Monday, October 26, 2009

The Smell of Singapore

The facebook updates of my INSEAD classmates in Singapore got me a bit nostalgic about the summer I just spent in Singapore for my internship, especially knowing that I would not be going back for P5 or graduation...

Singapore is a tiny country that often evokes surprisingly strong (and sometimes quite negative) feelings from her visitors.

I personally don't have any beef with Singapore as I enjoyed the clean streets, reliable public transportation and efficient bureaucracy as much as the next person. The place can be dull, sure, but there are amazing beaches just a couple of hours away and plenty of shopping and delicious food at every turn of the corner.

As for the much dreaded chewing gum ban, I'd brought my Wrigley's from the U.S. and had been chewing them discreetly away from public view the whole summer. No problem!

Anyway, what I'm going to focus here is really the smell of Singapore. Every city has a distinct smell. Paris smells of croissant and butter. Shanghai smells of fried fish. New York smells of hot pretzels. Of course this is extremely personal, as everyone could be smelling totally different things at exactly the same city.

Singapore's definitely got a smell and it's hard to put a finger to it. It's not (just) the durian, if that's what you thinking. It's a powerfully pungent and sticky smell that permeates through the air and hovers over you all day and it also changes through the time of the day. When you wake up in the morning, the smell is more like ripe mango. Around lunch time, it turns into a mixture of semi-rotten bananas and curry. By night, it's morphed into an anarchic, but really appealing, concoction of wet fruit markets smells, hawker stations smells and the smell of the sea.

And that's what I will always remember Singapore for.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Wharton Exchange: pros & cons

I've been getting quite a few emails regarding the Wharton Exchange,and I decided to just take a minute to write a post about it. So I can refer people to this later.

I will assume there are 4 kinds of INSEADers who are interested in a Wharton Exchange.

1) Seeking the American experience.
I've never been to America and I'd like to spend a couple of months there and make some American friends. And it's my dream to spend a couple of nights in Las Vegas!
2) Seeking an American job
I want to have access to Wharton job board and alumni database.
3) Loving the Wharton brand
4) Loved ones in Boston/New York/DC/Philly/Toronto (many of the current exchangers fall into this category, yours truly included, by the way)

Most people would fall under the first 3 categories I think.
1) Two months is a bit short for a real American experience, in my opinion. But it's possible to make a couple of friends within Wharton and spend at least a couple of weekends travelling. If you've never been to the U.S., and this is the only way you can get a long-term travel visa to this country, then do it.

2) Ok, so this is the tricky part. There are indeed a lot more jobs on the Wharton job board, many of them finance, as expected. I'd say 80% of them requrie a U.S. work visa/citizenship/greencard. Many of us do get selected for interviews by recruiters here (someone i know got like 8 interviews through Wharton) - you could even say INSEAD can be a differientiating factor when recruiters are reading hundreds of almost identical Wharton CVs. I didn't even bother converting mine to the 'Wharton format', come to think of it. However, the reality is if you do not have work authorization in this country, the chances of getting an offer are very slim.
By the way, you do have full access to the alumni database here (and feel free to network away, it's not discouraged) but as soon as your exchange is over, your access will be blocked. In addition, you can only apply for jobs that have scheduled interviews during your exchange. If, say, you want to apply for a job with Disney but they plan their first-round interview for next January, then there's no point to submit your resume. However, you could download the recruiter's information and write to them individually to explain your situation.

In all fairness, I think Wharton does give you some extra career options and in this day of age, extra options are a great thing. Work authorization, as mentioned before, is key. On the downside, you do miss out on some of the INSEAD jobs, particularly industry ones. Video-conferencing interview never really works as well, at least not for me. If your goal is to nab a job with the big consulting firms, then location doesn't matter. They will interview you in Philly. If you are going after the boutique firms (ie LEK), they will only do video-conference, keep that in mind.

