, but my husband started to behave like a highly qualified crisis manager and our relationship moved onto a new level.

I did think of going back home sometimes, especially at the beginning. It felt sweet and warm just to think about our house and my mother. However, these thoughts only came to me in weak moments. I needed moral help and support and my brain reacted in an absolutely predictable way - leave everything and run away from the problems. My husband and friends had really helped me when I felt like this. Sometimes it was enough for me to just walk around Fonty or in the park; their beauty and charm would wash away all my negative thoughts.

What are your impressions of Fontainebleau and your favorite memory of the town?

For me, Fontainebleau is like a time machine. The French are so delicate and caring when it comes to their history that at first it may seem as if they are using some ancient technology in their restoration work. And what a magical forest they have! The enormous moss-covered stones resemble mysterious animals that fell asleep millions of years ago. In between the stones there are dozens of curving tracks. People in the street are very friendly and polite.

There are many places in Fontainebleau that I love, specifically the English garden and its small grottoes, next to the Château. Then there is everyone's favourite, the Dardonville patisserie in the Rue du Sablon, which has the most delicious éclairs and macaroons: you have to queue to get one. And finally the INSEAD buffet, which offers a combination of tasty and cheap French-style food that you eat in the company of family members (it was only during these lunches at INSEAD that we could spend proper time with Pavel).

In your opinion, how does being raised here benefit your children?

The birth of Phil's little brother has had a tremendous impact on his development. He finally started talking. Before, he used to use just two words and that was a big deal for me. All the little toddler problems seemed to disappear with the birth of Mischa. And of course the multinationalism at INSEAD has played its role too. Philip met people of different nationalities and races. He heard different languages and saw different traditions (including clothing and ways of speaking).

Can you say that you have made lifelong friendships here?

INSEAD partners are like fellow soldiers for me. And you do not forget your fellow soldiers. The experiences that the Russian-speaking moms have shared together have very much united us. I am sure we will stay in touch in the future.