The Start of the '21J Journey

Madjid Ovaici

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then” – Lewis Caroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

It was 2AM, and I was lying in my bed in Dubai, perfectly content with life but hungry for change. Hungry for more.

Contentment is a fickle friend and can lead to complacency.

Like the boiling frog fable – put a frog in a pot of hot water and it will jump right out, leave it in cold water and slowly turn on the heat and it will boil – I knew it was time to change. I needed to go on an adventure, to grow as a person, and to evolve.

I knew that for the career path that I wanted, INSEAD was one of the top schools. Even more so, INSEAD seemed to be one of the few to put major emphasis on internationalism. I applied to INSEAD and somehow got accepted. It was too early to party – after just a short few months COVID-19 was on the horizon and the whole class was worried about the degradation of their MBA experiences.

On the one hand I had already given in my notice at work, and on the other, I was considering delaying my MBA until COVID-19 passed, whenever that may be. We had a Telegram group for offer holders (many offer holders had offers from other schools) and so we worked together to come up with a survey to gauge individual preferences on different available options (e.g. online, delayed start, rotation to Singapore/France/Abu Dhabi etc.). As if they read our minds – at the same time INSEAD held a seminar to discuss the different options they were considering in regards to the crisis.

INSEAD was very cognisant of our needs and agreed to delay the start of term to hopefully allow an in-person start, but hinted to only be cautiously optimistic as different waves may come and go. The option was also provided for many '21J offer holders to delay their offers should they wish. Many classmates stayed in the class of '21J, and this created a bond of fellowship stronger than anyone could have hoped.

And now … here we are. The school tests us at least once a week with strict guidelines and we could not be more grateful.

We are all cautiously optimistic that this will be a year of uncertainty, but uncertainty is also a messenger of hope.

Sitting for lunch or dinner in Fontainebleau with INSEAD classmates is extremely similar to having lunch at the United Nations, with one key difference. The difference is that the majority of students here have put their best foot forward to learn about other cultures while realising that we each have our own individual bias.

At dinner last night, we had three Americans, two Indians, a Ukrainian, a Spaniard, a Lebanese, a Canadian, and myself (Canadian Persian). These 10 people also spanned nine different industries and ranged in age from 26 until their mid 30s. Whats more interesting is that compared to other meals at INSEAD, so far this seemed fairly tame. During lunch and dinner, we discussed new business ideas, or talked about different food each one of us could cook. So far we are planning different dinners at each others' houses and we have known some individuals for less than 48 hours. 

All in all, it seems that it will be a year unlike most.

It will have its own unique challenges, but more importantly it will have its own unique opportunities and highlights. If anything, so far COVID-19 has made us all closer as a group and I am excited to see what this new year will bring. Ultimately we all came for our careers but it seems that we will leave as different people, with new brothers and sisters across the globe!