Things I Wish I Knew Before Joining INSEAD

One year ago, when I embarked on the INSEAD MBA, I thought I already knew everything about diversity. Nationalities, cultures, and genders – I thrive in environments with different kinds of people. Surely INSEAD’s environment would be no different.

Confidently, I breezed through the school’s front doors on my first day. Little did I know that it was the start of a journey that would soon reveal my naivety about diversity.

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Welcome Week at INSEAD
Welcome Week at INSEAD

 

Because as the weeks passed, my confidence turned into confusion. For example, I sometimes felt lost during our core modules in finance or statistics, yet some of my peers seemed to know everything. Is it just me? Am I a slow learner? Such thoughts often ran through my mind.

As it turned out, I had simply assumed that everyone was starting the MBA with the same base knowledge that I had. This is obviously untrue. Those with CFA qualifications, for example, would not struggle like I did in finance.

How does it link to diversity?

I had been perceiving diversity only through the popular lenses of nationalities and genders.

I failed to recognise that diversity in many other dimensions, including in professional or academic backgrounds, would shape my MBA experience in equally significant ways.

Find your place

Perhaps I had naively assumed that the MBA would somewhat replicate my university experiences.

In university, my peers and I had similar ages. We were learning from scratch about our industry – the media industry, in my case – and aiming for similar jobs. Most of us were also unmarried.

But at INSEAD, our profiles are extremely diverse. We have people in their 20s as well as 30s with wide-ranging prior knowledge. Some are entrepreneurs hoping to find business partners; others hope to find corporate jobs – perhaps even a life partner. Some bring along their spouse and kids; others, their pets.

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weilow

 

In other words, everyone has different careers and personal lives.

This makes INSEAD the best place to meet different people, and to learn from each other.

But to do that, you have to first find your place, anchoring yourself instead of becoming lost amid the sea of diversity.

If I had realised the many ways in which people here are different, I would have been more self-assured in finding my place, instead of initially wondering whether I could fit in academically. I would also have more proactively shared my own specialised knowledge, contributing to INSEAD’s learning environment.

Shape your journey

Our diversity in profiles also means everyone has different goals in terms of academics, careers, and networking.

You should carve out a path to reach your goals, without worrying about other people’s journeys.

This is easier said than done. With so many electives, club events and social activities, there were naturally discussions and comparisons about the options each of us was considering. Even after I had chosen something, the hype surrounding more popular choices sometimes gnawed at me. I would then wonder whether my decision was wrong.

But there is no standard journey at INSEAD that everyone must follow. If I had accepted this from the start, I would have worried less, and spent more time shaping the next step of my journey.

Make it your best year

Initially, I had gotten off on a shaky start. Luckily, I soon found my footing at INSEAD. Hopefully my experiences will help those thinking of starting their own INSEAD journey.

Alumni members often proclaim that INSEAD will be “the best year of your life”.

Having graduated several weeks ago, I can say with confidence it will be the best year.

Just make it yours, not someone else’s.

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Graduation celebrations
Graduation celebrations