The Strength of Strong Ties
The year 1775 in pre-revolution France was the best of times, and it was also the worst of times - at least according to Charles Dickens. “[…] It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us […]”
Fast forward to 2020, Mr. Dickens’ words still ring true on this ides of March, when I read with a heavy heart that the INSEAD Fontainebleau campus was to suspend classes temporarily before moving them online indefinitely. I found myself paralysed with fear and confusion at the airport in Amsterdam, unsure whether to board my plane to Charles-de-Gaulle.
You see, embarking on this MBA journey was an informed and rational decision.
For three years, I asked myself long and hard whether I was ready for this transformational experience often described to be so intense that one can only expect to choose two activities out of sleep, study and socialising.
When I finally decided I was ready, I was almost too informed of the experience ahead, and I wanted all of it.
And it did not disappoint. My calendar of events filled up quickly even before school officially began, and I found myself surrounded by people with whom I connected so deeply that parting ways made my eyes water - even though we had only met four days prior.
On campus, there was never a dull moment. How could there be, when there were a thousand ideas to exchange and only 24 hours in a day to do so? So time flew, and in what felt like a blink of an eye, I was transported forward to the present moment, frozen at Schipol Airport, unable to decide whether to fly to France or back home to Canada.
In the end, emotions prevailed over rationality. Ignoring Canada’s travel advisory and overcoming Macron sealing the French borders, I returned to Fontainebleau, where despite the mandated lockdown and my self-imposed quarantine a sense of normalcy remained.
“I’m so glad you made it back safe,” a friend texted upon my return. “I know I can’t see you for a while, but I already feel closer to you knowing you are around.” I got teary-eyed.
“Rien ne se perd, rien ne se crée, tout se transforme." (Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.)
It all certainly did. Sure, it took us some time to process the extraordinary changes asked of us. “This wasn’t the experience I signed up for,” undoubtedly we all thought to ourselves at some point.
Playing the victim is easy, and rolling with the punches is probably the Antichrist to a community who had gone through extreme lengths to put their lives back home on hold.
But somehow, the fabric of this community quickly reconfigured, and the days filled without dull moments returned.
With a healthy dash of creativity and some splash of enthusiasm, most student-led activities on campus were brought online and transformed to fit the social distancing requirements - radio programming, cultural exchanges, stand-ups, dance parties, beauty and wellness sessions, movie nights, fitness challenges, talent shows, the list goes on.
Not just reconfigured, the community also strengthened, whether inadvertently or not. As a community, we are even more aware of the importance of our collective well-being and supporting each other in achieving our individual goals.
Not a day goes by without someone checking in and steering me away from my negativity of captivity.
When my consulting interview got scheduled, calendar invitations rolled in offering me help with case prep even before I had a chance to reach out. Job opportunities, articles and research papers were funnelled my way, catering to my interests better than any search filters could.
People intensely care, share, and inspire.
COVID-19 can easily be made the common enemy and detract from our MBA experience. But my fellow promotion of ‘20D seems to be stubbornly resolved to make our 2020 the year of deep transformation, just the way we expected it to be.
Because pandemics come and go, but our bond is here to stay.