3) The Wharton Brand. I'm not above using the Wharton brand to my advantage, to be honest. So i will put the exchange in the education section in my resume. I don't know how much value it's really going to add, but it doesn't hurt to have, I imagine.

Finally, the social life. I think I will have a seperate post on that some other day. Personally, I feel I'm somewhat detached from the INSEAD community. It may be a good thing, but I'm kind of envious of people who are now saying tearful good-byes to each other at the end of P4 party somewhere in the forest. What I miss most about INSEAD is the people: the funny, the smart, the sarcastic, the wise, the kind, the eccentric and the downright outrageous. Few of them, if any, are boring. I think if it purely comes down to the people, I would still prefer INSEAD to Wharton any day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

My Best INSEAD Memories

So I was taking a break from mindlessly hitting the 'submit' button on careerlink, and i stumbled upon a few new blogs from the incoming Dec10 class. Some of them are wiser or funnier than others, but they all exude the kind of optimism and enthusiasm that only newly admited MBA students possess.

They made me remember my P-0 days, also known as the last few weeks before you officially begin your INSEAD journey. Come to think of it, those were some of my best INSEAD memories. The celebratory drinks with other new admits, Facebook banters about housing, CampusFrance, and scholarships, as well as virtually selecting and dreaming about that lovely new home in the (at the time seemed infinitely charming) French town that we call Fonty.

I ended up really enjoying INSEAD after all, despite a difficult start. But i would count on those days as some of my fondest memories about my 'INSEAD Experience.'
So enjoy it to the maximum, P0-ers! There will be many other highlights in your INSEAD year, I'm sure, but this is almost as good as it gets.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

INSEAD-Wharton Campus Exchange

So here I'm...back in the U.S. and a stranger in a strange town - Philly.
The biggest benefit of doing the Wharton Exchange is being close to New York - which is where the people I love most live. Other than that, I cannot really think of much upside. Two months is so short... you barely settle down before you have to pack up and leave again. West Philadelphia leaves much to be desired but I have to give the city credit for all the efforts of cleaning up and trying to be hip.

As far as recruitment goes, the Wharton exchange doesn't really help you. I went to a Wharton Career Fair yesterday. Sure, the number of companies that show up at Wharton for this type of thing would make the (undoubtedly hard-working and ambitious) INSEAD career team green with envy. But it's the same old spiel. Scores of ravenous, super aggressive MBAs form a human Great Wall around several harassed-looking HR people from the Fortune 100,000 companies, asking inane questions and beaming hope and hunger. Me? Already tired before I even entered the 'networking hall'.

Here's a soundbite of my unfruitful evening as the Wharton career expo as an exchanger from INSEAD.

ME: Hello, great to meet you.
Harassed Looking Recruiter: Thanks for coming. Are you a Wharton second year?
ME: My name is Alien and I'm actually from INSEAD and right now doing an exchange at Wharton.
HLR: INSEAD? (clearly confused)
ME: Yes, it's based in both France and Singapore and we have the option to spend 2 months here at Wharton as well.
HLR: So it's a French school? (heavy dose of skepticism)
ME: NOt quite. It's rather... international. Yes, very international. (Me sounding slightly defensive now)
HLR: Oh.... (awkward silence)
****By this time, the Wharton students surrounding us were about to stone me to death for taking up so much of their precious schmoozing time to explain about INSEAD. *****
ME: (trying to salvage the situation) Actually, I am really interested in your XXX program... (mentally press play)


Saturday, April 25, 2009

End of P2 is Here

Believe it or not, the end of P2 is just 3 exams away. It seems incredible still that I've been here only 4 months. I used to laugh when people were telling me about the intensity of 'the insead experience' and the power of the Bubble. Well it's true... sort of.

Already, I'm feeling somewhat sad about the inevitable split-up of my group. It sounds melodramatic, but it feels like the end of a mini-era! The dynamics of our group has certainly evolved (for detailed analysis of this topic, please refer to my full-marked LPG paper :) . It took us about 3 months to start opening up and really getting to know each other, and a couple of us have just gotten to be close. And now we must say goodbye. It sucks.

