Inside INSEAD: First Review

Tanmay Dangi

As of August of 2023, I began my term at INSEAD for my MBA after a gap of over seven years since I’d last sat in a class in any form of academic pursuit. I won’t lie, it was an extremely daunting task and I’ve doubted the wisdom of my decision more times than I’d like to admit. But at this point, sitting back home enjoying my term break and having reflected a lot about the past two terms, I realised there’s no better way to record my findings apart from writing them down.

This isn’t going to be so much of a review of the school, because who even am I to do that — everyone’s going to have their own experience. 

This is, however, me recounting the biggest observations I’ve made about the place, its people and myself over these four months I spent at the institute.

1. People are very different

In a batch of a hundred odd people representing a double digit number of nationalities, there are an equal number of stories that each person brings to the table. Each of my very capable batchmates has had a unique struggle that has shaped who they have become today and their determination, grit and courage took them through to bring them to the seat next to me. 

Friends have shared stories of medical issues, family troubles, workplace discrimination, racial discrimination and many other hurdles that they had to overcome in life. Speaking to them over numerous coffee chats, I understood that I am very privileged to be amongst such smart, talented and open individuals. 

It is truly an honour to be sharing time and space with them for they have welcomed me into their lives. I have learnt a lot from them and have still more to learn.

2. People are pretty much the same

Yes, stark contradiction to my previous paragraph, but it’s so true. 

Regardless of the cultural, national and personal diversity that we bring, we all like and dislike the same stuff. 

No one likes boring classes — we’d all much rather be on WhatsApp, spamming the class group with esoteric memes. We’re all united by a (mostly) universal love for spirits and good food; a dislike for the free tea and coffee we’re served (that we air while we fill our cups from the dispense) and the ability to be hungry at any point in the day. 

We’re all masters of procrastination and cramming at the last moment (deadlines mean nothing to us!). I don’t know if this is because we are students at the moment or this is a trait we all share anyway, but we’re mostly programmed to take the easiest way out in any task we undertake! I know this isn’t a trait to particularly be proud of, but just the uniformity in this ability amuses me to no end.

3. Humour is the true bridge across cultures

When you take a whole host of different personalities and mix them into a big melting pot, you need a catalyst to ensure that mixing occurs.

I found that humour is that quick acting catalyst that brings people together. 

I am no social scientist and I’m sure that there are some smart folks who know how it works, but oh wow does humour cut all boundaries and bring people closer and very quickly. There’s something about hearing peals of laughter with different accents that is quite amusing and satisfying at the same time. 

Of course, life is not all fun and games all the time, but being able to see the lighter side of things especially in stressful situations really does bring people closer. I’m also grateful that people wear their brand of humour on their sleeves. It took me very little time to find folks with the same kind of humour and I am so glad that I’m not the only weird chap around.

4. I love sitting in class

As I said, it’s been over seven years since I had last been in a classroom and had someone teach me something for the sake of learning and not because it served a short-term goal that needed resolving — as work learning and training tended to be. And for that reason, it has been absolutely refreshing to be able to sit in class and just learn new subjects and topics for the sake of academic pursuits. 

It was splendid that no one made a face when a not-so-smart question was asked and a genuine answer was given. Personally, I ask a lot of questions because I love knowing stuff that I never knew and when you have world-class faculty who’ve seen more of the world than I might ever, I was not going to pass up on that opportunity at learn from them. 

While some may have found this trait a tad annoying, I’d consider this a feature, not a bug, and it’s something that I cherish as an ability and hopefully I was able to air some questions that were on my batchmates’ minds but weren’t asked. 

Call me a nerd, but I’ve truly enjoyed being indulged by professors and friends alike, leaving me much better informed about the world than I was just earlier this year.

5. I am seen

Growing up, I was a very shy and reserved child. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it under-confidence, I just was not quite capable in my abilities to initiate, engage and hold a conversation, especially with new people. 

In my adolescence, this manifested as a general sense of being aloof, disinterested and unattached to other people, unwilling to extend my social circle or go beyond the boundaries I had set for myself. Naturally, when one is so removed from others there is a tendency to be alienated and not be on anyone’s top of mind recall, resulting in a self-serving vicious cycle of not being in anyone’s circle and not letting anyone into mine due to a misplaced sense of “being wronged”. 

I understand the follies of my ways and it took me some years during my undergraduate and work years to become more adept at building relationships.

As I entered INSEAD, I was afraid of repeating my old patterns and falling back into the asocial, non-interacting self. I was also afraid that I might not be of sufficient value to others and therefore might not be someone that others would want to hang out with. I feared that I would just end up being relegated to one of those folks just present in class and would create only superficial, professional relationships without any meaningful connections with the cohort.

But I was delightfully wrong. And I’ve never been so relieved to be wrong. 

I’m very fortunate to be in a class that is inclusive, involving of others and really tight-knit. Not once did I feel like I was an outsider or ignored or even invisible to the rest. Because of my tendency to be in class early (see point no 4), I was almost a fixed feature (along with a few others, the breakfast club, if you may hehe). 

Many a time if I was delayed (I had lazy mornings too, you know), I’d be called upon by friends to give explanations of my tardiness. On more than one rare occasion when I was absent from class, I got multiple messages asking if I was okay. In classes where I did not ask questions, I’d get puzzling looks from classmates hoping for some change in pace. These may seem trivial but to me, it really meant the world to be seen and valued for who I am and not because there was something that tied us together and did not need to be reduced to a transaction.

What really sealed the deal for me was an exercise we did in our Organisational Behaviour 2 course (thanks, Prof AV!). This was a practical demonstration of networks and how they are formed. The exercise was done by asking each person to mark against every other person in the class whether they considered them for advice, information or socialisation. 

The end result was a set of charts marking each you against the remainder of the class, demonstrating your own network.




Pertinent to interpreting this is to see how the grey arrows line up (single-sided relationship) and how the dark black arrows line up (double-sided relationship). I was floored and dare I say relieved, to see that I had as many dark arrows as I did, for I felt that I might have painted myself into a corner where I was only going to others for information, support or to socialise without having others see me as capable of providing this sort of value to them in return. 

We spent a part of this class comparing maps with each other trying to locate ourselves on this map and how we compared to each other. Despite this being anonymised, we were able to locate each other. As I did this with one friend, I traced where he was and exclaimed, “Oh look! Double black!” to which he gave me a quizzical look and said, “Bruh, obviously we’re going to have a double black line.” 

That one sentence, and the nonchalance with which it was said, was the biggest reassurance I could get about having found my tribe and of being a valued member of it. 

This exercise informed me that I have made friends, close friends, in this short stint and that this is a set of bonds I will cherish for the years to come.

I’d have loved to have said that this is just the beginning and there’s so much more to come, but being what it is, it’s 40% of the course already gone through. Alumni were absolutely not joking when they mentioned that time at INSEAD goes by in a whiz. 

But nonetheless, I’ve had a superb welcome to the community and I’m very grateful to all the folks who have come around in my life in these days and I’ll be forever grateful for their support and counsel. I’ll look forward to more of these as I continue my term at Fontainebleau (ping me if you’re anywhere close to France!).

Here’s to the Singapore starters of the INSEAD MBA 24J! You all are amazing and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

This blog was originally published on Medium