An Introvert’s Guide to INSEAD
When you hear, “Chateau party with 500 of your closest friends!”, do you wince a little inside? Would you rather enjoy wine with one close friend instead of hitting Glasgow? Do you retreat to quiet corners of campus during breaks? If you answered “Yes”, you just might be a fellow introvert.
“But I’m not anti-social,” you may protest. Well, that association stems from a myth. Introversion has nothing to do with shyness; it refers to where you get energy from and how you recharge.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, clarifies, “Introverts prefer quiet, minimally stimulating environments, while extroverts need higher levels of stimulation to feel their best.”
While an MBA programme is intense, full of stimulation, and generally designed for many interactions over a short period of time, introverts can still thrive with a bit of extra work. Here are my tips.
1. Strategise campus exchanges
I’m not going to sugarcoat it—being thrown into b-school with hundreds of new faces… in the middle of a large French forest… with nowhere to escape :)… was pretty overwhelming. A big draw to spending my P3 on the Abu Dhabi campus was that it guaranteed a smaller cohort of 47 students. I got to know each classmate on a level past small talk and absolutely loved my time in the Middle East—all of us lived in the same hotel, travelled together, and still organise meet-ups with our “Abu Dhabi Time” crew. (You can read my friend Anais’ post about that particular experience here.)
If you don’t have the option to go to Abu Dhabi, keep in mind peak campus times for the J and D classes. For J’s, Singapore is most crowded in P3 (whereas the opposite is true for D’s).
2. Practice public speaking in controlled environments
Introverts can make great public speakers—after all, there’s time to rehearse a script beforehand and you’ll have the stage where you’re unlikely to be interrupted by more dominant personalities.
I gained a lot of value from courses like The Art of Communication, where Professor Steve Knight and my peers offered direct feedback and encouraged me to remain authentic in my speaking style. I’m also taking a class with Professor Neil Bearden on developing my storytelling skills with deliberate practice.
3. Set group contracts that account for diverse personalities and working styles
Most assignments at INSEAD are group-based work, which makes sense given that our roles in the workplace will require lots of collaboration. Rotating leadership, allocating “quiet time” to reflect before case discussions, and creating a psychologically safe environment are some of the tactics my E1G2 BEAAM team implemented.
4. Try living in a shared house
I know, not the most intuitive choice for an introvert, right? Let me clarify: try living in a shared house… with your own private room and bath. For the first four months, my partner and I found home in Villa Foch with nine others. It turned out to be a really rewarding experience to get to know a diverse group of MBAs we now refer to as our “Foch Family”. House BBQs, weekend trips, and pajama parties made up some of my best memories at INSEAD.
5. Focus your energy
Before starting the programme, I took a lot of time to reflect—a practice us introverts tend to do a lot of—on how I wanted to spend my time and most importantly, my energy. My professional goal was to leverage INSEAD to pursue a career in fashion tech, so I prioritised courses, clubs, and events with that in mind. On the social side, I’m still learning to be okay with only getting to know a portion of my graduating class—which is a shame because there are so many inspiring people here!—but I do believe I’ve done my best to be open while remaining authentic to who I am.
Overall, finding ways to make a campus of 1,000 people seem smaller during different moments in time really helped me to enjoy my INSEAD experience despite initial hesitations. I plan to continue expanding my network as an alumna… at an introvert-friendly pace, that is.
- Melissa Lim