In Search of the Silver Lining

Soulaf Khalifeh

Arriving in Fontainebleau in January 2020 was a hassle for many of us who were eager to start the MBA journey at INSEAD. Paris had been on strike for almost a month as unions were protesting President Macron’s proposed pension reforms. The city was nearly paralysed, and few trains were running to Fontainebleau.

I wish I could say that things got better towards the end of P1 but sadly, just as we finished our final exams, the whole country, actually the whole world, went into lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak.

But with such a unique start for an MBA class, there ought to be a silver lining somewhere.

20D Launch Week.jpg

I usually have this habit of observing events and making parallels with past ones – most people call it daydreaming, and yes, I do it a lot. As I followed the news of the protests early in January, I kept going back in time to May 1968, a period of civil unrest that took over France for almost two months.

The protests then were started by students who were challenging social norms and traditions that impacted their daily lives - one of which was the inability of male and female students to visit each other in their residences. And here we were, in Amphi A during Launch Week, listening to INSEAD faculty encouraging us to question assumptions and challenge the status quo.

I asked myself then: I wonder how we, as a class of 20D, would do so?

Today, as I’m quarantining with my INSEAD flatmates in Fontainebleau, away from our families and home countries, I keep going back in time to our first week in January, when 300 of us were asked in the big Amphi: What are your expectations from the MBA? The most common answer was, “I’m here to be part of a community.” 

Communities stand together, through good and bad, and it seems that for the 20Ds, the latter has come sooner than expected.

But that’s not necessarily bad news, I think. I personally feel lucky to be facing such difficult and uncertain times with a fantastic community that will outlast not only this crisis but any other that will come our way, be it five, ten or thirty years from now.

At the beginning of our MBA journey, we were promised that this year would be the best year of our lives. As I attend online classes from home, in this small French town, trying to make sense of what’s happening around me, I realise that the best year so far was the one that held the biggest challenges for me.

So maybe this year, as the challenges are proving to be greater than expected, is actually promising to be the best – but it will depend on how we as a class choose to overcome this hurdle. So, I still have faith in 2020, because I still have faith in my class of 20D. Who knows, maybe this is our chance to challenge the status quo.

But there’s one thing I’m sure of.

No matter how our lives will change after the coronavirus, our relationships won’t.

Perhaps we will only appreciate the value of our community when we’re able to look back and remember this as the year we endured together the most threatening crisis of the century – that’s my silver lining.