I will be staying in Fontainebleau for 2 more months, before packing up for Wharton and Singapore. As much as I complain about this town, I know I will miss it - a lot. I will mostly miss the small details, for example, the weird-looking but strangely beautiful tree on my way to school, the freakishly named boutique Manhattan Giglo on Rue Grande, walking by the Cheateau on a clear Spring morning, etc etc.

Oh, and what about exams? They are sort of blah. I crammed as much I could, so let's see how I do. I unfortunately belong to a very small and sorry group of people on campus who has an unlimited supply of BS when pushed (no, I totally would not mind 2 more 4-hour exams on segmenting shampoo users and monetizing emerging media technologies but I'd never admit this at school or I may be flogged to death) but have trouble getting through one single CFP hand-out without getting up twice for coffee.

And finally, I'm only 3 exams away from going to Rome with 'the partner'! It will be a much needed break for both of us and truly looking forward to that. I will post photos of Gelato.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Almost 'April in Paris'

The highlight of the week, in fact, of P2 so far, is spending the entire Saturday wandering from Le Marais to Les Halles.

I have always liked Paris, truly, but yesterday I was absolutely in Love with the city! Though I didn't have my iPod with me, I was playing for myself in my head Gershwin's score for An American (substitute with Chinese here) in Paris.

Every time I emerged from a metro station, I felt I was walking into a moveable postcard. The sun was shining generously. I had my first glimpse of cherry blossoms in France. I smelled the intoxicating mix of coffee and butter and garlic everywhere. I actually walked by people who would smile back at me!

All of this reminds me of an old Ella Fitzgerald song that I absolutely loved as a teenager- April in Paris written by E Y Harburg. The funny thing is I read somewhere that Harburg, the lyricist, had never visited Paris before he wrote this song. And years later, when he actually got the chance to see Paris in April, he found it rainy, gray and dirty! Talk about the cruel ironies of life!

Well, too bad for Monsieur Harburg. As I am watching the world go by at the corner of Rue Etienne Marcel and Montorgueil, everything felt right - just like how it was described in the song.

April in Paris
By Yip Harburg
I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never new my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace

Till april in paris, chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees
April in paris, this is a feeling
That no one can ever reprise

I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never new my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace

Till april in paris
Whom can I run to
What have you done to my heart

Monday, February 23, 2009


If you want to read a really honest and bitingly funny blog about INSEAD, check out my friend MbaMRS' blog. She is writing up quite a storm over there!

I haven't updated my blog for ages, for three reasons. 1)I was cramming for Panda week. 2) I'm now cramming for finals. It sounds ridiculous since I've been in school for barely 2 months. But this is how it's like at INSEAD - you are in a constant race against time. 3)I have been spending way too much time on Facebook and Twitter.

So P1 is almost over. INSEAD is not entirely what I expected and the first two months haven't at all been a smooth ride.But I don't regret it yet. I have enjoyed most of the classes (have also dozed off a few, and skipped a couple) and met some very intelligent and interesting people. I have indeed made a lot of new acquaintances but not really new friends. I have done an okay amount of socializing, but not crazy. The INSEAD party scene is very much reminiscent of the New York single scene, except for the reverse male-female ratio. The Europeans dominate - at least on the party circuits. The Americans, at least the ones I know, are surprisingly low-key. The Chinese, a bit on the fringe, have formed their own parallel circle and they are hardly the overachievers that are often associated with Chinese in America.

While my pink glasses for INSEAD haven't completely worn off, I must confess life in Fontainebleau is a complete letdown. It has very little of the charm but all the inconveniences one would expect of a small town and sometimes costs you more than its famous neighbour. I miss city lights. I was in Paris last Saturday, and almost wept when I saw a pharmacy still open at the tender hour of 9pm. This is probably one of the factors I bid fearlessly for the Wharton Exchange. At this point, any city will do - even Philadelphia!

(to be continued)